Staring at the 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS docked in front of my house, adjectives flood in. But one word sticks: absurd. In just about every way, including size (more than 6 feet wide and 16 feet long), weight (nearly 5,500 lbs. with humans and fuel), color (a loud "Jersey Shore"-sounding hue called Carmine Red) and price (a hair under $140,000 as delivered).
While no one has ever accused Zuffenhausen's mammoth sedan of being an understated stealth machine, the GTS seems to reach for a new level of in-your-face motoring, from its 20-inch spoked shoes to its retractable Batman-worthy black wing. And I love it.
Days spent both running errands and ripping around the backroads north of San Francisco revealed Porsche's hopped up family mover as a split-personality gem, at once capable of leisurely jaunts and mountain-carving blasts (in Sport Plus trim with the adjustable exhaust note set on snarl).
But between the two guises the GTS leans heavily toward race, with its Alcantara-swathed interior, half-inch-lower ride height and bucket seats that seem ripped out of a GT3. Sitting at the wheel of this car brings to mind Ferrari's two-door, four-passenger FF. Like the Porsche, the hatchback Ferrari features questionable looks but delivers a dash-forward view and driving experience that recalls the marque's top coupe. With both cars, the only real clue that you're not driving a 911 or 599 GTB comes from looking at the people sitting behind you.
The GTS starts life as an all-wheel-drive 4S, then has its 4.8-liter V8 massaged for 30 more hp to 430 total thanks to a new cam design that also provides the car its distinctive exhaust note. Porsche's active-suspension system has been adjusted to anticipate more aggressive driving, and this test model featured the optional PDCC with Torque Vectoring ($5,000), which translates to a ride that's flatter than a pancake. Speaking of options, our test model had the typical Porsche a la carte menu escalation: Starting at $111,000, the list boasted everything from $1,255 for rear cameras and parking assit to $335 car-shaped keys painted to match your machine. Toss in thousands more for red stitching that keeps all that black leather together and you land at $138,515, which puts the GTS roughly in the middle of the Panamera line-up between the $75,850 base model and the $175,300 Turbo S.
Money aside, why wouldn't you just order up that 550-hp Turbo S if you were looking for the best Panamera around? The answer comes down to something as simple and perhaps subjective as feel. While there's no denying the Turbo S's brutal power, turbo technology still hasn't managed to completely erase the whisper of lag that differentiates any turbo-powered car from its normally aspirated brethren. It's that slight difference that makes the GTS comes alive.
On a hairy set of switchbacks that cause most sports cars to roll dangerously, the GTS begged for more, its lower center of gravity, active suspension and responsive PDK paddle-shift transmission communicating well. In manual mode, I pushed the GTS to its redline to extract the most power from each gear. In Sport Plus, the car's electronic brain did the work for me with impressive ease, snapping off shifts with uncanny precision. It's something to watch the tach's needle flick from 6,000 to 2,000 on an upshift, or hear the downshifts as you hit the brakes while diving into a turn. I could have had three more people with me, but I don't think they would have enjoyed the kind of ride this car can deliver.
The GTS is not perfect. The massive seatbacks and small rear window make rear visibility theoretical, and parking via the rear-view camera does not inspire confidence. The standard Panamera-style center console rolling out across Porsche's line-up may be a model of Teutonic perfection, but the similarity of the buttons means you have to wait for a stoplight to make sure you're turning up the seat warmers or activating launch mode. And a $140,000 car should not emit the sound of a child's toy horn when the lock button is hit.
A quick note on the name. Porsche purists take their nomenclature seriously. GTS summons up images of one of the German company's fabled "giant killers," the lithe 904 GTS of the early '60s. Fast forward four decades and those three letters now denote versions of the 911, Cayenne and Panamera, per Porsche's marketing department. Sacrilege, to some. But the truth is, each of those GTS models features changes that reflect a more sporting version of the original -- particularly the Cayenne, which went from homely to hunky in GTS trim. In the case of the Panamera GTS, the sporting changes are mainly on the inside, which is just as well given the car's ungainly shape.
There could be a solution to that problem coming soon. Porsche recently unveiled its Panamera Sport Turismo plug-in hybrid concept at the Paris Auto Show, which boasts a 333-hp supercharged engine that gets support from a 95-hp electric motor. The company says the car can hit 60 mph in less than six seconds while delivering around 67 mpg. But that's not the real news: the car is a true station wagon whose design turns the Panamera's ungainly rear end into a downright fluid design. And if they ever make the Sport Turismo, make mine a GTS.