Raw and visceral, at least within the framework of a polished Gran Turismo, the all-wheel-drive Panamera GTS ($113,400) is to its lineup what the GT3 is to the standard 911, and the true driver’s car of the lot. Its normally aspirated 4.8-liter V-8 gets a 10-bhp boost for 2014 to 440 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, the result of mapping tweaks to the engine’s ECU. Although not quite as quick as the Turbo (0 to 60 mph in 4.2 sec. versus the Turbo’s 3.9), the GTS delivers its performance with inspiring sounds and crisper reflexes. Steering calibrations feed just the right amount of road texture to your palms, and the sound symposer/sport exhaust liberate an extra dose of V-8 rumble, and a sublime cackle/pop/spit on the overrun that encourages letting off the throttle just to hear it. With this soundtrack, the PDK seems to shift faster than ever. Just leave it in Sport Plus mode and the gearbox nearly seems to read your mind, delivering silky near-instantaneous shifts, aggressively auto-blipping on the change-down and always exiting corners in the proper gear.
Inside, standard upholstery is smooth leather bolsters with pleated Alcantara inserts. The seats themselves are 18-way power adjustable, and with cornering forces provided by wider rubber (255/45R19 front, 285/40R-19 rear) and more aggressive PASM calibrations, the ability to clamp the side bolsters down on your thighs and torso is much appreciated. The Sport Chrono Package is GTS standard fare, as is the trick articulated four-way rear spoiler. Shared with the Turbo, its elements extend laterally as it rises from its recess at the top of the rear bumper.
Exterior touches provide just the extra bit of menace—blacked-out rocker panels and trim, smoked taillight lenses, dual twin-tube tailpipes, and a more aggressive front fascia show a slightly nasty side to the Panamera, which is fine by us.
Panamera Turbo, Panamera Turbo Executive
If you want to truly own the Autobahn, nothing less than the Panamera Turbo ($141,300) will do. Although last year’s 550-hp Panamera Turbo S takes what we hope is a short-lived hiatus, the standard 2014 Turbo makes 520 hp from its twin-intercooled twin-turbo 4.8-liter V-8, a 20-hp increase. And that translates to truly explosive acceleration: 3.9 sec. to 60 (3.7 if the Sport Chrono package is ordered, taking peak torque from 516 lb-ft to a staggering 568 lb-ft). Keep the throttle down long enough, and the Turbo will attain a top speed of 189 mph, 10 mph faster than the GTS.
But the contradiction here is the ease with which it attains rarefied speeds, without the angst and more tightly wound aggression of the GTS. In our experience with the car, touching 150 mph on the Autobahn en route to the Munich airport for our departure, the Turbo remained aerodynamically and mechanically planted to the road surface with virtual hands-off stability. (Remember back in 1986, when the 944 Turbo was granted supercar status after it achieved that speed mark as a terminal velocity?) It’s a ground-bound Learjet with turbo-muffled exhaust adding to the civility.
So it’s appropriate that the Turbo is also offered in a stretched-wheelbase Executive version for the ne plus ultra of Panameras, a $161,100 flagship statement of speed, spaciousness and luxury. The only thing to top it would be a revised Turbo S with, say, 570 hp—a possibility confirmed by a Porsche spokesman, albeit a little further along in the model cycle.
Whatever the variant, let’s celebrate that the Panamera exists at all. Porsche’s fully committed dive into uncharted waters has resulted in a distinctive, world-beating Gran Turismo that defies easy categorization and welcomes criticism of its unorthodox shape. Keep in mind that the 911 wasn’t universally loved at its 1964 introduction, yet it became the life-blood of this constantly tinkering company from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.