Published August 16, 2012
Great cars have their moments. For the Porsche Panamera GTS, it came at the end of the three quarters of a mile back straight at the Monticello Motor Club.
There, as I began breaking for the tight switchback that followed, I snuck a glance at the speedometer and saw that the car was going 140 mph. At first the number didn’t register, but then context hit me in the face as if I’d driven head on into the guardrail.
A couple of weeks before I had been in that exact location in a Camaro ZL1 travelling at precisely the same speed. The ZL1 is, of course, a 580 hp sports car that has two doors and looks like a robot from another planet. The Panamera GTS has 430 hp, a 100 pound weight disadvantage and can fool someone into thinking it was a humpback whale.
Now, I’m not saying that in the right hands the Camaro isn’t the faster car. It has to be, right? But on the same track, with the same driver, in the same conditions…there you have it.
The GTS is arguably the best of the eight versions of the Panamera currently available – GTS model Porsches usually are. The letters stand for Grand Touring Sport and designate vehicles designed to handle cross-country treks and track days with equal ability.
This one is the most powerful normally aspirated Panamera available, with improved breathing for its 4.8 liter V8 thanks in part to a good (probably not) old-fashioned ram air system fed by pair of intakes below the front bumper and redline increased to 7,100 rpm.
Like most Porsches these days, it has a seven speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but one that’s been upgraded to deliver quicker, more intense shifts, regardless if its in Normal, Sport or Sport Plus modes. For the $111,975 base price, an active air suspension is standard, as is all-wheel-drive. An extra $5,000 adds an innovative system called Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control that can adjust the stiffness of the roll bars to offer a broader range of suspension compliance. Electronic torque vectoring uses the anti-lock-braking system to distribute power between the rear wheels in a way that helps direct the car through turns.
The cabin of the GTS is as elegant as you want it to be thanks to an epic, bank account-draining list of options that includes a $5,890 1000-watt Burmeister audio system, but the car comes standard with gorgeous, drumhead-tight leather and Alcantara upholstery and bucket seats that have adjustable bolsters top and bottom for a custom fit.
The exterior remains largely the same as other Panameras, but if you go for the black wheels and red-painted brake calipers it distracts a little bit from the car’s sizeable hindquarters. I’m still not sold on the look of the Panamera, but it has presence and gets a lot of stares, mostly approving, sometimes quizzical, but rarely nasty.
On the road the GTS rides like what it is: a big sports car. Not a sedan that’s been hot rodded into submission, but a sports car that’s been sized up to fit four people. Even with all of the active suspension components, it’s on the stiff side, but certainly within the parameters of a daily driver, if not a true luxury car.
Stray farther from your commute and the reason for that becomes clear. This monster has moves. If its cockpit-style, button infested interior gives the impression that you’re at the helm of a starship, you’ll be surprised to discover that it flies in the face of the theory of relativity, seeming to get smaller and lighter the faster you go.
This is particularly evident on a racetrack, where all of these elements come together to make for a very satisfying drive.
The all-wheel-drive system is calibrated to send the power to the rear unless absolutely necessary, so the GTS is easy to steer with the throttle, but always prepared to save the day. Get a little heat in the tires and it slips into go-kart mode.
The power isn’t overwhelming, at least it doesn’t feel it, but that just means you can drive the car as quickly as will can go without fearing too much for your life. This probably explains how I found myself going so fast at the end of that straight when I wasn’t even trying.
I can’t help but think that if this feels like a seat of the pants car its time that I need to lose a little weight, but once you get into the groove its just so instinctive to drive that you don’t worry about much at all.
I will exclude the brakes from that statement. Even thought they are very potent and borrowed from the Turbo model, the ones in my test car got cooked pretty quickly and the pedal travel was quite long. But since I can’t vouch for the type of duty the car saw before it came into my possession, I’ll reserve judgment until my next go around. That said, even at $9,210, the fade-free carbon ceramic disc option seems like a good call.
Regardless, at no point during my time with it did I find myself saying “this is fun, but I really wish I had a 911 right now.” Don't judge this book by its big, bodacious cover, the GTS is as much of a sports car as any other, and touring rarely gets this grand.
2013 Porsche Panamera GTS
Base Price: $111,975
As Tested: $144,995
Type: 5-door, 4-passenger hatchback
Engine: 4.8-liter V8
Power: 430 hp, 384 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
MPG: 16 city/23 hwy