Porsche has a very annoying habit of keeping back the best version of any given product until the end of its life cycle, and this shows no sign of abating. It might be thought an inevitable process, that through the life of a model more is learned about both what it lacks and what the customer wants, but I suspect something more cynical. Bluntly Porsche knows exactly what the optimum model is and deliberately withholds it until interest in its less-able stable-mates starts to decline.
It did precisely this with the GTS version of the last 911, which was on sale for one year before the all new 911 came along, and it’s doing it again with this Panamera.
I have spent the three years that the Panamera has been out in the market place communicating my ambivalence towards the breed. The standard rear-drive V8 model is respectable, but I found the Turbo unlovable, the Turbo S even more so, the bottom of the range V6 gutless and the Hybrid too flawed to consider. Only the diesel really appeals because it excels at what the Panamera does best: covering long distances with the minimum of fuss. But even I cannot dismiss the GTS, a car that costs barely £6000 more than the four-wheel-drive S model on which it is based yet includes an engine more powerful by 30bhp, ceramic brakes, air suspension, active anti-roll bars, bigger wheels and tyres, a Turbo rear wing and an interior decked out in Alcantara and leather.
It’s much more fun to drive than the Turbo because its normally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 has proper throttle response, an addiction to its 7100rpm red line and the best sound of any Porsche made today. Its revised suspension settings are taut but never harsh, meaning comfort has not been compromised in the pursuit of at least some handling prowess. I drove it hard around the Ascari Race Resort and while it inevitably lolled and understeered as any four-wheel drive machine weighing almost two tonnes inevitably will, it was more fun than I had anticipated and more capable too.
Of course the number of Panamera GTS drivers who will take their cars on a race track will be one or none, but even during fast road driving there’s enough feel and response to make the driver feel involved in a way I’ve not experienced in any of its kin.
So, in isolation, it seems as if Porsche has done good with the Panamera GTS. And it will continue to seem so until you consider you can buy a Mercedes-Benz CLS63 for almost £10,000 less which has almost 100 horsepower more. It is also gorgeous, which the Porsche is emphatically not, and it is rear-wheel drive.
The Panamera GTS will be the last model until the range is comprehensively updated next year. It’s a Panamera I liked, which is a rarity, but if it’s a fast, beautiful four-door coupé you’re after, there are others that do it even better than this.
Engine: 4.8 litres, eight cylinders, petrol
Top Speed: 179mph
Power: 424bhp at 6700rpm
Fuel/co2: 25.9mpg, 256g/km