A for­mi­da­ble piece of ma­chin­ery

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

The worst thing about Bahrain is driv­ing in it. Not be­cause of rogue camels or any­thing triv­ial like that, no, but be­cause of the dra­co­nian traf­fic fines. They’re ter­ri­fy­ing — es­pe­cially when you con­vert them into rands. Skip a red light and you’re look­ing at R20,000. Ex­ceed the speed limit by 30% and your wal­let will be R10,000 lighter. Have an ac­ci­dent and you’ll be li­able for R40,000.

Other than crash­ing your brains out at the Nür­bur­gring in a hire car I can’t think of a bet­ter way to bank­rupt your­self be­hind the wheel of an au­to­mo­bile.

Con­se­quently I’m be­ing ex­tra cau­tious, which all seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive con­sid­er­ing that I am here sam­pling the spicy new Porsche Panam­era and Sport Turismo GTS mod­els.

Built specif­i­cally to slot in between the 4S and range-top­ping Turbo, the GTS is a for­mi­da­ble piece of ma­chin­ery. One that se­cretly rolls its eyes at be­ing daw­dled down a four-lane free­way at a steady 80km/h. For be­neath that lengthy bon­net re­sides the same dou­ble-blown 4.0l V8 en­gine you get in the afore­men­tioned Turbo. The only dif­fer­ence be­ing that here it has been de­tuned to de­liver a “mere” 338kW and 620Nm.

Luck­ily Porsche knows a thing or two about mak­ing liv­able per­for­mance cars and as such my Panam­era GTS takes this bla­tant mis­use in its stride. Driven at these slow speeds in amongst this strict land of sky­scrapers and ho­tels and oil wells it feels about as laid back and docile as your cousin’s Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI.

Com­fort­able too. Those 18way elec­tric sports seats might look like track-day spe­cials but they’re en­gi­neered to keep your meat-cov­ered skele­ton happy — even af­ter a good few hours at the helm. Be­ing a GTS model Porsche didn’t skimp on Al­can­tara, a fab­ric that adorns ev­ery­thing from the cen­tre seat pan­els and sun vi­sors to the steer­ing wheel and head­liner.

Other stand­out stan­dard fea­tures in­clude the Sport Chrono Pack­age (iden­ti­fi­able by the now fa­mil­iar stop­watch on the cen­tre con­sole and race car-in­spired drive mode switch on the steer­ing wheel) as well as the fan­tas­ti­cally in­tu­itive Porsche Ad­vanced Cock­pit in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. The lat­ter is the stuff of sweaty tech-porn dreams with its mas­sive 12.3-inch HD touch­screen on the cen­tre con­sole plus two equally ar­rest­ing seven-inch screens mounted within the in­stru­ment bin­na­cle.

What does seem un­nec­es­sary, how­ever, is the ad­di­tion of a head-up dis­play that projects in­for­ma­tion onto the wind­screen in front of you. Back in the 1990s head-up dis­plays kind of made sense but now they feel some­what re­dun­dant. Not to men­tion dis­tract­ing. Luck­ily you can turn it off, which is what I do when we ar­rive at the meat of this ex­otic launch sand­wich: the Bahrain In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit.

It’s quite a place this: a track of numer­ous lay­outs that has hosted ev­ery­thing from For­mula One to the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship. Scan the cir­cuit map and you’ll spy a gen­er­ous blend of high and low-speed bends, not to men­tion a main straight that must, to my cal­cu­la­tions at least, be about one kilo­me­tre in length.

It’s a ballsy lo­cale to launch an au­to­mo­bile, es­pe­cially one that’s es­sen­tially a four-door lux­ury saloon weigh­ing close on three tons. Amaz­ingly though, the Panam­era GTS takes it in its stride. Dur­ing my first ses­sion out on track tail­ing Le Man­swin­ning rac­ing driver, Michael Chris­tensen, I’m free to get a taste of the speed and ac­cel­er­a­tion this thing is ca­pa­ble of.

TURN-IN IS MIGHT­ILY IM­PRES­SIVE FOR SUCH A LARGE MA­CHINE WHILE BODY ROLL IS BARELY DISTIN­GUISH­ABLE

Porsche knows a thing or two about mak­ing liv­able per­for­mance cars, both on and off the track.

The Panam­era GTS slots in below the Turbo model, and is de­tuned to 338kW. Left: Those elec­tric sports seats are com­fort­able even af­ter a good few hours at the helm.

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