New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Porsche Panamera GTS

Under the lights and across the desert in Porsche’s latest four-door GTS models

MANAMA, Bahrain — Lights. Car. Action! It’s our turn on the Bahrain International Circuit and we hustle out of the pits and onto the track’s 15-turn, Formula 1 layout—banks of floodlights basking the desert night in a pale beige glow. A canary yellow 911 Turbo sets the pace; we attempt to keep up in a 2019 Porsche Panamera GTS, specifically a Sport Turismo model in this stint.

It’s a technical layout, with a challenging set of left and right hand curves, esses, and hairpins, and we butcher a corner or two in the Sport Turismo GTS at the circuit where we’ve never turned a lap before. Thankfully, PSM (aka Please Save Me), Porsche’s stability-control system, reels us in every time, and as we approach the front straight we’re back in line behind the Turbo thanks in part to the Panamera’s lively 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 453 horsepower.

We’ve left things in Sport Plus mode, transmission on automatic instead of beating on the paddles. Porsche’s eight-speed PDK double-clutch gearbox has zero trouble keeping the car in the optimum power band over 3.4 miles of winding and grinding. We tap the sport response button and get a bit more thunder down the start/finish stretch and eventually almost touch 140 mph with the Sport Turismo’s adaptive roof spoiler up and working the airflow. The hairy Michael Schumacher corner beckons in the faint light. Somewhere between the 150- and 100-meter marks, we push hard on the car’s massive, optional carbon-ceramic brakes (16.5-inch, 10-piston front/16.1 in, 4-piston rear, the same units available for the Panamera Turbo). Speed bleeds off as we set up for the Schumi apex. As we turn in, the GTS’s standard adaptive suspension management (PASM) dampers, which are included as part of the three-chamber air suspension, work their magic. As does a pile of optional equipment including Porsche’s dynamic chassis control, torque vectoring, and rear-axle steering. It all helps to keep us in line and ready for maximum attack as we begin the second lap.

Bahrain is not the type of circuit where you debut a car unless you are damn sure it will handle its business. Porsche isn’t an automaker that shirks from such challenges, and its confidence in the 2019 Panamera GTS is warranted given the base platform it works from. We got 10 hot laps in versions of the Panamera GTS and its Sport Turismo GTS wagon sibling during day and night sessions on the outer track and the F1 layout, and it was hard not to be impressed by how team Panamera makes these 4,400-pound, 198.9-inch long, four-seat (four-plus one if you want for the Panamera GTS, four if you want for the Sport Turismo GTS) machines dance as well as they do.

Don’t get it twisted—a Panamera GTS isn’t going to be a match for, say, a 911 GTS from an overall dynamic standpoint, even with every last optional performance enhancement system onboard. But you could probably count on one hand the number of four door cars that would be able to keep up with it on any track, let alone a big-time facility such as Bahrain.

While it’s good to know the capability is there, we’re guessing that only a small percentage of Panamera GTS owners will actually take their cars to the track. More likely they’ll be cruising down stately, traffic-choked boulevards like Bahrain’s palm-lined King Fahad Causeway, where we also had a chance to drive the cars.

It’s here where you start to notice details that set the Panamera GTS apart from the Panamera S beyond the V-8 engine (the S utilizes Porsche’s twin-turbo 2.9-liter six) and other performance enhancements, including a body that’s been lowered by 10 millimeters. The Alcantara-swathed, heated steering wheel is as beautiful as it is functional, and the rest of the cabin has liberal treatments of the material in addition to anodized aluminum trim and Porsche’s latest infotainment setup, which is one of the best on the sport luxury market. All U.S. market Panamera GTS models will also come standard with a panoramic glass roof.

The 18-way sport seats have more than enough bolstering to keep you from flying about during heavy cornering. Porsche also showcases its new head-up display on the Panamera GTS, a vibrant color setup that offers multiple configurations. It’s well executed and a welcome addition. One bone to pick is that to get it, you have to order the optional GTS trim package that features special badging and other adornments. Really, that package should be a no-cost option.

Much like Porsche’s other GTS cars, the Panamera GTS lives in the white space between the Panamera S and the more powerful and more expensive Panamera Turbo, but leans more toward the Turbo, especially considering it features a detuned version of that model’s twin-turbo V-8. On our journey out to one of Bahrain’s man-made islands (with a stop off at Caribou Coffee—yes, you read that right, the Bahrainis love them some ’Merica), we had a chance to do some green-light blasts; we take no quarrel with Porsche’s claimed 3.9-second 0-60 mph time, or with the delicious sounds emanating from the standard, snap, crackle, and popping sports exhaust. It had rained hard in Bahrain (you read that right as well) just prior to our arrival, and standing water was abundant, so it was good to have Porsche’s traction management to keep the wet from upsetting the car.

While at the Caribou stopover, we walked around the car and checked out the standard, black 20-inch rims and other black trim bits including exhaust tips that combine with the car’s lower stance to give the Panamera GTS an overall look that is arguably more impressive than that of the Panamera Turbo.

As we wound our way though some of Bahrain’s oil-field country with its miles of pipelines, derricks, flame-spewing stacks, and lots and lots of sand, we found some deserted stretches and couldn’t help ourselves—launch control’s siren song would not relent. It’s stupid easy: just left foot brake, hit the throttle, and when the “launch control active” sign illuminates, release the brake and the hounds are free. Damn that’s fun. Probably not as much fun for the 315/35 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4s, though (tires are 275/40R20 at the front, and a Pirelli PZero option was fitted to several of the test cars). There were also some pretty rough patches of road that we hit in both Comfort and Sport Plus modes, and while neither was overtly punishing, Comfort was predictably less so.

In the end, it’s all about choice when it comes to the Panamera GTS, as in choosing what Panamera best fits your tastes. In the modern era, Porsche provides that and then some—just be prepared to pay for it if you want to have the type of four door that can rip on a circuit as easily as it rolls down King Fahad Causeway.

2019 Porsche Panamera GTS and Panamera Sport Turismo GTS Specifications

ON SALE Summer 2019
PRICE $129,350/$135,550 (base, GTS/Sport Turismo GTS)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/453 hp @ 6,000-6,500 rpm, 457 lb-ft @ 1,800-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 4 or 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan/wagon
EPA MILEAGE 19/26 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
L x W x H 198.9 x 76.3.X x 55.8-56.0 in
WHEELBASE 116.1 in
WEIGHT 4,398/4,464 lb (GTS/Sport Turismo GTS)
0-60 MPH 3.9 sec
TOP SPEED 181/179 mph (GTS/Sport Turismo GTS)