The Porsche Panamera GTS makes all the right noises, feels almost as fast as a Panamera Turbo and is kitted out accordingly. If your budget does not stretch to the Turbo S, this is the Panamera to have. But beware - there is major facelift coming in spring 2013.
Porsche Panamera GTS: the background
Like the Mk1 Cayenne, the Panamera proves that anything goes as long as Porsche sticks its prestigious badge on to it. Strictly speaking, the five-door GT from Weissach is too big, too heavy, too compromised and too ugly - but it still is a smash hit in the marketplace.
While the 296bhp entry-level model and the 247bhp diesel don´t exactly take your breath away in the performance department, the 394bhp S model, the 493bhp Turbo and the awesome 542bhp Turbo S in particular are seriously potent instruments. The new four-wheel drive 424bhp GTS slots in between the 4S and the Turbo. It is even more vocal than the top-of-the-line model, its blacked out livery suits the character of the car very well, and the new engine is, in combination with the sharper PDK gearbox, at least subjectively every bit as aggressive as the two artificially aspirated V8s.
Panamera GTS in the metal
Black is the contrasting colour of choice for the GTS. The bi-xenon eyes rest in pitch-black sockets; the window trim, air intakes, rear diffuser, sill covers and dual tailpipes are painted in the devil's signature shade; and the leather-and-alcantara trim is also kept in matching coalmine hues.
The 424bhp Panamera GTS is fitted with the aero kit of the Turbo that features a deeper chin spoiler and a motorised rear air dam which progressively increases the downforce above 130mph. Open the door, climb behind the sports steering wheel with the contrasting straight-ahead pointer, and make yourself comfortable in the excellent 18-way power seats.
Standard equipment includes the Sound Symposer already introduced in the 911, a free-breathing sports exhaust that changes its voices from roar to thunder at the push of a button, a stiffer and 10mm lower version of the PASM air suspension, and the Sport Chrono pack which spices up chassis and drivetrain.
And the review bit? How is the Panamera GTS to drive?
The modified high-revving engine sounds meaner, badder and louder than the other eight-enders. Instead of the 394bhp/368lb ft of the S, the GTS delivers 424bhp at 6700rpm and 383lb ft at 3500rpm, its redline has been lifted from 6700 to 7100rpm, and its intake apparatus sports two extra air boxes which create a mid-range 'ram' effect. As a result, the 4.8-litre V8 produces more punch and responds more promptly to throttle orders.
Although it weighs a monolithic 1920 kilos, the shirt-sleeved Panamera will accelerate in 4.5sec from 0-62mph, top 180mph and average 25.8mpg. It is thus only 0.3sec slower off the mark than the Turbo which costs £13,000 more. In terms of maximum speed, it lags a relatively irrelevant 9mph behind. On paper, there is a 4% fuel consumption advantage, but in real life all petrol-fed Panameras are notorious for having one over the eight, and the GTS is no exception.
It's a shame that the variable-rate Servotronic steering fitted to the test car felt suspiciously light and, yes, indifferent up to 50mph while firming up substantially - especially around the straight-ahead position - at autobahn speeds. The system reduces effort up to 50kmh, but an identically equipped Panamera Turbo (which was parked in the Kacher garage for the last 12 months) was totally devoid of such symptoms, so maybe the GTS kit does entail one or two dynamic idiosyncrasies.
Should I order the Sport Chrono pack?
The Sport Chrono pack is a bit of two-edged sword. In the Plus setting, throttle response is truly telepathic, engine and transmission indulge in blind understanding, lift-off is whiplash-intense, the air suspension switches from firm to hard while assuming the lowest setting, the tail rudder rises to its on alert position, and the stability control permits an extra dash of leeriness. That's the good news.
The bad news concern the transmission management which triggers downshifts at very high revs, holds a given gear at very high revs and changes up at very high revs. We would rather be able to dial in a Comfort mode in which the seven-speed dual-clutch cogworks could relax like the air suspension does in its softest setting. On the credit side, Sport Plus does speed up gearchanges with commendable vigour. Full throttle upshifts in particular produce a veritable kick in the butt. The Sport mode, between Normal and Sport Plus, is less OTT, and allows you to separately select the softer suspension setting.
Extra money buys dynamic chassis control (PDCC) which virtually eliminates body roll via adjustable anti-roll bars, absolutely riveting carbon-ceramic brakes (PCCB) and active torque distribution in combination with an electronic limited-slip differential (PTV Plus). Are these options essential? Yes - but only if the GTS is your designated track-day special.
The free-revving, commendably responsive 424bhp V8 is a lovely engine - tuneful, potent, involving and relatively efficient in areas where speed limits are strictly enforced. And the GTS is arguably the best buy of the Panamera bunch. It performs almost as well as the Turbo, it is only marginally more expensive than a 4S specced up to the same level, and it is as sporty in character as the very expensive Turbo S.