2021 Porsche Panamera GTS review: Striking the perfect balance
Porsche's Panamera lineup is pretty stacked. There are eight different powertrain configurations spread across the three body styles -- regular sedan, long-wheelbase Executive and Sport Turismo wagon -- for a total of 21 models. But if you're in the market for a Panamera, or really any large luxury sport sedan of its caliber, I'm here to make your decision easy: Just buy a Panamera GTS, because it's phenomenal.
The GTS uses a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 making 473 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 20 hp over last year's model, and Porsche tuned the engine to deliver power in a more linear fashion, like what you'd expect from a naturally aspirated setup. It's paired with Porsche's phenomenal eight-speed PDK automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive. All the Panamera models below the GTS use V6 engines, so the GTS is the cheapest way to get a V8, slotting under the new Turbo S.
The entire Panamera range received a facelift for 2021 that brought tweaked light designs and different bumpers, more standard features like wireless Apple CarPlay and keyless entry, and more hybrid models. The GTS gets clear taillights as standard, which look awesome with the new full-width lightbar design. My test car is finished in the spectacular Mamba Green Metallic, which is worth every cent of its $840 cost, and goes well with the GTS' blacked-out exterior trim and badges.
I wish the interior were more interesting, though. This Panamera has the GTS' standard combination of all-black leather and Race-Tex suede, with dark wood-like aluminum trim accents. A full leather interior is a no-cost option (and you can even get it in a nice purplish maroon), which would do wonders for making the Panamera's cabin look more interesting. I do love the redesigned steering wheel with a full suede rim that's the perfect thickness, and the GTS comes standard with fantastic 18-way adaptive sports seats that are supportive and comfortable, even on long drives.
That boring interior doesn't matter once I get the Panamera out on the road, though. I head up California's glorious Highway 33 north of Ojai, a route that consists of twisting mountain roads with hairpins and massive elevation changes and stretches of desert straightaways with long sweepers. The GTS' engine provides the perfect amount of power and response, with loads of torque available at a moment's notice all the way up to the 6,800-rpm redline. The PDK transmission snaps off quick shifts without drama, and I'm able to power out of corners with my foot to the floor without reaching extralegal speeds. Yeah, it's a quick car -- Porsche quotes a 3.7-second 0-to-60-mph time -- but it never feels too much for the street. The V8 sounds awesome through the standard sport exhaust system, with a nice burble at idle that builds to a throaty roar.
My Panamera test car is fitted with a few must-have options that augment the GTS' already great dynamics. The $2,160 21-inch wheels wrapped in excellent Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires are a size up from the GTS' base wheels, and they look fantastic without compromising ride quality. Every Panamera GTS has an adaptive air suspension with a slightly lowered ride height, but my car has the $5,010 Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control that adds torque vectoring and a 48-volt active anti-roll bar system. Most important is the $1,650 rear-axle steering system, which improves agility in the corners and makes the Panamera way easier to drive in the city. I'd never buy one without it.
The Panamera GTS is a marvel in the corners. The steering is perfectly weighted with more feedback than any of its competitors, and it feels a lot more athletic than any sedan weighing around 4,600 pounds should. The chassis soaks up bumps and bad road surfaces even with the suspension in the sportiest mode, and with the help of the optional torque vectoring system the Panamera is always sure-footed with tons of grip while still allowing for a bit of slip and fun in the corners. I know it's a cliche to say this about a non-911 Porsche, but the Panamera GTS really does drive like a sports car.
The one performance item on my Panamera's options list that's not worth it are the carbon-ceramic brakes. Sure, they provide immense stopping power, but on the street you're never gonna need it. Plus, they cost a whopping $8,970. The GTS' standard steel brakes are still huge and are more than good enough.
With a starting price of $130,650 (including $1,350 for destination) the GTS is $48,400 cheaper than the Turbo S, which uses the same V8 tuned to 620 hp and 604 lb.-ft. The Turbo S is undeniably a fantastic machine, but it's overkill in the majority of situations. With its focus on overall performance instead of outright speed, GTS is more usable every day than the Turbo S. And while it's pricier and less powerful than a Mercedes-AMG E63 or a BMW M5, I think it's better to drive than both.
The only other options on my Panamera are $740 soft-close doors, a $1,600 Bose surround-sound system and $1,060 for blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist. It rings in at $152,680, still $26,370 less than a Turbo S. In my eyes there's only one other competitor that really poses a problem for the Panamera GTS sedan, and it's also from Porsche's own lineup: the Panamera GTS Sport Turismo wagon, which only costs $6,200 more. Now that's a no brainer.