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Driven: Desert Stormer – Porsche Panamera GTS

Bahrain proves to be an ideal environment to test this latest addition to the Porsche Panamera range

The cars look as though they’ve been working hard. Coated in a layer of desert dust, six Porsches park in an orderly row outside the Riffa Fort, a four-century old Bahraini stronghold that sits high upon on a rocky outcrop. It’s the scheduled lunch stop on the international launch of the Panamera GTS – the latest version of Porsche’s big, four-door sedan and its sportwagon derivative, the Sport Turismo.

Earlier that morning, they may have appeared gleamingly new and an appropriately premium accessory to the spectacular Four Seasons hotel in Bahrain Bay – our quarters for the launch – but the following few hours have taken their toll. Along exposed, flat highways, a hot desert wind has whipped our Mamba Green steed’s flanks with stinging sand, rough-surfaced B-roads have continuously jabbed at its 20-inch alloy wheels, and the busy, narrow lanes through small towns have tested the patience of this pedigreed athlete.

And as those three letters indicate, like all its GTS-badged siblings in the Porsche range, this particular Panamera has benefited from a training program that’s sharpened inherent athletic abilities. Bridging the gap between the 324 kW Panamera S and the brawny 404 kW Panamera Turbo, the GTS offers powerful performance from its 338 kW biturbo V8, along with nimble handling thanks to a specifically tuned chassis, and a black-accented styling package that echoes its dynamic talents.

Not that we’ve been able to assess any of these yet. It’s not only the rough roads that have kept speeds down, but our German hosts have be very clear in explaining just how severe traffic fines are in this Emirate. To underline this point, there sits on our press car’s glove compartment a little booklet that outlines all the potential traffic offences along with the corresponding fines. Porsche encourages us to read it. Subsequently armed with the knowledge that a speeding fine could set one back up to 500 dinari – R19 200 – the assembled journalists are being uncharacteristically light-footed on the right-side pedal.

LUXURY

The morning’s terrain has nonetheless served its purpose in highlighting one particular side of the Panamera’s character … its premium, cocooning persona. Sound deadening is top notch with little of the outside rumble intruding into a cabin cooled by a powerful quad-zone climate control system. The leather and Alcantara-trimmed sports seats are both anatomically supportive and comfortable, while the standard equipment Porsche Advanced Cockpit with touch-sensitive panels and customisable displays provide for an intuitive interface with the Panamera’s infotainment system. For the first time in a Panamera, there’s also the option of a heads-up display that can be customised to project all the relevant vehicle information directly in the driver’s line of sight.

Standard is an adaptive three-chamber air suspension system that, in its comfort setting, smoothes out most road imperfections we encounter, as well as the Porsche Active Suspension Management – an electronic damping control system that responds to the terrain its traversing, constantly adapting the damping for each individual wheel.

AND PERFORMANCE

The late afternoon, however, more than highlights a side of the GTS its prospective owners will most likely be interested in … its performance and handling. The Panamera GTS comes standard with Porsche’s Sport Chrono Package that includes a rotary mode switch to shift between four driving modes (Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual) and a Sport Response Button located in the middle of the mode switch. Press this and you get maximum power potential for 20 seconds, with more direct engine response and a more dynamic shifting map from the eight-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission.

To test all of this our convoy heads to the Bahrain International Circuit for some hot laps around a fast and flowing track that’s become a regular feature on the Formula One calendar.The near kilometre-long main straight provides plenty of opportunity to move through the gears, hitting around 220 km/h before a giving the new, bigger internally vented disc brakes (390 mm front/ 365 mm rear) a thorough test, quickly and effectively bringing the big two-tonne car down to around 80 km/h for the tight right-hander that is Turn 1.

And it’s through the circuit’s 15 turns that the black magic Porsche’s engineers have imbued the Panamera GTS with come to the fore. It’s one thing having the under-bonnet grunt to slingshot down a long straight, but maintaining composure when the tarmac starts snaking left and right is where it really counts.

Thanks to a lower centre of gravity (the suspension is 10 mm lower in the GTS), the Porsche Active Suspension Management system adapted for a sportier setup, and the optional four-wheel steering, the way the big Porsche copes with these lateral dynamics is staggering. The four-wheel steering is particularly impressive through low-speed corners that see the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction to the front wheels (up to a maximum steering angle of 2.8 degrees), effectively shortening the wheelbase. A car of this size simply has no right to pivot and turn in the way it does.

Pricing has yet to be confirmed by Porsche South Africa, but when the Panamera GTS launches here in Q2 2019, it’s likely to be around in the R2-million ballpark, depending of course on the exchange rate then.

KEY SPECS

Engine 3 996 cm2 V8 turbopetrol

Power 3438 kw

Torque 620 N.m

Trans 8-speed auto

Top speed 292 km/h

0-100 4,1 sec*

Fuel econ 10,30 L/100 km*

CO2 235 g/km

Maint. plan 6 yr/100 000km

Base price R2 070 545

*claimed

 

 

THE PORSCHE GTS CLAN

 

718 Boxster GTS                                            R1 137 000

718 Cayman GTS                                           R1 122 000

911 Carrera GTS Coupé                                R1 892 000

911 Carrera 4 GTS Coupé                            R1 768 000

911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet                            R1 914 000

911 Carrera 4 GTS Cabriolet                         R2 039 000

Macan GTS                                                       R1 351 000

 

 

WORDS Steve Smith

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