Porsche's Panamera 'saloon' is getting better with every iteration and now it's the turn of the new GTS variant to arrive. This time around, however, the GTS is more of a 'Panamera Turbo lite' than a Panamera S with a few choice extras fitted. But don't let that 'lite' tag lead you to think there's anything junior about it, as we reckon that this could be the best car in the whole line-up.
In the metal
The Porsche Panamera really has evolved beautifully. So much so that you won't be laughed out of the room for calling it an attractive-looking car. That applies to the five-door fastback shown here as much as it does to the Sport Turismo 'estate' model, which can be had in GTS specification too. Go for that body style (and normally speaking, I would favour it), however, and you miss out on one of the most appealing aesthetic updates in the GTS package - the addition of the ridiculously cool, automatically deploying rear spoiler as debuted in the Panamera Turbo. Naturally, you can open it manually in a sub-menu of the infotainment for 'cleaning' and obviously it's for increased downforce and not posing. No siree, not at all.
That aside, the Panamera GTS gains 20-inch alloy wheels in 'Panamera Design', painted in black with a silk gloss finish. There's also a Sport Design package with black highlights as standard. Black is liberally sprinkled about, visually shrinking the car and extending to darker rear lights and badging.
GTS badging is found throughout, of course, extending to the high-tech interior. Gorgeous electric sports seats are standard, and they're complemented by a perfectly-dimensioned three-spoke steering wheel with an Alcantara-trimmed rim, tactile metal gearchange paddles behind and the driving mode switch for the Sport Chrono package below the right-hand spoke. The GTS is also, somewhat surprisingly, the first Panamera to get a head-up display.
Highly-specified the Panamera GTS may be, but nobody is going to mistake it for a run-of-the-mill luxury car.
We started our long day at the wheel of the Panamera GTS driving through Bahrain, using multi-lane motorways, crowded and dusty urban routes and even a few deserted roads snaking through the desert oil fields. The speed limits were relatively low, but 'enthusiastically' enforced, including jail time for comparatively minor infractions, so for this portion of the test we focused on the GTS's surprisingly well-developed alter-ego - that of the luxurious cruiser. Air suspension is standard, which allows the driver to set it up for distinct comfort, which may seem a little at odds with the obviously sporty exterior style.
Nonetheless, even this section of the test gave a pleasing glimpse at what was to come. Under the bonnet is a detuned version of the Panamera Turbo's twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8, though 460hp and 620Nm are plenty to get yourself into trouble with. Only on the wide expanses of the Bahrain Formula One race circuit later in the day did we hanker after the extra grunt. But Porsche didn't only reduce the boost; it also gave the GTS's engine a little more character, so the exhaust is louder and there's a sound symposer under the bonnet to bring more of the engine noise into the cabin. It's highly effective, too, making the GTS the nicest-sounding of all the Panamera models - even when you're not chasing the rev limiter.
Thankfully, we were let off the leash on the track, which allowed us to explore the capability of the Panamera GTS to the full. Ahead of us as a pace car was none other than a 911 Turbo S, but the Panamera held its own, despite the disparity in performance and weight. Admittedly, Porsche had fitted its PCCB carbon ceramic brakes to the track cars, which are exceptional under such extreme duress. But this opportunity also revealed that the GTS's standard four-wheel-drive system (PTM - Porsche Traction Management according to its maker) is wonderfully rear-biased, allowing you get back on the power really early in the middle of a corner. Saying that, the traction control system is a little too nannying for our liking under such circumstances, making the car feel like it's bogging down when it could be accelerating out of the corner quicker and in a more satisfying manner.
The quick steering can be enhanced further by optional four-wheel steering, which is a worthwhile investment, while the eight-speed automatic gearbox (it's a dual-clutch PDK item) is a joy to use in any of its various modes of operation.
Sure, the Panamera starts feeling like the big car it is when you try to hurl it around a serious race track, but it also thrills and engages its driver. Its limitations are brought to the fore on the circuit, but we suspect that it'll be a hoot to drive on a good road, regardless of the weather. It certainly lives up to its sporting appearance.
What you get for your money
Given its standard specification and performance, the Porsche Panamera GTS is a great-value alternative to the Panamera Turbo, so, despite the apparently high price, it undoubtedly deserves the four-and-a-half-star rating in this section.
The new Porsche Panamera GTS is the perfect option for driving enthusiasts that need to carry passengers in the back regularly, but still want a car that kicks hard when the mood and road allow. It shows that there's just no need for the extra power (and price) of the Panamera Turbo, while bringing the driver closer to the action. If you're seriously thinking of buying a Panamera, and you love driving, then the GTS needs to be at the top of your list.