The Porsche Panamera GTS gives the lie to beliefs that limo luxury comes at the expense of fun
AT the glitzy launch of the innovative Panamera ‘sports limo’ in 2009 at the Shanghai Motor Show one thing was clear: it would reshape many peoples’ opinions of Porsche cars.
After all, many car journalists had grown up with posters of the legendary 911 coupé on their bedroom walls, and countless others could draw its iconic outline in their sleep. Here was a stretched, expanded, and heavier ‘911-alike’ that had all the echoes of the compact supercar, but for a very different audience. Some were quick to vent: “A Porsche limo…?”, they crowed, “That won’t sell!”
But, sense prevailed. Leave aside the wisdom of creating a car aimed at motoring journalists – not a lot, in other words – and it was clear that the Panamera was pitched at a whole new field of buyers, who also needed opinions changing: that Porsche didn’t make a practical sporty car for a small family, for longer journeys, or that didn’t make its occupant look a little bit ‘try hard’. In other words, a 911 limo.
Surprise surprise, it turns out Porsche knew its market better than the fanboys: within 10 months of launch the Panamera surpassed 25,000 off the line, selling impressively ever since at an ever increasing rate.
BIG MUSCLE, BIG CAR
It seems there’s a Panamera to suit every almost intention, and adding to that Porsche’s serious embrace of eco-friendly tech in the shape of the new Hybrid, and future projects (see video), it becomes clear the Panamera can be the Porsche for every member of the family.
The GTS is the 9th version in the ever-growing family, slotting in below the Turbo, and above the 4S, intending to be a more hands-on driving experience devoid of turbo assistance, yet more focused than the 4S.
At nearly 17 feet long, low and sleek, the GTS demands attention. Chrome trim has been replaced by menacing black touches here and there, all atop giant 20-inch alloys with a similarly big Turbo brake setup. It’s serious metal.
Tweaks to justify the GTS badge aren’t superficial though, and engineers have made upgrades which really tune the car into a neat position within the range that makes sense commercially, and on the road.
The chassis is between 10mm and 15mm lower depending on driving mode, and the phenomenal V8 gets a 30bhp hike to 430bhp from mechanical upgrades to the valve springs and camshaft, a redesign of the air induction system, and an ECU remap.
The sports theme continues in the cabin and a liberal use of Alcantara on the seats, steering wheel, and console, making you feel like you wouldn’t be terribly amiss to be wearing a fireproof race suit.
So you’d think this giant would be something to wrestle. After all at nearly 2000kg, and over two feet longer and several inches wider than a 911, it ain’t no slim Jim; a Diet Coke with a 4000 calorie burger comes to mind. But time behind the wheel allows you to appreciate the measure of Porsche’s achievement in belying the Panamera’s size; in fact, as hours go on and your experience with it grows, it seems to magically shrink around you and the essence of the modifications come to the fore.
The 7-speed PDK box gets you in the mood blipping and popping as you move through the gears, seamless changes allowing even the average driver to focus on positioning the car and getting the right gear. To go as fast in the manual car would be a feat in itself, but also accompanied by a lot of effort… which sort of defeats the purpose of what a Panamera is.
The GTS comes with the Sports Chrono package as standard, so you’ve got seven variations of chassis set-up adjusting the adaptive air suspension (PASM), throttle response, gear changes, and power delivery to the all-wheel drive system, and really no excuse for getting it wrong. Even in the wet you’d have to quite deliberately try to upset the balance of the car: even a full power launch from standstill on a rainy greasy road will reward you with a tiny spin from the rear tyres.
Although the GTS is clearly capable of holding its own in a duel with smaller, lighter opposition that is not its forte; galloping over continents with gusto, and delivering you and your others to a hotel feeling like you all just set off, is. It’s high speed executive transport in the same vein as the best turboprops and jets – but one that can genuinely turn its hand to back-road aerobatics too if you ask it.
The drivers and front passenger get a lot of space, but pleasingly the rear passengers are not afterthoughts: the two rear seats are incredibly comfortable and deceptively spacious, with plenty of legroom and very impressive headroom – more than enough for even our resident 6ft 5in test subject to sprawl in quite unlimousine-like style. I cannot think of a GT that has matched it for legroom and ‘sprawlability’, and elicited such positive comments from our tame passengers.
Obviously, by making back seats meant for real people, and not children or as a sneaky places to store luggage, the trunk had better be roomy. And so it is, satisfactorily for any partner who loves a bag or two for the weekend away, with room for four sets of clubs and the odd box of cigars (not to mention a jacket or two), so forget packing light: the other half will be impressed.
The ultimate test of any car is to drive it. I too found that my preconceptions took a hammering, and I applaud Porsche for inventing this car and growing its range to the point that it includes everyone and their grandma. That makes good sense.
For those who believed the advent of family and responsibility meant their Porsche days were behind them, and would not turn to the larger Cayenne SUV, the Panamera is now ingrained in mind and history as a wonderful success story that belied its critics and, more than that, is a genuine addition to the world of automotive engineering in its own right.
If like me you grow to above average height, have friends or kids and big bags of stuff to accompany you all, then you too will bow down to Porsche for dreaming up a car that can mix it with the best and then transform into the lazy limo.
If the hallmark of the 911 is practicality mixed with supercar attributes, with a lean towards the supercar side of the equation, the Panamera is a worthy accompaniment which balances the equation.
Porsche Panamera GTS
Top speed 179mph
Engine 4.8 litre 8-cylinder
Max power 430hp @ 6,700rpm
Max torque 520Nm @ 3,500rpm
– Urban: 17.5mpg
– Extra Urban: 35.3mpg
– Combined: 25.9mpg
Price (Basic) £91,239.00