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car review

2013 Porsche Panamera GTSPetrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Purists thought a Porsche with four doors and four seats would never sell. They were wrong.

The Porsche Panamera four-door sedan is in strong demand. The Panamera saw record sales in 2012 in Canada – 422 models compared to 359 in 2011 – a year-over-year increase of 17.5 per cent. While the numbers may seem low compared to some auto makers, it is one of Porsche's top sellers.

Available in a number of trims including a hybrid and fast-and-furious turbo, the latest Panamera on the market is the GTS, which falls between the 4S and the Turbo models, and costs $126,700.

The GTS is no ordinary Panamera. While it is race-car ready, it's still a road-worthy ride for a family of four. After all, why should single guys or empty nesters have all of the fun with a sports car?

The GTS bridges the power gap between the 4S and the Turbo trims. Powering the GTS is a souped-up version of the 4S's direct-injected 4.8-litre V-8 engine. It's mated to a seven-speed PDK (short for Porsche Doppelkupplung), dual-clutch automatic transmission. The engine pumps out 430 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque – that's 30 hp and 15 lb-ft of torque more than the 4S.

That doesn't sound like much, but you can feel the difference instantly when you hit the pedal. It's gut-wrenchingly fast. Despite its bulky 1,920-kilogram weight, it will do 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds – shaving 0.5 seconds off the 4S's time. The GTS has a top speed of 288 km/h.

Paddles behind my tester's beefy alcantera steering wheel also let you shift through the gears manually – hit the left paddle to downshift and the right to up shift. Change the driving mode to Sport or Sport Plus and the transmission shifts become increasingly aggressive and abrupt, creating a thrilling and spirited ride.

With its 10-mm-lower suspension, you sit closer to the ground for a true sports car feel. But it's so comfortable you can drive it everyday. The ride and handling is fantastic – it's nimble and agile with a nice, tight suspension that isn't too harsh that it will knock your molars out.

Power is transferred to all four wheels via Porsche's all-wheel-drive system. The GTS's system is the same as the AWD system in the 4S. Around corners, it's sure-footed with excellent grip in rain or snow. It's well-balanced and secure at all times.

Fire up the engine and the GTS growls aggressively to life, signifying its race-car heritage. The exhaust noise is further amplified in the cockpit thanks to a special sound symposer, which directs noise from the engine air intake directly into the A-pillars of the cabin. Blaring next to your ears, it can get noisy and annoying fast, but you can turn it off with the press of a button.

The Panamera is a love-it-or-hate-it design. I didn't like it at first, but it has grown on me. Its contours are sexy with a bold front end and a sleek sloping roofline coupled with a low, wide stance.

The GTS trim builds on the 4S by adding some stunning features including a blacked-out body with black tailpipes, black side skirts and 19-inch turbo wheels. My tester steps it up a notch with muscular 20-inch sport wheels with massive rotors and eye-catching red brake calipers – a $3,860 option. Set against the backdrop of my tester's exterior colour, Carmine Red, it's a show-stopper. Granted, the paint costs an extra $3,590. But when you're coughing up more than $100,000 on a car, another three grand is petty cash.

The GTS's bi-xenon front headlights with four LED daytime running lights are borrowed from the Panamera Turbo with one distinct feature – the inner bezels are black. At the rear, the spoiler is also carried over from the Turbo trim. It deploys upwards and outwards when you hit speeds of 90 km/h.

Inside, you'll find deeply sculpted and firmly padded sport bucket seats, 18-way seat adjustments, a mix of leather and alcantera along with GTS logos plastered tastefully throughout the cabin. The cabin is super-spacious, but the front seats are a bit narrow. Bigger guys with larger girths will feel the pinch. For me, the driver's seat fit like a glove.

The rear seats are spacious with excellent head-, leg- and shoulder-room for both passengers. You can also get the rear seats heated for an extra $610.

Nestled in the driver's seat, you'll feel like you're piloting an airplane. The dashboard and centre console are littered with buttons. Tech-savvy guys will love it – I didn't. I found it confusing and frustrating to find even the simplest of functions fast.

In 2012, Porsche sold 3,003 new vehicles in Canada – up 35.6 per cent from 2011. Officials hope the Panamera GTS will add to those growing numbers in 2013.

Tech Specs

2013 Porsche Panamera GTS

Type: Four-door, four-passenger luxury performance sedan

Base Price: $126,700; as tested, $148,175

Engine: 4.8-litre, DOHC, V-8

Horsepower/torque: 430 hp/384 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.1 city/8.5 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG, BMW M5, Jaguar XJ Supersport, Maserati Quattroport GT Sport

Twitter: @PetrinaGentile