The snarl of a V8 echoes as the trees around you turn into a grey blur. You enter an oncoming corner at a pace that would be questionable on an interstate highway, with a crackle erupting from the exhausts as you downshift. The car holds firmly through the bend, then it’s back back on the gas hard as you seem to explode onto the next straightaway. This is surely the experience of a dedicated sports car. Except this isn’t one. In fact, I am describing what its like to thrash Porsche’s 5 door sedan, the Panamera.
Specifically I am talking about the 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS, the highest naturally aspirated Panamera model they offer. Its performance is only second to the mighty Panamera Turbo models, but the GTS aims to offer a more pure driving experience.
Many people think the Panamera is a sign that Porsche is going soft, catering to the masses for sales numbers alone. While I do admit that is surely going on to some degree, most skeptics are basing their sentiments solely on the number of doors the car has. In reality it is the driving experience that makes a Porsche, and just because they are selling cars with a wider appeal now does not necessarily mean that what they are selling is compromised. That was my biggest question going into this drive, is the Panamera a genuine Porsche? If there were any model that could pull it off, I think this GTS would certainly be it.
Many of the Panamera haters out there think the car looks bulbous and awkward. I have never been one of those people. I really like the way the Panamera looks, especially when it is in traffic among the droves of mundane commuter cars. It is clearly a Porsche, and at the curb it seems low, wide, and sleek. It is certainly a larger car, but it retains a classic Porsche shape that has been stretched to fit its proportions.
The styling of this GTS model is certainly a little more aggressive than the standard Panamera, with black accents and lower stance. That said, it is still far from what I’d call intimidating. I find it retains the same sort of positive flavor as a 911 or a Boxster. People will know it’s a fast car, but its demeanor isn’t excessive or vulgar.
Any awkwardness one might find in the exterior is made up for with the Panamera’s functionality. The hatchback design gives you a massive amount of storage space, and ease of access. There are only four seats, but each person will have plenty of room. I am actually a fan of many cars accommodating only four people because adding a fifth often just makes everyone uncomfortable. Especially in a car like this, where cornering forces may get excessive, it’s best that those in back won’t be having to use each other as a cushion.
This GTS had the optional sport seats equipped, so it definitely felt more like a focused sports machine than a luxury cruiser. Occupants front and back will be snugly bolstered, being held firmly place during fast corners. The Panamera is still plenty comfortable, but you aren’t sitting in something that could pass for a living room sofa. The Panamera is for people who want a sports car with extra space. If you’re looking for cushy-type luxury, then look elsewhere.
Build quality in the Panamera’s interior is extremely good. The design isn’t flamboyantly elegant, more along the lines of beautifully simple. Everything just feels solidly put together. The seats are upholstered with leather and alcantara, while carbon fiber, metal, and nice-quality plastic trim make up the rest of the cabin. I especially enjoyed the alcantara wrapped sport steering wheel, which felt perfect in my hands as I drove along. Every feature you would want in a car of this caliber is available. This is a very “nice” feeling interior, one that suits this price bracket well.
On the road
This Panamera weighs about as much as the BMW M5, Mercedes E63, and Jaguar XFR, but it can school them all in driving dynamics. The Porsche is extremely well set up, and handles its weight so well that it feels only slightly bigger than a current 911 on the road. Often times when people say a car drives much smaller than it is, they really just mean it has a well set up suspension, but still feels quite large. This Porsche, on the other hand, really does seem to shrink around you as you drive. Despite being quite wide, it is easy to place right where you want it on the road.
Its steering is a lot like the 911’s too, feeling sharp and connected. The chassis responds immediately to your steering inputs, and car stays flat as a pancake when being thrown around. Like in the 911 there isn’t a ton of feedback from the road, but it makes up for it in its accuracy and lively responsiveness.
The Panamera has a crispness to the way it handles that isn’t found elsewhere in its segment. It is so tight and well planted through corners that you can’t believe its size when you get out and look at it. The Porsche DNA is definitely present and accounted for, and handling wise, the Panamera really feels like a sports car that just happens to have four doors.
This GTS was fitted with Porsche’s optional carbon-ceramic brakes, so stopping power was very impressive. I actually had to test the brakes during my drive because some numbskull in a truck decided to pull out in front of me without looking. The Panamera will stop on a dime if you ask it too, but under more normal circumstances the brakes are nice and progressive. These are some of the most well executed carbon-ceramic brakes I have experienced on a street car. As usual, leave it to Porsche to get things right.
While it may be a little down on power compared to say an M5 or E63, the 4.6L V8 in the Panamera GTS is a true masterpiece. Porsche claims it makes 430hp, but it felt a bit stronger to me. Regardless of the actual power figure, the Panamera GTS is quite fast on the road. Being naturally aspirated, it requires that you use more revs to access its power, but it also responds sharply to your throttle inputs. Those of you who don’t want turbo lag, the Panamera GTS is your ticket.
There is a fine, crisp feeling nature to its power delivery. It seems to accelerate harder, and harder as the revs climb. Pull the right paddle, and there is a quick jolt as you are instantly thrust into the next gear, where the speed continues in a flood of addictive velocity. I even had the tires chirp a few times on the shift between 1st and 2nd, which made it feel like a wild beast in hot pursuit of its prey.
The well tuned V8 also provides a dramatic aural experience that will send shivers down your spine. It has a savage growl under load, and on downshifts a loud series of crackles will erupt from the exhaust. Honestly I could keep myself well entertained just cruising around town in 2nd gear, frequently downshifting into 1st for laughs. That said, the sound is better when you are moving at a good clip because it adds a substantial eargasm to the thrill of the car’s speed.
The real strong point of the Panamera GTS is the way all of its performance comes together to make one whole package. The responsiveness and competency of its handling allow you to attack corners hard, and its vast all wheel drive grip allows you to put its massive power to the ground. This machine is all about pace, and it can cover ground at an astounding rate. In this regard, I would argue that the Panamera GTS is probably right on par with the M5 and the rest of its more powerful competition. What it lacks in raw power, the Panamera GTS makes up for with a superior driving experience. This is definitely the driver’s choice in the super sedan segment, similar to the way the Scion FRS sits in the sub $30k range.
On top of its performance, one of the best things about the Panamera is its versatility. It is surely the sharpest driving car in its segment when all of the sport settings are activated, but it becomes quite docile when you turn them off. The gearbox shifts quite smoothly, and the growly exhaust quiets down. As I said before, it won’t become a soft, cushy luxury car, but the beast can relax quite a bit. Similar to a 911, you still feel very connected when driving slow, but thanks largely to the refinement of the PDK gearbox, the Panamera will handle rush hour traffic just fine.
What I came away with from my drive in this Panamera GTS was a new understanding of where it really fits into the Porsche lineup. The fact is, Porsche hasn’t gone soft at all with this car, and it should not be thought of as some big luxury cruiser. Think of it more as a 911 Carrera 4S for customers who have a family, and need more space. That really is how it feels.
In the market
As I said above, the Panamera GTS really is a Porsche for people who want a Porsche. If you want a car with a high emphasis on luxury and comfort, this probably isn’t your gig.
With a $111,000 starting price, the Panamera GTS is costs a bit more than many other, more powerful cars. The one I drove also had a bunch of options fitted, so the final price was around $140,000. That is a lot of money, yes, but it is actually still cheaper than a base Panamera Turbo, so it the GTS does have its own, well defined territory in the Porsche lineup. That said, Porsche does demand a hefty premium for their products in relation to the market segments they compete in. You can get “more car for less money”, but it won’t be a Porsche.
So should you buy one? I certainly would if I had the money. It is at a higher level in terms of driving dynamics than the other super sedans in its range. Cars like the BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG are faster in a straight line, so if all you want is raw speed those may be better. However, if you are looking for a true sports car driving experience in a sedan package, then the Panamera GTS is unquestionably what you want. Porsches always seem to have their own special appeal in any segment they compete in, and the Panamera is no exception. Porsche’s tagline is “There is no substitute”, and I would have to agree. If you want what a Porsche offers, then nothing else will really do.
I didn’t really know what to expect going into this drive. Part of me thought the Panamera would be too much of a luxury car, but it really blew me away with its focus on sporting dynamics. Porsche really knows what they are doing these days. They have been able to branch out their market appeal without compromising their fundamental identity.
It is hard not to compare Porsche to BMW, which has suffered a real identity crisis in the last few years. Their new M5 and M6 are both far more compromised in terms of driving dynamics, giving more priority to luxury and comfort now. The Panamera, at least in GTS form, is the sort of car that I wish those M cars still were. Even with around the same amount of weight as the hefty BMWs, Porsche’s engineers have still been able to make the Panamera drive like a proper sports car.
After I stepped out of the car I just remember thinking that I had a new favorite sedan now. The Panamera GTS may be a big Porsche, and it may be a Porsche with “too many” doors, but when it comes to the bottom line, it is still one thing at heart, a Porsche.
WoM Score: 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS
Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(2) Practicality(2) MPG(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1
Final Score: 9/10