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The 2019 Porsche Panamera GTS.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

It’s late October and the weather’s getting iffy in Europe, while this tiny island country in the Persian Gulf has a world-class Formula 1 race track, and … well, it’s a desert.

We try to put out of mind the geopolitics of the region – the controversies roiling neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the nuclear ambitions in Iran across the Gulf, the recent government repression in Bahrain itself, once considered among the most progressive of the Arab states.

The track component of the drive is important because, although the new Panamera GTS isn’t the straight-line-fastest of Porsche’s four-door liftback family, it’s supposed to be the one most suited to track. As on most other Porsches, the GTS designation indicates the lean-and-agile athlete of the family, combining middle-of-the-spectrum power with sporty styling cues and lowered suspension that’s tuned – even more than any Panamera including the Turbo – for drivers who worship keen steering and corner-exit oversteer.

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Two years after the launch of the second-generation Panamera, the GTS completes the lineup, sitting about midway up the price ladder of a complex range that mixes and matches quasi-sedan or quasi-wagon (Sports Turismo) liftback body styles, two wheelbase lengths, RWD or AWD drivetrains, turbocharged V-6 and V-8 engines, and plug-in hybrid-electric capability.

The GTS has basically a detuned version of the Turbo’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V-8, rated here at 453 horsepower instead of 550. The difference is all in the engine-management tuning, says powertrain director Arno Boegl, with the peak torque coming in earlier. The GTS’s 453 hp isn’t much more than the 440 of the Panamera 4S’s twin-turbo V-6, but Porsche chose the V-8 for its more “emotional” sound.

Compared with the previous GTS’s 4.8-litre naturally aspirated V-8, the 2019 is up only 20 hp, but torque is fattened by a more sizable 19 per cent, to a 457-pound-foot plateau that stretches from 1,800 to 4,500 rpm.

Porsche uses the GTS designation to indicate the lean-and-agile athlete of the Panamera family.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

One thing that’s new for the latest GTS is that it also comes in “don’t-call-it-a-wagon!” Sports Turismo guise. Given that GTS stands for Gran Turismo Sport, that means the long-roof’s full name is Gran Turismo Sport Sports Turismo – a burden that it is barely equipped to carry in its merely 20-litre-larger trunk

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the GTS is that its standard all-wheel drive does not, unlike bad-boy versions of BMW and Mercedes-Benz rivals, have a drift mode.

Yes, the Panamera can, depending on the driving situation, automatically send the power 100 per cent rearward, but there’s no way to lock it in rear-wheel drive. Rivals’ systems that can do so are “a fun mode, not a performance feature,” according to Panamera chassis director Michael Schaefer. “We are focused on performance, and so far wouldn’t do such a thing.”

No doubt, with Porsche stability management disabled, the GTS can do fun, too; Porsche’s press-kit video shows it executing graceful corner-exit power slides on the track. For our track session on the Bahrain Grand Prix circuit, however, we are strictly instructed to leave the PSM switched on.

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In Sport Plus mode, you can get tantalizingly close to a little sideways-ness, but the overall takeaway is of implacable grip, imperturbable stability, impressive ability – but flat-out fun, not so much.

Still, it’s a big, beautiful sedan (or “wagon”) that drives more like a sports car than anything else with this much space and practicality. If that idea pushes your buttons, your chance to drive your own GTS – maybe even with the PSM button switched off – will arrive in mid-2019.

Tech specs

The Panamera GTS is powered by a 4.0-litre bi-turbo V-8 engine.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

  • Base price: $146,200
  • Engine: 4.0-litre bi-turbo V-8
  • Transmission/Drive: AWD, eight-speed dual-clutch automatic
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA
  • Alternatives: Audi RS7, BMW M6 Grand Coupe, BMW M5, Jaguar XJR, Mercedes-AMG E63 S, Mercedes-AMG CLS 53

Looks

The Panamera GTS is available in quasi-sedan and quasi-wagon styles.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The GTS exterior cues are its standard Sport Design body kit, gloss-black exterior accents, black 20-inch wheels, and 10-millimetre lower ride height. The sedan also gets a trick retractable rear spoiler that spreads sideways as it deploys, to create a larger surface area.

Interior

The Panamera GTS comes with a heated multifunction steering wheel and 18-way adjustable seats.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

A heated multifunction sports steering wheel and 18-way adjustable seats are part of the package, so at-the-wheel comfort is pretty much unavoidable. Alcantara accents proliferate, and the GTS is the first Panamera to offer a head-up display option – arguably more Luddite-friendly than the mostly touch-sensitive switches on the centre console or the over-reliance on the 12.3-inch touchscreen for many other functions. While the sedan is a four-seater, the Sport Turismo’s 4+1 seating adds an occasional/little-people perch in the middle.

Performance

After half a heartbeat of turbo lag the GTS lunges from stopped to 100 kilometres an hour in a claimed 4.1 seconds. That’s rapid by any standard, although the less-expensive Mercedes E63 S and BMW M5 are quicker still. “Earsthetically” the GTS strikes just the right note between V-8 aggression and luxury-car refinement.

Technology

Either standard or optional, not much is missing in either info-connect-ainment or driver-assist technologies. Built-in LTE module and SIM card reader enable (among other things) on-the-fly navigation route adjustment based on real-time traffic updates. In addition to lane-keeping assist, night vision assist and traffic jam assist, next-level adaptive cruise control can automatically adjust your speed for corners, gradients and speed limits.

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Cargo

The Sport Turismo's taller roofline affords additional cargo space.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Beneath their lifting tailgates, the sedan and “wagon” respectively rate 500 or 520 litres of cargo volume. Those figures are measured to the top of the rear seatback, so they don’t reflect the additional space afforded by the Sport Turismo’s taller rear roofline. On both versions, the split seatbacks fold flat and level with the cargo deck, albeit with a slight gap in-between. The Sport Turismo’s hatch opening is about 10 centimetres deeper.

The verdict: 8.5

If your practical needs call for four or five doors, the GTS arguably hits the sweet spot in the Panamera range.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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