What if you took the best parts of the latest Porsche 911 GTS and put them in a package you could use to haul your family around? That may be a question nobody’s asked until now, but here’s the answer to it: the 2019 Porsche Panamera GTS.
(Full Disclosure: Porsche needed me to drive the new Panamera GTS so badly it flew me to Bahrain’s F1 track and paid for my lodging, food and booze. Yes, I was just in Portugal with BMW. Jalopnik has been running me hard lately.)
Last year I took a trip down to Cape Town, South Africa to test the then-new Porsche 911 GTS and the Panamera Hybrid. I came away fully impressed by the GTS, which I had always considered little more than a parts bin special 911. However, I was considerably less impressed with the Panamera Hybrid, which I considered overweight and finicky.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. There is at least one person who has (indirectly) asked that question above, and that’s my good buddy, occasional Jalopnik scribe and ’Ring Taxi driver extraordinaire, Dale Lomas.
Dale also reviewed the Panamera when it was new, albeit the base model. He came away not entirely impressed, saying that the Panamera wasn’t hardcore enough to assuage any skeptics who said it wasn’t a “real” Porsche.
Well, Dale, the boys at Weissach heard you, because I’m here to tell you the Panamera GTS is definitely a real Porsche.
When The Parts Bin Is A Good Place To Be
Let’s start with the differences between the GTS and the standard Panamera. Here, the base equipment has been significantly upgraded. Items as standard include Sport Design Package that adds dark trim and highlights throughout the car, 20-inch Panamera Design wheels and black Alcantara trim and aluminum highlights, and Porsche’s Connect Plus system.
But clearly the biggest differences are the tweaks to the 4.0-liter twin scroll turbocharged V8, which now pumps out 460 horsepower and 457 lb-ft from just 1,800 RPM. Not as much as the Turbo’s 550 HP, but way more than the base V6 car’s 330 HP.
Also, the chassis has been lowered 10mm with a sportier tune on the Porsche Active Suspension Management system. (More on that in a moment.) Best of all, the GTS comes in sedan or Sport Turismo wagon form.
To me, the jury is still out on the look of the sedan, but it is clearly much better looking than its predecessor. However, styling for the Sport Turismo is just about perfect. No bad angles on this car.
We Jalops complain we don’t get wagons in the U.S. and then Porsche goes off and makes one of the sexiest sports wagon outside of the (unobtainable) Audi RS6. How are we not all shouting off the rooftops about this?
In this reporter’s opinion, Porsche should just make the Sport Turismo and the GT3 Touring, and be done.
On The Inside
Moving inside, not much has changed in the updated Panamera’s interior, which is for the most part a good thing. The seating position is just about perfect with enough range of adjustment to be comfortable on the long drive through Bahrain’s oil fields, but also able to handle the g forces out on track.
There’s also enough space to fit four normal sized adults for medium length trips around town. I wouldn’t look to follow Patrick and Raph on one of their road trips in the back seat, but anything short of that should be fine.
My one issue with the decisions made by Porsche’s stylists is the driver instrument cluster. Porsche kept the classic analog center tach while the flanking screens are digital. To be blunt, this doesn’t work. I know the center tach is a classic Porsche design feature, but the Panamera isn’t a classic Porsche. I think it’s OK to go new school here.
The issue I have with this design is that the tach takes up a huge amount of space on the dash. Too much for just a styling feature. Most cars at this price point have gone to a full OLED display that is far more efficient at dispensing information. Also, due to the design the right and left upper edges of the screen were obscured by the steering wheel.
Continuing the theme, the GTS’s center screen is good but not great. The resolution is solid but it’s nowhere near as responsive as some of the class competitors I’ve driven. Also it appears that the nav voice was taken straight off the computer from the 1980 movie War Games.
That being said it did manage to nail the pronunciation of the Arabic streets it was on, which I found impressive. (Envision the War Games “Do you want to play a game?” voice pronouncing “استدر يمينًا عند التقاطع التالي” Points if you even can.)
On The Track
After playing around in the desert for the day we headed off for the track. We were to get two lapping sessions on the Bahrain GP circuit. One on the shorter outlook section during the day and then another session on the full GP track at night.
Going out for my initial laps the first thing I noticed immediately was that PASM was massively intrusive in Sport Plus mode, which is supposed to be much more aggressive. When I coach at track days I always tell my students to leave the stability control on as modern electronics are so good that if they are intervening, you are probably doing something wrong—and they are saving you.
When I drove the 911 GTS in Sport Plus, PASM almost never kicked in and the few times it did it was barely noticeable. But my first session out with the Panamera GTS wagon was the opposite of that. With the stability control jumping in everywhere, it killed any speed I was carrying out of the corner.
It was so bad that when I came in, the left front brake was completely cooked and smoking even after a long cool down lap. Bahrain is a clockwise circuit so a majority of the corners are right handers, therefore it’s the left side that takes the most punishment and the one that the car will try to get to stop sliding by braking individual wheels. Hence, my smoky left Brembo.
Now before the internet gets up in arms about how bad PASM is, there is a caveat: this is a pretty rare scenario. You have an experienced pro driver (me) chasing a Porsche factory driver (who was in a Turbo S) on a slick, sand-covered circuit with several off-camber corners. And I was trail braking into the corners pretty deeply to get the rear to rotate so the AWD system could pull me through.
Like I said, a pretty rare scenario for your average Panamera owner, who is probably more likely to use this as a mall cruiser than a track day toy. But it’s still one that irked me, so I walked over to have a chat with the assembled Porsche engineers.
I don’t know if you have ever talked to a group of German engineers about their work, and the possibility that it is not up to snuff. It’s like walking into a pride of lions. You do it slowly and very unwillingly, all the while looking for the best escape route if things go sideways.
All eyes were on me as I told them how much better the 911 GTS’ stability control was when I engaged Sport Plus, and how I assumed that they would have designed the Panamera GTS to have similar characteristics. And mine, I told them sheepishly, didn’t... have... those... characteristics.
Have you ever seen a half dozen German engineers smile all at the same time? Yeah, neither have I. And let me tell you it was more than a bit disconcerting. I couldn’t tell if they were actually happy or about to coordinate on making me their prey.
But I was right, and I uncovered something new. Turns out that on the newer systems, PASM is no longer part of the Sport Plus mode. In order to engage Sports PASM, you need to press the stability control button on the center console. One press engages Sport mode, and a press and hold turns stability control completely off.
My newfound German friends were actually happy that someone had pushed their system hard enough to recognize what they had done.
How To Match A 911
Now we were asked by Porsche not to deactivate PASM for our safety which I grudgingly ignored, I mean, obliged. I mean, my elbow may have “inadvertently” hit the PASM off button as I was climbing in for my second (night) stint on track. It’s hard to say.
What I can say is the car was absolutely brilliant now, allowing me to toss the GTS into the corner the same way I could its rear-engined sibling. The system would still sneak in every once in a while if I got too exuberant with my trail braking, but for the most part it was content to stay on the sidelines and let me party.
The handling of the Panamera is some of the best in a car this size. There were a few times where I was annoyed on track when the Panamera wouldn’t turn in a bit better, or get through the circuit’s turn 1-2 switchback complex quicker.
But after the on track session I would get out and remember how big the Panamera is and then I would wonder on how a car this size does half of the things it does. It honestly feels like a car thats 25 percent smaller than it actually, physically is.
In short, Porsche has finally done a great job in making this car feel like a Porsche. Despite being a front-engined sport sedan/wagon, the engineers have managed to design in a 911-type feel to how it moves.
Much as Porsche engineers have managed to iron out the most evil rear-engine traits of the 911, they have done the reverse here to this car.
The all-wheel drive system is very good, but it still falls a bit short to my current favorite, the latest BMW M5. The M5’s rear-wheel drive biased system makes that car so much more engaging to drive. You can balance that car on the throttle and just when you feel you’re about to lose the rear end you, power starts heading to the front and you come off the corner in awesome four wheel drifts looking like a hero.
In the Panamera you have to fight a bit more understeer, so you really have to work to get the rear to step out. It will, but it definitely requires more commitment and skill to make that happen.
It’s not cheap either because these things never are. Remember, Porsche is a company that says its pre-owned models are the “entry level” cars. So a Panamera GTS sedan starts at $128,300, and the Sport Turismo wagon starts at $134,500. As you might guess I prefer the latter. It may never see such track duty, but it can.
In fact, Porsche had a dozen Panamera GTS-es running for the better part of seven hours on track and other than gas and tires, I didn’t notice a single retirement. Impressive for a four-door grocery getter, even one with Porsche’s pedigree attached to it.