Matt Stone, Contributor
In Porsche-speak, GTS means a model that's driver-focused, extremely capable and mechanically at least, naturally aspirated. The just-replaced 997 generation of the Porsche 911 Carrera had a GTS model and it sat in the sweet spot between the upper-spec Carrera S and the hard-edged GT3 track special.
Now we have the 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS, a sedan that's more than just a standard Panamera with a sport package. The GTS finds its roots in the 400-horsepower V8-powered, all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S, but from there almost every aspect of its performance envelope was expanded.
More Power and Then Some
The front-mounted V8 still displaces 4.8 liters, but a much revised dual air filter system and intake tract, hotter cams, more aggressive tuning and a glorious-sounding exhaust system raise output to 430 hp and 384 pound-feet of torque. Those figures are 30 hp and 15 lb-ft more than the standard Panamera 4S. The higher output of the GTS arrives slightly later on the tach, too, as the power peak is up to 6,700 rpm from 6,500 rpm while the torque peak still starts at 3,500 rpm.
Backing up the newly muscular V8 is Porsche's seven-speed PDK (Porsche Doppelkuppleungsgetriebe) dual-clutch automatic transmission. There is no conventional manual transmission offered because Porsche is smart enough to know that few would buy it in place of the perfectly effective PDK setupa. All-wheel drive is standard, and it's a rear-drive-biased system in order to minimize understeer and maintain a properly sporty rear-wheel-drive feel.
A 10mm (about 0.4 of an inch) drop in ride height serves to lower the center of gravity. Doesn't make it look bad, either. Wheel spacers at each corner also widen the front and rear tracks by 10mm. All Panameras are good handlers, but the GTS goes several steps further. The adaptive air suspension and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) constantly adapt to changing driving conditions by regulating suspension leveling, adjusting ride height, modifying spring rates and constantly modulating the damping system. It's not exactly a full, active suspension like F1 cars used to have, but it's close. Naturally, all of the calibrations are programmed toward maximized handling, without too much ride compromise.
And just in case its substantive upgrades aren't enough, the 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS also gets a round of cosmetic changes. Most of the 4S's chrome trim fades to satin black. The front fascia is more aggressive. The exhaust system finishes with four large rectangular pipes, also matte black. There are handsomely aggressive 19-inch wheels and tires that can be upgraded to 20s if you would like, and the GTS also inherits the split rear spoiler from the big brother Panamera Turbo.
You Can Hear the Improvements
Twist the Panamera-shaped key fob and the 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS lights with an aggressive bark from its dark exhaust pipes. Those crafty Porsche engineers have also developed a system called the Sound Symposer, a mechanism that channels the car's reedy roar from the intake system between the throttle valves and air filters. This special acoustic channel then feeds some of the intake sound back into the passenger compartment via the A-pillars. The exhaust system also has flapper valves that open to decrease backpressure (and let out more engine exhaust note) or close to dull the roar, depending on your mood. Activate the Sport Plus mode (which gives you the most aggressive suspension, transmission and exhaust settings) or you can summon the louder pipes via a separate button on the console.
For the first portion of our drive, we select the PDK's fully automatic Drive mode and leave the sport and exhaust buttons alone, just to see what the car is like as a full-on luxury sedan. It steps out smartly when you apply your right foot, and the PDK transmission shifts up and down as would any world-class conventional torque-converter-style automatic. The pipes burble softly in the background without being intrusive. It's a surprisingly serene drive for such an aggressive car.
The steering is quick, sharp and precise, and the car goes where it's pointed with no lag and minimal body roll. Irregular road surface? You might be able to see it, but you can hardly feel it. The big tires also do a nice job of not nibbling at those road imperfections, or kicking any nastiness back through the steering wheel. The standard iron brakes on our tester feel strong and are easy to modulate.
After a 75-or-so-mile trip, it's time for some hot laps at Ascari Race Resort, a country club for those who like to drive fast and can afford the trip to Spain to indulge themselves. Today, the track configuration is set up for about 2.3 miles, which includes corners designed to replicate some of the owner's favorite turns from among the world's great and historic racetracks.
The Porsche instructors suggest we dial up the Sport Plus mode (giving us the most aggressive suspension settings, up- and downshifts, the most open exhaust and aggressive throttle management) and leave the PASM and other traction management systems on for safety. They promise it won't inhibit the fun too early or severely.
Porsche claims the Panamera GTS hauls from zero to 60 in 4.3 seconds, and will run out to a 178-mph top speed. We have no reason to question these claims, as this car launches like a Pro Stocker. The engine wails and the exhaust pipes bellow, and you hit 60 at the top end of 2nd gear with no drama whatsoever. The all-wheel drive ensures all that horsepower doesn't go up in great puffs of tire smoke.
It accelerates like a true super sedan, strong out of the gate with little let-up as the speeds climb. It's easy to rotate into a corner and surprisingly neutral, which makes it easy to drive fast. The GTS's limits are high, and it inspires the confidence to attack corners with increasing aggression. We'd prefer more feedback through the steering wheel, but it's still sharp and precise enough for such a big sedan.
And the brakes? Oh yah, plenty of bite there, too. The GTS gets the Panamera Turbo's large drilled and vented iron rotors, with high-tech and high-priced Porsche carbon-ceramic brakes (PCCBs) available as an option. The PCCBs are fabulously strong brakes, and as resistant to heat and fading as those on any racecar, but unless you really plan on racing this luxury sedan, we're not sure the system is worth its $8,840 option price. The standard brakes will absolutely do the job.
Yes, There's More
As you might expect from a sedan in this price range, it's more than comfortable inside, as the interior gets further sportified without sacrificing the Panamera's luxury car nature. The seats are firm and supportive, with the side bolstering stitched in leather, while the seat center sections are wrapped in soft, grippy Alcantara suede. The headliner and A-pillar posts are also covered in Alcantara.
If you don't like the supple suede on the seats, you can optionally order all leather, but if you really plan to maximize the Panamera's aggressive handling nature, stick with the leather/Alcantara combo. It looks great, and the grippy fabric helps keep your back and bottom in the seat when you're making full use of the car's capabilities.
We leave the Ascari track with good impressions of the 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS. It's a little sharper at every turn, yet not so aggressive that it's a compromise on the street. The route home is mostly two-laners plus some highway, and the GTS again slips easily into luxury car mode.
Granted, it doesn't have quite the raw speed and power of the turbocharged models, but it's still so far from average that you hardly notice. It's absolutely the sportiest and most emotive among the various Panamera models, with little to no compromise of its luxury intent. If you want a Panamera — a fast one at that — the GTS makes a good case that this is the one to get.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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