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Porsche's Refreshed Panamera GTS Remains a Delightful Proposition
A little more power and a little more style make this sedan an even more compelling buy.
As we've mentioned on multiple occasions before, the GTS trim level occupies something of the Goldilocks zone within Porsche's long line of variants — floating delightfully in-between the base models and the punchier performance trims. What we've haven't touched on so much is how the Panamera sedan occupies something of a similar role within the Porsche lineup itself — straddling the capacious-but-upright Cayenne and Macan crossovers and the sleek-but-snug 911 and 718 sports cars. If you're looking for a Porsche that manages to neatly bridge the gap between convenience and fun, the Panny is probably your best bet.
So, to look at it from one angle, the Porsche Panamera GTS is the ideal compromise within the Zuffenhausen lineup: the Goldilocks version of the Goldilocks car, equally happy carrying people around town as knocking out long road trips as tearing a B-road a new one. Do things play out that way in the real world, however? I took the GTS out for two separate spins on two different coasts –once in Malibu's canyons, the other time in and around New York City — to test out that hypothesis.
Not really, but don't hold that against it. For the 2021 model year, the GTS, like all Panameras, received a mid-life refresh — but while some other versions saw big power upgrades, the GTS only got an extra 20 ponies for its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. It does benefit visually from the now-standard Sport Design package that adds a bit of pizzazz to the front and rear fasciae, which now comes standard on all Pannys, but most of us would be hard-pressed to tell the difference without a side-by-side comparison against the old model. A few minor tweaks round out the changes, but really, it's not such a drastic change as to warrant upgrading from the old model ASAP.
It's the most affordable way to score a V8 in a Porsche Panamera, for one thing. If that doesn't mean much to you, well, you'd probably be better off buying a Panamera 4S E-Hybrid, which spits out more power and torque for less money by wedding a twin-turbo V6 to an electric motor and a 17.9-kWh battery.
The added weight of the battery pack means the 4S E-Hybrid's straight-line performance will likely be pretty much neck and neck with the GTS, however, and leave it a quarter-step behind when dancing through some turns. The GTS aims straight for where rationality meets emotion: for folks who want the classic roar and distinct power delivery of an eight-cylinder motor, but also have the fiscal mindset that it's probably worth saving more than $49,000 to live with being a little bit behind the other, more powerful V8 models in the Panamera lineup, the Turbo S and Turbo S E-Hybrid.
Like all modern Panameras, it's an exceptionally well-laid-out interior marred by just a handful of tiny annoyances. Pretty much all of them can be found on the glass panel around the shift lever, where the glass "buttons" for many controls can be found — but only if you look, because while their icons are illuminated, their edges aren't well-delineated, and while their haptic touch feedback means you'll know if you pressed one, the fact that they lack clear physical edges or texture means good luck finding them with muscle memory. I understand that the first-gen Panamera's array of buttons looked rather like something out of a Boeing, but how is having just as many button icons scattered around without the benefit of actual buttons any better?
Once you're used to that — or at least have figured out the best workarounds, like using the volume buttons on the steering wheel instead of the drum ahead of the shifter — it's easy to settle in and enjoy this Porsche. The seating position feels great; it's lower than you'd expect from a sedan, with plenty of room for long limbs. The instrument panel, of course, still places tach and digital speedo front and center; you barely need to look at anything else. And the infotainment system is still one of the better ones out there; honestly, I'm not sure why Porsche is giving it such a drastic update as first seen in the Cayenne Turbo GT, as it's quick and clear just the way it is.
The back seat is adequate for most adults, but anyone planning on making extensive use of it might be better suited with one of the extended-wheelbase Executive models; likewise, anyone who finds the deep, wide trunk a tad tiny should consider the Sport Turismo wagon version.
Well, it's a Porsche. Which is to say, for those of you who may not have had a chance to sample one lately: it's a delightfully involving, fun-to-drive example of what a performance-oriented passenger vehicle should be, no matter what category or price point.
What the car's twin-turbo V8 lacks in low-end grunt compared to other examples of the breed, the eight-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox makes up for with its happiness to downshift early and often to keep the engine on the boil. Sure, its horsepower figure may start with a 4 instead of the 5 or 6 found in many other super-sedans these days, but dial the drive mode up to Sport or Sport Plus and fire it down a winding road, and you'll rarely wish for more power. My colleagues at Car and Driver found the Panamera GTS leaps from 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, which feels both eminently realistic and yet still mildly absurd for the fourth-most-powerful sedan in the lineup.
Indeed, if anything, the Panamera GTS could benefit most from more aggressive tuning, not added power; I found myself occasionally pushing the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S to their limits the car towards understeer on very tight canyon roads. That said, it's a two-plus-ton sedan, not a sports car, and one meant to strike a balance between shock-and-awe performance and daily-driving comfort; it's not designed to keep up with a Ferrari in the bends.
Indeed, relax and let the car do the same, and the GTS becomes an excellent four-door gran turismo. The body control is firm and taut, but never punishing; while you're always aware of what's happening through the wheel, you won't grow weary of impacts after a long spell behind it. And, if you're looking to knock out long miles in your entertaining ride, the GTS has you covered like a champ: C/D also found it'll cover 30 miles per gallon of gas at 75 mph, which means your tank will fill up long before its tank goes empty.
As usual, Porsche's price/performance ratio is a bit less advantageous than its competitors. The Audi RS 7, BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63 S all start below the Porsche's asking price, but all of them pack more power and performance into their German chassis; still, considering the more-comparable-on-specs Panamera Turbo S starts around $180,000, odds are good anyone comparing looking for a Panamera to cross-shop against its homegrown rivals will be weighing the GTS.
But if the value ratio doesn't seem to be there at first glance, perhaps it's worth reevaluating the angle you're looking at the GTS from. Think about it this way: a new 911 Carrera and a new Macan together will run you far more than a Panamera GTS, even though the latter manages to deliver the space of the latter and the performance of the former. Also, you don't need as many driveway spots.
Base Price: $132,050
Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8; eight-speed dual-clutch automatic; all-wheel-drive
Torque: 457 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway
Seats: Four to five
Stupendously quick, incredibly fun and remarkably usable, the 911 Turbo is about as close as you can find to a perfect car.