2019 Porsche Panamera GTS First Drive Review

“How was it?” a former colleague asked me upon my return from the Kingdom of Bahrain where I drove a Panamera Sport Turismo GTS around the island and lapped the slightly lighter Panamera GTS around the Bahrain International Circuit. Turns out, my old coworker now works for Porsche in Germany, and after 22 hours’ worth of flights home, I unloaded on him with something like this. “How is it? Well, it fits perfectly between the Panamera 4S and the Turbo. Right smack in the middle. It’s like they built it by numbers. And, for just $24,000 more than a 4S, you get 13 extra horsepower!” Why so angry, and specifically why so angry about a pretty decent full-size sport sedan/wagon? Keep reading.

Porsche’s GTS formula works like this: You take the S version of any car—911, Boxster/Cayman, Macan, Cayenne, or Panamera—give it a bit more power, black out almost everything that can be blacked out on the exterior, spread some Alcantara around on the interior, and include enough of the performance options from the S cars as standard. Also, drop the ride height by 10mm. The result is a Porsche that’s more expensive, but the buyer feels like they’re getting a good deal. What was the devil’s greatest trick again?

Still, several performance options are frustratingly not standard on the GTS. Stuff like four-wheel steering, 48-volt PDCC Sport with PTV Plus (Porsche’s dynamic chassis control with torque vectoring), and PCCB (carbon ceramic brakes). All the Panameras we drove on the F1 track in Bahrain were optioned that very way. It’s not just me who wants the extra performance the add-ons give the car, it’s also Porsche. That’s $15,590 worth of performance extras on top of the GTS’ base price of $129,350, before you even get into other must-haves like Carmine Red paint ($3,310), 21-inch Sport Design wheels ($2,450), Premium Package Plus ($4,510 for heated seats, soft close doors, etc. ), and Assistance package ($5,370 for adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, traffic jam assist, night vision). Add all that up, and we’re talking about a $160,580 car. For a bit of perspective, a Panamera Turbo starts at $152,550.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m bringing up prices—including the fact that the Panamera 4S starts at $105,050—to illustrate exactly where the GTS model slots into the lineup. It splits the 4S and Turbo right down the middle, approximately $24,000 more than one, $23,000 less than the other. How logical is that? I’m going to argue a bit too logical. And there’s one more thing. . . .

The engine. Right off the bat, you should know the Turbo outweighs the 4S by a not insignificant 164 pounds, all of which sits over the front wheels. We haven’t weighed the GTS, but it’s sure to be within pounds of the Turbo because the GTS uses the Turbo’s engine with the boost cut. When the journalists gathered in Bahrain learned this, they asked what’s to stop someone from tuning the GTS up to Turbo levels? Answer: It has a different clutch, specifically one that can’t handle the Turbo’s 567 lb-ft of torque. The final drive ratio is quicker, too. Will this stop people from chipping their GTSs? No, but they don’t need to. We got the Panamera 4S to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and through the quarter mile in 12.3 seconds. Porsche is claiming the GTS will hit 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and the GTS will do 12.4 in the quarter mile to the wagon’s 12.5. We’re always quicker than manufacturers’ claims, and even though the car’s heavier than the 4S, I’m betting the GTS will be quicker than the V-6 4S. I think the extra weight of the V-8 hurts handling.

We learned exactly nothing driving the cars around Bahrain. The roads are pretty lousy: Outside of the F1 track, I don’t think there’s a single curve in the entire country. And they just installed traffic cameras, so completely antisocial speeding (like I may or may have not once done between Abu Dhabi and Dubai) was off the table. The GTS is a very comfortable, mostly luxurious ride when you’re just tooling around. Did the car feel any different than the Panamera 4S would have if tasked with the same trip? No. After the street portion of the day, a Porsche employee asked me what I thought of the car. “It cruises at 72 mph very well,” was all I could say. Luckily, I told him this at the track.

On the track, the GTS made much more sense. The optional carbon-ceramic binders made quick work of the track’s several big braking zones. PDK has long been the standard against which all other dual-clutch transmissions are measured, and the eight-speed unit here is no exception. Simply brilliant. Shifts are lightning-quick and accurate. You’re always in the correct gear. Porsche’s trick 48-volt suspension system (shared with MSB platform mates Audi A8 and Bentley Continental GT) keeps the big, approximately 4,650-pound sedan flat and level through the corners. Also helping to minimize the GTS’ bulk is the all-wheel steering, which turns the front and back wheels in the opposite directions during slow corners and turns them in unison through quick ones. For a large sedan, the GTS is impressive on a track, although the constant tire squeals remind you of the bulk you’re hustling. Notice, however, that with the exception of PDK, everything else that shined about the GTS on track is an option.

Should you be lucky enough to own the second-generation Panamera GTS, you’ll be satisfied with your purchase. Quick, comfortable, and sporty enough to rip up a racetrack, in either hatchback or wagon form, the new GTS is a good car. However, there’s a contrivance to it that bothers me. A lack of passion, an adherence to logic, a missing X-factor. I’m prejudiced by the 911 GTS, a machine that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts. The Panamera GTS is exactly that: the sum of its parts. I went in expecting some sort of pizzazz, some sort of sparkle. Some sort of special sauce that went above and beyond the carefully tailored product planning/marketing. Would 500 horsepower have been too much to ask? What about a stiff, carbon-fiber roof? Anything more than the usual Porsche GTS suspects would have been welcome. There’s no denying the new Panamera GTS is a good, strong, competent car. I was just hoping for great.

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