Car reviews - Porsche - Panamera - GTS
LIKE: Love or hate styling, size-defying performance, delectable interior, watch-like build-quality, raw but refined engine
Room for improvement
DISLIKE: Love or hate styling, Unintuitive gear selectors, no head-up display
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29 Aug 2014
By TUNG NGUYEN
SO SUBJECTIVE is the area of styling that GoAuto customarily leaves the realm of aesthetics appraisal unaddressed, but when it comes to a car with such polarising and contentious looks as the Panamera, we felt it was worth a mention.
Porsche has come under some criticism for the way the Panamera looks and we feel it isn’t entirely justified, and certainly not deserving of the term ugly.
Beauty is more a matter of taste than one of comparison, but a majority of the Panamera’s criticism stems from the latter.
Alongside its jaw-dropping 911, Cayman and Boxster brethren, the Porsche’s five-door styling has to take a back-seat, but comparing it to the two-seater pure sports models is unfair.
Doing so would be to criticise Ford’s Territory design because it isn’t as pleasing to look at as the Ford GT. Arguably, both cars are well designed in their own right, but their core purpose and application dictates the way they look.
The mid-engined supercar GT can crack 300km/h but it can not tow a caravan through a river with a family of five plus luggage aboard.
The Panamera might not be Porsche’s prettiest car but high-performance large coupe/sedans from other manufacturers like the Mercedes-Benz CLS, Maserati’s Quattroporte and the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe are what it is up against - not the other models in its own stable.
Furthermore, the Panamera’s hump-back has a uniquely likeable form-follows-function aesthetic and a charm reminiscent of the iconic Boeing 747 jumbo-jet.
Confronting? Yes. Ugly? Certainly not. Now on to the more tangible bits.
Price and equipment
You may think for a car of its price, the absence of standard equipment like lane change assistance, adaptive cruise control and city braking is unacceptable, but the GTS is the driver-focused variant and leaves fire-and-forget technology for the flagship Turbo.
Of course all these systems and more are optional but the standard GTS has everything for an involved drive and anything extra would be an unnecessary distraction.
In a driver-focused car we would have liked to see a head-up display screen but the absence of one need not be a deal-breaker.
What you do get is all of the 4S equipment plus a 4.8-litre V8 in place of the turbo V6, the Turbo bodykit, 15 extra kilowatts and 120 more Nm of torque, a bi-modal exhaust-system, tactile alcantara upholstery and a larger 100-litre fuel tank.
The Porsche quality mantra continues throughout the equipment all the way to the ignition, which requires a key to be turned in the traditional way, because the German car-maker says the starting of the engine is a ceremony which should not be made redundant by technology. We absolutely agree.
At $320,100 the Panamera GTS is at the high-end of the premium sports coupe/sedan range but still comparable with top the range versions from the Mercedes, BMW, Maserati and Audi stables.
Our test car was tricked up with a few extra treats from a $1390 multifunction steering wheel, to a more luxurious leather pack for $5980, and a very look-at-me $7890 Carmine Red paint-job nicely matched the 20-inch black sport wheels, which cost $6990.
The optional extra carbon-fibre-clad steering-wheel is heated with the button cunningly concealed behind the middle of the three spokes.
The added goodies pushed the price out to $342,350.
In many ways the inside of the Panamera is its most defining feature, and with its unusual two-plus-two seating arrangement, the four-door Porsche is not just a big GT.
With four doors and four seats the Panamera promises Porsche pace but with a second row of seating.
The heated and electrically adjustable front seats are typically Porsche-firm but with impeccable ergonomics. They fit like a glove and offer unsurpassed support and comfort no matter what the terrain or rate of progress.
Interior layout is - as one would expect from a Porsche - tasteful and logical.
The extra space of the Panamera cabin has allowed the use of more switches and buttons than in smaller models, which seemed overwhelming at first but became second-nature after a few days of use.
We particularly liked how quickly the information and entertainment system booted up, allowing the access of all systems from the turn of the ignition key.
The fifth dial on the right gauge cluster is a small circular LCD screen, which displays vehicle information of a miniature navigation map and is a nice example of the integration of new technology into traditional Porsche style cues.
Typical watch-like finesse and build quality continues to the dash where there is indeed a watch that would look good on your wrist.
The Sport Chrono is not just a posh stopwatch, but logs the position and route of the vehicle when the timer is started, allowing the driver to review their performance after completing laps of a circuit for example.
Browse our Panamera GTS gallery and you would be forgiven for mistaking the back seats for the front because they offer almost no compromise compared to the front two spots.
Riding in the back of the GTS felt very special with luxurious touches from the carbon-fibre-clad centre console, rich alcantara roof-lining and red highlighted seatbelts.
Leg and headroom for rear passengers is not in abundance, but adequate, with just enough for our 188cm-tall tester. Shoulder-room is generous with the absence of a fifth centre seat.
Despite versatile adjustment up front and careful ergonomic design all round, the excellent sports seats suit thinner occupants.
Moving back further still and you find another important feature of the big Porsche - its boot.
Its diving roof-line does limit the height of loaded items but the luggage area is surprising large at 445-litres offering a genuinely practical space and establishing the Panamera as a viable weekend-away option for four.
If even more load-lugging space is required, the rear seats fold flat as one would find in a sensible city run-around, resulting in 1263-litres of space – a load-area even some wagons would be proud of.
Real carbon-fibre features heavily throughout the interior of the GTS, which is a refreshing departure from the unconvincing fake versions so many manufacturers seem to favour.
Engine and transmission
Now that the 4S is powered by a V6 turbo, the GTS is the only normally aspirated V8 variant in the wide Panamera range, giving it valuable individuality and separation from its siblings.
But it is no gimmick. With a 7100rpm redline the 4.8-litre V8 manages to produce a sizzling 324kW but despite its high-revving nature still churns out a very useful 520Nm of torque too.
But the key design feature is its conventional aspiration, which has resulted in the most heavenly exhaust note instead of a muted and muffled turbocharged sound.
A button allows more noise out of the black tailpipes – unique to the GTS – while another gadget pipes induction noise through from the engine with addictive results. Most journeys were spent with the unadulterated soundtrack switched on.
The V8 pulls well from low revs but accelerates very strongly through to the rev-limit, preventing frequent gear shifts and is partly responsible for the near-two tonne car being able to hit 100km/h in just 4.4 seconds.
Hanging off the back of the excellent V8 is an equally fine seven-speed transmission dubbed the PDK by Porsche and we feel it is possibly the best version of the double clutch technology that so many manufacturers have embraced.
Racing style super-fast gear changes when off and moving are one element most makes have got right, and the Porsche is no exception, but where many fail is in the low speed maneuvering speeds.
The PDK allows ultra-smooth power uptake from stationary to near-stationary speeds allowing stress-free parking and dignified progress in stop-start traffic.
Many double-clutch gearboxes aggressively pile on power when pulling away making it difficult to maneuver, but the Porsche behaved exactly like a torque-converter automatic at low speed but, like a race-bred unit when required.
Smashing through the gears in automatic mode was a pleasure with intuitive shift-points and seamless changes, but when it came to manual selection, the transmission was disappointingly let down.
For some reason Porsche has bucked the trend of virtually all other marques (and racing cars) where a right steering wheel paddle changes up through gears and the left changes down.
Porsche's system replaces two paddles with a push/pull switch on both right and left sides of the steering wheel. Using either pull-switch changes up, while operating either left of right push-button changes down.
The method is unintuitive and confusing, especially when concentrating on technical roads, and the more traditional tried-and-tested approach – available on the standard steering wheel – wouldn't pose as a distraction.
Unfortunately the manual selection mode using the selector lever is not a viable alternative, with up-shifts initiated by a push forward of the lever and backwards for a down-shift.
Our preference would be a system that works with the G-forces when accelerating or braking rather than the Porsche method which uncomfortably opposes the forces generated.
The poor ergonomics were as surprising as they were disappointing in a driver-focused vehicle with so many examples of good ergonomic engineering and intuitive design.
The Panamera GTS has fuel saving idle-stop but for reasons beyond our knowledge it rarely functioned. We managed a combined fuel consumption of 13.1 litres per 100km, which we think is commendable for a near two-tonne car powered by a V8, although Porsche says 10.7L/100km is possible.
Ride and handling
The GTS does have a range of variable ride settings with adjustable suspension, dampeners and steering, but not a single combination could be described as un-sporty.
With options set to the most placid end of the spectrum, the ride was firm but never offensive and eating up miles of freeway cruising was a real treat.
Its streamlined body and sturdy build-quality kept wind and road noise to whisper levels despite running on very low-profile 20-inch tyres.
But straight-line motoring is not the Panamera GTS' party trick, and when on twistier routes the Porsche’s personality changed from passive to purposeful.
In full Sport Plus mode the Panamera defied its size and 1925kg weight with extraordinary four-wheel drive traction and the imperceptible body roll of a full-time sportscar.
We liked the function and look of its lower ride-height when in the sportiest suspension setting, but the same hardware also allowed the height to be temporarily jacked-up for negotiating obstacles or speed humps, for example.
Its long 2920mm wheelbase lent a stability in very fast corners that is almost without rival and even occasionally putting a paw on to looser surfaces couldn't unsettle the tremendous stability. Pace in the Panamera GTS is effortless.
Pointing the GTS with the beautifully weighted steering was deeply rewarding and its mighty six-pot calipers with iron discs scrubbed speed without signs of fading and with a satisfyingly firm pedal-feel – another Porsche trademark.
Despite the impressive braking at speed, there was no sense of over-servo at low speed or lack of bite associated with some carbon-ceramic set ups.
Safety and servicing
All Panameras have seven airbags with two-stage inflation types for the front occupants. Curtain bags extend to the back row for rear occupant protection.
Porsche Stability Management (PSM) takes care of traction and stability control, along with all the other customary assistance systems.
A system that warns the driver when the safe speed for the current inflation pressure has been exceeded was a mark of clever integration of driver and safety systems.
There is no short-straw to draw when climbing aboard the Panamera GTS. Sitting behind the classic Porsche vertical-angle steering-wheel as the pilot is rewarding when going fast, and if envious glances are your thing then going slowly is just as much fun.
But occupying any of the other three seats is just as enjoyable with equal levels of luxury for all, whether you are being catapulted through winding country roads or eating up mile after mile of freeway.
Porsche’s mid- to top-end Panamera might not be the fastest in the range but finding a road where the full turbocharged madness of the flagship can be unleashed in Australia is almost impossible.
Some may call the GTS a gap-filler but actually it offers a very accomplished package of usable speed, poise, comfort and Turbo looks, but for $64,000 less than the top-performer.
And if you still can’t be swayed on the styling then don’t worry - with its spectacular V8 singing beyond 7000rpm your mind couldn't be further from the way it looks.
Maserati Quattroporte GTS ($319,800 before ORC).
Maserati’s biggest model has cavernous rear seat space, cabin-wide comfort, ravenous acceleration and a glorious exhaust-note, but it lacks the pin-sharp handling of the Porsche and is more sedan than coupe.
Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG S ($262,650 before ORC).
The twin-turbo V8 has the power advantage in the super-coupe/sedan segment with a whopping 430kW and 800Nm of torque but cant quite match the Porsche for boot-space unless the unusually styled Shooting Brake is enlisted.
BMW M6 Gran Coupe ($299,145 before ORC).
BMW’s offering in the large coupe/sedan segment has arguably the most balanced and appealing proportions.
Dare we say conventional? Its performance is on a level with the others but achieves it in the most computerised manner and with typical German efficiency and restraint.
MAKE/MODEL: Porsche Panamera GTS
ENGINE: 4.8-litre normally aspirated V8
LAYOUT: Front engine, four-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed automatic
TOP SPEED: 288km/h
EMISSIONS: 249g/km CO2
PRICE: From $320,100 before on-roads
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