Test Drives

Porsche Panamera GTS 2019 Review: Deft defying act



It looks good and tears up the racetrack (it’s a Porsche, after all!) but it’s what you don’t expect from the Panamera GTS that makes it special

Photos Porsche AG and Rocky Gargolov

Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain — The beauty of capitalism and the modern economy is that you can walk into a pizza joint (say, Sarpino’s) and have them throw whatever toppings you want on top of a crust. But why not choose something off the menu? The experts usually know what works. Plus you’ll probably end up spending less that way.

That’s one way to think about the Porsche Panamera GTS, which seems to be the brand’s big executive limo as Nature herself intended it to be.

“The GTS is for customers who have a passion for driving,” Armin Köpcke, the engineer in charge of tuning its handling, says.

Köpcke says sharpness at the front end was the main objective off the work he put into fettling the suspension. It understeers less than the other Panameras, he says, and the body leans much less during hard cornering.

Just as you can have pizza at some places with a thin crust or thick, the GTS spec can be had with the Sport Turismo body, too, meaning you can also express that passion for driving with a wagon. Because that’s, as special wagons are, simply cooler.

On the price ladder, at S$658,988 without options or Certificate Of Entitlement the GTS is the rung between the Panamera 4S (S$558,188) and the Turbo (S$721,688). 

Porsche has used the GTS tag for decades (it stands for Gran Turismo Sport), and in the current era it’s applied to cars that look enticingly mean, with driving behaviour to match.

Since Porsche has an enormous accessories catalogue so you can customise another Panamera to approximate a GTS’ looks, but there’s no box to tick to make one that delivers the same driving experience.

Anyway, as I said earlier, doing a DIY GTS would be expensive. The 20-inch wheels and moody, dark SportDesign bodykit alone cost S$8,039 and an eye-watering S$20,288 by themselves, respectively.

Other things standard on the GTS but that you’d have to pay for on a Panamera 4S include air suspension (S$8,693), the Sport Chrono Package (S$7,577) that adds a dash-top stopwatch and sharper driving modes, sports exhaust system with black tailpipes (S$13,751), Sports seats (S$13,268)… at some point you just have to stop before your calculator explodes.

READ MORE: Porsche now offers a ‘T’ option now that delivers a similar experience for slightly less money, though it’s currently only for the 911 and 718 sports cars.

Anyway, there’s stuff you couldn’t option even if you wanted, ranging from the frivolous (GTS logos all over the car) to the desirable (a few acres of Alcantara, plus the fold-out rear wing that until now was a Turbo-only feature).

It’s one thing that the chefs have loaded the GTS pizza with tasteful ingredients, but what really counts are two items not on the menu.

One, a twin-turbo V8 that’s good for 460 horsepower. That might only be 20hp up on the Panamera 4S’s V6, but Köpcke says a V8 snarl is important to the GTS experience, so you get one.

Two, there’s stiffer suspension that’s lower by 10mm.

At this point you’d be forgiven for expecting the GTS to be a loud, lumpy-riding car for someone with the spine of a 27 year-old, but it’s actually a mighty refined car. It doesn’t glide magic carpet-like over roads like the imperious Mercedes S-Class, but it also doesn’t make it feel like you’re in a car that somehow got out of the factory without springs installed.

Drive it all day? Easily. Drive it all day at the track? Happily. Porsche saw fit to host the press launch at the Bahrain International Circuit, a Formula One racing venue, probably because there was simply no other way to let the car’s true abilities reveal themselves.

And boy, are those abilities breathtaking. At the first hairpin where you arrive a bit hot, the Porsche is a monster, extending its claws into the tarmac to whip round at a pace that just doesn’t seem possible, let alone plausible, in a two-tonne limousine.

If anything feels plain about it, it’s actually the engine. Those eight cylinders make all the right noises, and the engine’s torque would turn a battleship into a speedboat, but the overall power delivery packs all the action into a big hump in the middle of the rev range, leaving little for the very top.

Anyway I’ve driven big, German super saloons that can easily match the Panamera GTS’ acceleration, but the way it dances around bends is what will make you gasp the way its rivals can’t. A big part of responsibility for that lies with the optional rear-axle steering system (S$7,263).

Chassis chief Köpcke personally recommends it, and even if you’re not a trackday fiend it helps to make the big Porsche more manageable in town, by shrinking its turning circle.

For all that, the Porsche comes across as a fast car that isn’t simply all about heavy braking and monstrous acceleration, with unbreakable grip. I had a few oops moments on the track (thankfully confined to tail wiggles kept small by the stability control system), and anyway you can bust traffic laws pretty much instantly in the GTS but you can’t break the laws of physics.

Be sloppy and jerking with the steering, or too jumpy on the accelerator, and you can still be damn fast, only the stability management light will blink away in the background while the system works hard to save you from yourself.

Drive with finesse and smoothness, though, and the GTS is that much more satisfying. It’s communicative, and you really feel like it’s working with you to find the limit. Just like a proper sportscar, in other words.

Porsche did fit the press cars with active anti-roll bars (S$19,126) and ceramic brakes (you don’t want to know), and these options are pretty much essential for the trackday junkie.

Yet, you do get a sense that doing without them would only cost you the odd second of laptime, while taking little away from the GTS in terms of how satisfying an experience it is.

In that sense, it lives up to its badge, since the last Panamera GTS was stunning around a track, too. You might think Porsches are supposed to be good to drive, anyway, but the GTS defies its size and weight like nothing else I can think of. Here, it’s what it’s not supposed to do that makes it special.

Porsche Panamera GTS
Engine 3996cc, twin-turbo V8
Power 460hp at 6000 to 6500rpm
Torque 620Nm at 1800 to 4500rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 292km/h
0-100km/h 4.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 10.2L/100km
VES Band/CO2 C2/249g/km
Price S$658,988 without COE
Agent Stuttgart Auto
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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.