It's been half a dozen years since the Porsche Panamera first appeared at the Shanghai Motor Show, long enough for the bruising to fade on the tender sensibilities of the hard-core faithful. It was almost amusing to see the first reactions to the big Porsche's arrival, particularly from those hard-core sports-car loyalists who considered it a personal affront. After the first lashings of critical snark appeared, the floodgates opened and a reverse-sycophantic free-for-all ensued. Panamera-bashing reached internet-meme proportions. Most of it was generated by a vocal minority unlikely to ever afford one, while rapturously praising the virtues of sub-$15,000 brown diesel station wagons – the more obscure, the better.
Obviously, the folks who've made the Panamera the best-selling Porsche in Canada (next to the Cayenne) missed the memo that they simply aren't cool.
Like 'em, or loathe 'em, Porsche is selling a metric scheiss-load of 'em.
To be fair, Panameras in the lower spectrum of the model range – though fine, respectable luxury cruisers – are rather lacking in character. Those sporting the Turbo S and GTS badges however, can almost hold their own against Porsche's venerable two-doors.
Like 'em, or loathe 'em, Porsche is selling a metric scheiss-load of 'em. And regardless of whether you're a fan or not – that's a good thing. Thanks to the Panamera and the equally maligned Cayenne SUV, Porsche pulled through the recent economic implosion to continue producing the raw sports cars we all love so much. Surely, even Zuffenhausen's most devout disciples can understand those economics.
Like other GTS-badged variants in the lineup, the Panamera GTS targets the serious driver, but in this case one who wants his sports car blended with an executive sedan.
Although I'd previously driven a Panamera GTS in screaming, chili pepper red, this week's tester is a slightly more subtle white. It's best viewed from the front, with a lovely face that's menacing to see in one's rear view mirror. The three-quarter view is also nice - with its obvious familial ties to the gorgeous 918. In profile, however, the Panamera's awkward roofline and bulging backside lend it a look that's less Porsche and more porcine. Black-trimmed rocker panels – the Spanx of the auto world – visually slenderize the Panamera's substantial girth, giving a deceptively lithe appearance to its mid-section.
Twenty-inch "Spyder" wheels further ramp up the GTS's athleticism, as do the enormous (390-mm) slotted rotors and red six-piston calipers behind their split spokes.
While the Panamera's exterior styling evokes divided opinion, its interior isn't much different than a 911's. Dividing the cabin is the familiar bank of switchgear – studded with a bewildering array of buttons, yet nicely trimmed with matte aluminum and carbon fibre.
There's just enough red leather to provide visual impact, yet not enough to look garish, and the headliner is a soft, creamy grey suede.
Seating, as usual, is superb. There's just something about the union of my backside and a Porsche-engineered seat that satisfies my soul while providing perfectly contoured support for my physical being. Unlike the exquisite luxuriousness of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class's lounge chairs, Porsche somehow imbues its seating with a lithe suppleness, providing comfort without softness, and a firm grip when the drive becomes more adventurous.
There's plenty of leg and headroom, but the Panamera loses points to more accommodating competitors by its strictly four-seater configuration. It gains some back for the ease of cargo-loading through the wide opening created by its handy liftback (did we really just refer to an almost $150,000 luxury sedan as a hatchback?)
Initially, the Panamera does feel extremely large – and it takes a few minutes to get accustomed to its width and length. Does it feel like a 911? Of course not – but the AWD Panamera is nicely balanced for such a big car. The ride is creamier, yet without wallow and seductively smooth in Comfort Mode. The GTS comes standard with an air suspension that's equipped with Porsche's Active Suspension Management (PASM) rather than the steel springs found in their RWD variants. This system gives the Panamera a self-levelling ability, regardless of road surface or load distribution, soaks up any pavement irregularities, and at the touch of a button, raises the chassis by 20 mm for clearance, or lowers it 15 mm for "sportier" driving. This, coupled with the four-cornered traction supplied by the all-wheel-drive system, gives the GTS a solid sense of composure.
Selecting Sports Mode is like poking the hive with a stick – one minute you're gliding along, enjoying the serenity due one accustomed to plus-six-figure luxury cars, the next – you're white-knuckling the steering wheel, crying "Hold on Newt, we're headed for the rhubarb."
Hunkering down, the GTS vibrates like a coiled spring, while the suspension grows noticeably firmer. The PDK transmission rips through shifts like a gatling gun, the tailpipes responding to every downshift with a husky bark.
The speed-sensitive steering might not be as talkative as that of the 911 or Cayman, but it has a heft that's confidence-inspiring.
More jet-propelled-bomber than nimble x-wing fighter, the GTS is nonetheless, no slouch in the handling department. In the highly unlikely event that its well-heeled owner ventures out to a lapping day, the GTS acquits itself admirably. While it might not be as stupefyingly powerful as the Turbo S, the 440 hp output of its naturally aspirated 4.8L V8 hustles the GTS's 1,925 kg along with little strain in its composure. Its effortless power is deceptive, doled out in such a smooth, linear progression that the unwary driver could easily find himself dangerously over the speed limit. Braking is terrific and more than adequate for reining in such a big, powerful beast.
Overall, I can honestly say that I enjoy driving this car as much as any of Porsche's traditional coupes. While the Cayman R tops my wish list, the idea of a Porsche road trip for four, ending in a track day, makes the Panamera GTS a very compelling choice indeed.
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km roadside assistance
|Model Tested||2015 Porsche Panamera GTS|
|Price as Tested||$144,555|
Black/Garnet Two-Tone Leather Interior $610, 20 inch RS Spyder Wheels $1780, Lane Change Assist/Blind Spot Detection $970, Front Seat Ventilation $960, Backup Camera/Park Assist and Surround View $1720, Burmeister High End Sound System $6,720, Premium Package $1,180