2013 Porsche Panamera GTS Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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OK, I admit it. I was in the "What is Porsche thinking?!!" camp when the first photos of its Panamera four-door coupe surfaced. I know I wasn't alone then, and I know I'm not alone in proclaiming a stubborn love for the car now. OK, not so stubborn. Yes, at first glance it appears to go against many of Porsche's once seemingly sacrosanct credos such as overall lightweight designs, smallish sizes and minimalist décors, but lower yourself inside a new GTS variant and you'll begin to understand that the Panamera is not only every bit a Porsche, but also one of the best sports sedans available anywhere for any price.

Let's face it. Porsche owes its fellow Stuttgart-based rival a lot of thanks. If it wasn't for Mercedes-Benz the four-door coupe category may not have even been invented at all, and now the Panamera goes head-to-head with the M-B CLS just like Mercedes is pushing the envelope in the sports car segment with its gullwing SLS AMG. Likewise Audi, which also builds an exotically styled sports car is in the four-door coupe game too with its A7, and BMW, while not yet offering anything directly competitive to the SLS, R8 or 911 is nevertheless finally playing on this relatively new field. While Porsche battles it out in this premium entry-level segment with a very approachable V6-powered Panamera, its Turbo and Turbo S take on the top-tier ultra-luxury rival Aston Martin Rapide. So where does the new Panamera GTS fit in? Considering its comparative affordability at $127,815 including destination fees, it strikes right at the heart of the four-door super coupe segment giving an alternative to M-B CLS 63 AMG buyers and those waiting for the upcoming BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe M and Audi RS7. But let me warn you now, if you decide to take a new Panamera GTS for a test drive you might never go back to anything with four rings or a blue and white roundel, let alone a three pointed star.

There's something that typifies a Porsche that can't be emulated by any rival brand, and like you might surmise, words can't quite express the automaker's cumulative unquantifiable elements. From little things like slotting the key into the left side of the steering column and the unique shape of its sport bucket seats to its low-slung yet upright driving position and, of course, how it drives. Nothing feels like a Porsche. Whether a 911, Boxster or Cayman, arguably tops in their respective categories, Porsche's Cayenne is considered to be the sportiest SUV available. And just like the Cayenne, the Panamera GTS (along with its Turbo and Turbo S siblings) takes the title of sportiest four-door, at least in my books.

From the moment you take a seat you'll know what I mean. Sitting low in the GTS' Alcantara and leather upholstered seats, gripping its suede-like steering wheel and peering through to its classic-Porsche styled gauges, you'll feel like you're behind the wheel of a 911. Just don't look into the rearview mirror where two equally pleasing buckets stare back at you in an almost oddly confusing array. For those used to being in a 911 a few double-takes will be needed to confirm you're not imagining things, there are actually two seats back there and yes, they're quite a bit more comfortable than the handy albeit abbreviated jumps seats in back of the 911.

To get underway you'll need to slot the Panamera-shaped electronic key into the slot to the left of the steering column as I mentioned previously, an oddity in today's world of proximity sensing ignition systems and pushbutton starters, but the blood broiling cacophony of pumping pistons, whirling crank and camshafts, and myriad other mechanical delights is only overshadowed by what might be the best V8 exhaust note in the history of motoring. Yes, I've said that before of Ford's new Mustang Boss 302 and a variety of Ferraris over the years, but let me just be clear that the Panamera GTS is right up there at the top of V8 auditory lore, especially when Sport exhaust mode is engaged. Never before has a simple button produced so much mellifluous mechanical music, like the gates of heaven have finally been opened and millions of motorhead angels descended from behind their ethereal veil, then again the sound is so mischievously Mephistophelean it's quite possible these angels were raised up from somewhere more forebodingly mysterious and quite a bit darker.

True, while I might be singing its praises the GTS appealed equally to my devilish side. I won't admit to yet won't deny maintaining the posted limit, the temptation too strong, my flesh too weak. In its special Carmine Red paint it's the automotive equivalent to Angelina Jolie's lips, and those curves? While Angelina might be offended at being compared to something so large, the Panamera GTS is downright sexy in its own brutishly unorthodox way. From its unique front fascia with shaded details that look as if carved from black tourmaline to its shiny anthracite 19-inch Panamera Turbo light alloy wheels wrapped in 255/45 front and 285/40 rear performance rubber, the look is aggressive and purposeful. Its purpose? To get from A to B as quickly as possible, of course.

I've driven most Panamera trim levels, from base V6 to top-line Turbo models, V8-powered Panamera S versions to the new Panamera S Hybrid. There are 10 unique Panameras in total, and all feel a little bit different, while some, like the Hybrid and GTS, are night and day. Standing still at a stoplight the GTS' 430-horsepower V8 snarls and snaps at the stab of the throttle and then barks as revs drop off, not-so-subtle foreplay as to what lay ahead. When the light goes green its takeoff is shocking, 100 km/h flashing past in a mere 4.5 seconds making a person wonder how much faster a Turbo or Turbo S could possibly go. A lot faster at 4.3 and 3.8 seconds respectively, but right now I'm experiencing the immediacy of the GTS and together with its raucous exhaust it's all the performance I'd ever need from a four-door sedan.

Of course, we're not talking about needs here, but wants, and I want a Panamera GTS. I now totally get what Porsche was trying to do with its Panamera. It tried to recreate the experience offered by its sports cars, particularly the 911 GTS, while delivering the practicality of a four-door, four person sedan, and for the most part succeeded. Panamera GTS handling is sublime. Even at the limit its grip is as tenacious as any sport sedan I've ever driven. You can throw it into sharp off-camber corners with the same kind of wild abandon as a 911 and confidently know it'll miraculously make it through the other side, fully composed and completely within a given lane's dotted lines, no matter the weather conditions and almost regardless of the approach speed. Of course any car has its limits, and I wasn't about to fully assess the GTS on city streets let alone seemingly quiet stretches of back country highway, as you never know what's going to come around the corner when you finally find that limit and its nose begins to push, tail starts to break free or a combination of both, but I'm guessing the Panamera GTS will adhere to a paved road surface for much longer than your courage will last. And besides, the car is almost as enjoyable while cruising at saner speeds.

The cabin itself is a feast for automotively bored eyes. Its gorgeous dash and gracefully canted centre stack design, sumptuous leather and suede surfaces, glossed carbon accents and other tantalizing details, like the chronograph clock dial atop the dash, to my tester's complementary red mesh seatbelts, will wow even the most jaded of luxury aficionados, while its raft of high-end electronics will keep technocrats equally indulged. It's truly a car for the automotive elite, and considering all it offers, tangibles and intangibles alike, the new Panamera GTS is one of the best values in the four-door sport coupe segment.

Just heed my warning. Don't drive a Panamera GTS unless you're prepared to buy it, because it'll have you forgetting anything you've previously driven or even wanted to own as soon as you twist the key.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Four-Door Coupe, Porsche, 2013, Panamera GTS, $99,999+,

Organizations: Porsche

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