Placing the 2015 Porsche Panamera GTS in its rightful place in the automotive universe is like picking out a fine wine pairing from an extensive list when one’s not sure what’s on the menu. Porsche’s extra sporting family hatchback is priced around the topend versions of fellow German luxury automaker performance four-doors, yet within its own extensive Panamera lineup, it’s only half way up the performance ladder – if you only look at straight-line power.
So you’ll have to continue up the Panamera hierarchy if you hunger for the full fire-breathing horsepower to quash the rest of its largely German rivals in all-out acceleration or top track speed.
But overall power is far from the only key consideration in this sporting six-figure four-door segment. Especially in this land of revenue-generating, strictly enforced highway speed limits. Styling, interior appeal, practicality and of course that ephemeral brand allure all feature large for these buyers, as may dynamic factors such as ride and handling, each driver with diverse priorities and tastes.
Enter Porsche marketing 101. As Porsche has mastered with the 911, adding multiple versions of the Panamera allows the company to slice and dice the unique appeal of its sporting full-size hatchback, with diamond-blade precision in the case of the GTS. It stacks up well in these other categories that don’t require that rarity of a traffic/people/ cop-free curvy road, and yet will appeal to enthusiasts who want something sportier looking and feeling than a regular Panamera.
And as soon as you sit in its snugly contoured leather seats, hear the bark of its notably louder engine, and experience your first entertaining highway ramp, you’ll quickly realize that the GTS badges sprinkled around the car actually means something laudable for enthusiasts, cherry-picking many of the handling and braking upgrades from the Turbo, but in a lighter, more track-focused package.
Walking up to the GTS, changes are subtle from those of other Panamera models, outside of the GTS logos on the car’s lower doors and rear hatch. The front end features the same larger air intakes as the Panamera Turbo, as well as that car’s trick rear four-way spoiler that folds out at just over legal highway speeds, but doesn’t totally give you away to traffic police, because it stays deployed down until about 60 km/h. Black accents that match that GTS script on the doors subtly surround its entire lower body, providing some menace to the rear diffuser and matte black quad tailpipes.
Performance-wise, the GTS starts with more power than regular Panamera or S models, its 4.8-litre V-8 pumping out 440 hp, a 20 pony bump up from the 2015 Panamera 4S, that peaks at a lofty 6,700 rpm, or just under the slightly higher 7,100 rpm redline of the GTS. Torque comes in at 384 lb-ft, at a much more city-friendly 3,500 rpm. Together with the standard Launch Control system that comes with the Sport Chrono package included in the GTS, plus the 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission standard on all Panameras, the GTS can launch itself from rest to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds, says Porsche, on up to a 288 km/h top track speed.
This impressive acceleration is no doubt also helped by its standard all-wheel-drive, as well as its curb weight that comes in a couple hundred pounds less than rivals like the Audi RS 7 and BMW M6 Gran Coupe four-door hatchbacks. All these factors help the GTS at least stay just behind but in the same acceleration ballpark as those cars, even though it’s down at least 120 horses to those two. In turn, that Audi and BMW fall just under the pony count of the blazingly quick but much pricier 570 hp Panamera Turbo S.
But the true charm of the GTS lies not in its extra power, but in its extra varroooom sounds. Its extra large air intakes are connected to what Porsche calls a Sound Symposer system, activated by the push of the Sport button, which transmits intake noise through a special membrane in the A-pillar, all to provide a more visceral and connected driving experience. The Sport Plus mode offers faster and sharper gear shifts and throttle response, which also increases the engine noise quotient. Then there’s a separate dual exhaust button that opens up flaps in the standard sport exhaust that reduces back pressure and increases ‘aural excitement’ even further, in a system that’s smart enough to remember your setting next time you hop in the car.
Even if you’re not travelling much faster than a regular Panamera 4S, it sounds and feels as if you are.
In addition to the aforementioned AWD, the Panamera GTS cuts a cleaner line through the corners courtesy of a body that’s been lowered by 10 millimetres, with firmer dampers to help minimize body roll and a five-millimetre wider rear footprint for added stability. On the options list, there’s Porsche’s anti-roll PDCC (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control) system that actively counteracts the g-forces with roll stabilizers at both axles, as well as PTV Plus, a torque vectoring system that pushes more torque to the outside rear tires in a corner, helping to lessen understeer and increase turn-in crispness when pushing hard.
Inside the Panamera, there’s plenty of space up front, though the two rear seat riders have a couple inches less legroom than usual in this class. From a usability standpoint, the Panamera interior’s extreme button count may not look nearly as artful as some rivals, all of whom have largely moved to some type of controller mouse and/or touch screen to cut down or eliminate buttons altogether. But once you’ve located and deciphered all the pictograms, it’s perhaps the easiest of the luxury car systems to use, with a similar layout now in the 911 and Cayenne.
The lack of a fifth seat may hurt it from a practicality standpoint, but then it’s a common trait of the four-door ‘coupes’ with which it most closely competes. It gains some of those practicality points back with its unique hatchback body style and handy power tailgate, which allows the rear seats to be folded easily to make a much larger cargo area. Its overall 12.6 L/100km fuel efficiency average is no Tesla challenger – there’s a Panamera plug-in hybrid for that – but it’s also surprisingly close to the Panamera Turbo’s 12.8 average.
When all is said and done, consider the Panamera GTS then the grizzly Clint Eastwood of the German four-door sports car contingent: it’s not the most muscular action hero, but its growly demeanour belies plenty of speed and cardio training. Its upgraded handling and amplified V8 engine response is geared to those that appreciate ultimate handling and more aggressive looks, but don’t want or need the 500+ ponies of the Panamera Turbo models.
2015 Porsche Panamera GTS
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED PRICE: $129,400/$144,455
ENGINE: 4.8 L V8
POWER/TORQUE: 440 hp/384 lb.-ft
CONFIGURATION: All-wheel-drive, front engine
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed PDK automatic
DRY WEIGHT: 1,925 kg
TIRES: Michelin Pilot Sport PS 2, 255/40R20 front, 295/35 R 20 rears
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY/HWY/ COMBINED): 15.1/9.7/12.6 L/100 km
WARRANTY: 48 Months/80,000KM
ALTERNATIVES: Audi RS 7, BMW M6 Gran Coupe, Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG, Tesla Model S 85D
OPTIONS ON TEST VEHICLE: 20-inch RS Spyder wheels, Lane-Change/Blind Spot Assist, seat ventilation (front), Reversing camera including ParkAssist and Surround View, Burmester High-End sound, two-tone leather