2019 Porsche Panamera GTS and GTS Sport Turismo first drive: Chips anyone?

Porsche would make excellent potato chips. To make a quality chip, you need the skill to slice thin and even, so you get full potato flavor in every single one. And few companies can slice a product lineup thinner while maintaining flavor than Porsche.

Case in point: the 2019 Porsche Panamera GTS and GTS Sport Turismo, which together increase the Panamera family to 18 unique models. The GTS lands above Panamera, Panamera 4 and 4S models, as well as the Hybrid, Executive and Sport Turismo variants. Yet it slots in below the Turbo and Turbo S, and all of those variants. A massive gap in the product lineup!

Falling in that space gives the GTS a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8, just like the Turbo models, but here, boost pressure is 11.6 pounds per square inch, not 18.9. This engine uses an aluminum block and heads, with an iron lining around each cylinder, which helps wear and friction. The lining in the block is just 150 micrometers, or 0.15 millimeters, thick, which gives you those wear benefits while adding very little weight. It’s also configured as a “Hot V,” which means the exhaust leaves the heads between the two cylinder banks, or inside the V, with the intakes on the outsides of them. Building this way has the primary benefit of quickly warming up the catalytic converters.

Before entering the Hot V, hot air from the turbos runs through intercoolers, one on each bank, before flowing past variably timed valves. Fuel sprays directly into the cylinder at 3,625 psi (250 bar) with a clever valve assembly on the injectors that uses different nozzles for different stages of operating temperature. Afterward, exhaust gases rush out of the standard (or slightly louder) sport exhaust system. The end result of the air’s wild ride is 453 hp between 6,000 and 6,500 rpm and 457 lb-ft of torque between 1,800 and 4,500 rpm, beating the outgoing, naturally aspirated 4.8-liter GTS by 19 hp and 73 lb-ft of torque and the current Panamera 4S by 13 hp and 52 lb-ft.

Rounding out the powertrain is an eight-speed Porsche PDK dual-clutch transmission and an all-wheel-drive system. This kit propels the 4,398-pound GTS and 4,464-pound GTS Sport Turismo to 60 mph from rest in 3.9 and 4.1 seconds, respectively. Traveling one-quarter of a mile takes 12.4 and 12.5 seconds. And the trend continues all the way to terminal velocity: The GTS achieves 181 mph and the GTS Sport Turismo 179 mph. 

In addition to motor, GTS models ride on adaptive air suspension that sit 10 millimeters lower to the ground than standard Panameras and uses Porsche Active Suspension Management, which is a fancy way to say electronically adjustable dampers, which play a big role in mitigating compromises between supple ride and good handling. Big brakes come standard: 15.4-inch iron discs in front and 14.4 in back. Even bigger ceramic brakes are optional — 16.5-inch monster discs in front, 16.1 in back. That system is called PCCB and stands for Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes.

GTS Panameras also stand out visually by using black. More specifically, a black front spoiler lip, side skirts, window trim, exhaust tips, dark tinted taillights and a black GTS logo on the lower portion of each front door. Inside there’s lots of dark trim, synthetic suede and dark anodized aluminum trim. And, yes, the wheels are black too, 20-inch diameter standard, 21-inchers optional.

Back inside, something called Porsche Advanced Cockpit uses two 7-inch screens as part of the instrument panel, and a 12.3-inch screen takes main stage in the center console. These screens are touch sensitive and customizable. For the first time in any Panamera, the GTS comes with a head-up display, which is color, high-resolution and easy to read. Four driving modes via a radial dial on the heated steering wheel come in the GTS, as well. They are normal, sport, sport-plus and individual, which is a place to customize shocks, air springs, throttle map and the rest. For what is about to happen, I have the drive mode set to sport-plus and stability control in sport.

The Execution

Third gear, press right paddle; fourth, 6500 rpm comes quick again; fifth, V8 motor rumbling in your ears, muted, but only just, by the turbochargers. Take a quick glance at the speedometer: 150 mph! Good gravy, turn 1 at Bahrain International Circuit, the one that’s hosted Formula 1 since 2004 (except in 2011) and can run day or night, is here already. Hard on the brakes, no fade, no problem — the Pirelli P Zeros provide plenty of stopping power. And I’m ready to turn in.

Here’s where things get interesting. The seats I’m snuggly nestled in are 18-way adjustable sport versions and come stock with the GTS, but other technology equipped here is not. First off, braking comes courtesy of PCCB mentioned above. Additionally, my car has rear-axle steering, which rotates with the front axle at any speeds above 31 mph and adds stability, even if you input lots of lock quickly. And I was helped by Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport, which are front and rear 48-volt electro-mechanically adjusting antiroll bars that twist up to 40 degrees or so limit body roll, otherwise maintaining a bumpy-road-friendly softness.

All this adds up to a nearly 200-inch sedan that turns in sharper than anything even approaching its ample size and weight. The GTS’ eagerness to reach the apex is like a toddler grabbing for an ice cream. All-wheel drive makes short work of aggressively accelerating out of a corner, but, again, this example was helped by the optional Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus electronically locking rear differential bolted to the rear axle.

Bahrain International Circuit is not as difficult a track as, say, Spa or Suzuka, but the infield offers some hill cresting turn-ins and track transitions that could send a car spinning. The GTS remained unflappable — and did so without feeling contrived. I got a chance to talk with legendary driver Walter Rohrl about it, and he put it this way: “That is one thing which I like most, it is not a synthetic drive. It feels like a conventional suspension; the steering gives you good response and really good feedback, just as a normal car would.”

Certainly, this second-generation Panamera GTS is impressive, but there are a few caveats. To start, 2 metric tons of weight reveals itself after several laps on the track in the form of tire outside shoulders being scrubbed to their core, dealing with enough heat that rubber comes off in chunks. In the process, that willing turn-in transitions to squeals for help. Brakes, even ceramics, can also only take so much and, like the tires, start to give audible signals that stopping power is withering. Finally, acceleration, while fierce, fades a few hundred rpm before max revs are reached, which gives you a moment to miss the 4.8-liter naturally aspirated V8 in the outgoing GTS Panamera.

But let’s reflect for a moment here. This a large luxury sedan or station wag … ahem “Sport Turismo” that feels competent on an F1 circuit. It's the same car that fits four adults in comfort (the Sport Turismo can fit a fifth), and when the drive mode is set to normal, feels downright relaxing and Lexus LS quiet. It’s a bit silly to take a car like this on any track, let alone one this high profile, but also cool that you can.

The Takeaway

One more caveat: Base price for the Panamera GTS is $129,350; the Sport Turismo version is $135,550. I drove both, and they feel essentially the same. Choosing between them comes down to aesthetic preference, space and budget. Because of the girth, any thoughts of a racetrack should include the optional rear-axle steering, PDCC Sport, PTV Plus, and PCCB, not to mention other tempting luxuries. But checking these boxes to equip the cars like Porsche offered me to drive sets you back more than $160,000. Not a value buy.

GTS stands for Gran Turismo Sport — a sporty grand touring car describes the Panamera GTS well. And while you would most likely come away impressed with its on-track performance, it’s hard to imagine buying one with the intention of making regular appearances at your local road course. Take away all the performance extras and you still have a highly capable grand tourer happy to bring you joy on a lovely canyon road. But that’s true of the Panamera 4S, as well. 

If you like the look and want V8 sounds, then it’s an easy decision. But for me, I wish the GTS more soundly beat the 4S and veered closer to Turbo performance. Perhaps this slice of the potato is a touch too thin.

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