Porsche Panam­era: ev­ery­day road­ster

Sam­pling the spicy new Porsche Panam­era and Sport Turismo GTS mod­els makes driv­ing a pure plea­sure

Daily Dispatch - - Weekender - THOMAS FALKINER

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 hired 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 laid­back and docile as your cousin’s Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI.

Com­fort­able too. Those 18-way elec­tric sports seats might look like track-day spe­cials but they’re en­gi­neered to keep your meat­cov­ered 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 Mans-win­ning rac­ing driver, Michael Chris­tensen, I’m free to get a taste of the speed and ac­cel­er­a­tion this thing is ca­pa­ble of.

That V8 en­gine im­me­di­ately takes cen­tre stage thanks to its bur­bly sound­track and su­per flat torque curve. You’ve ba­si­cally got 620Nm to play with from 1,800rpm all the way up to nearly 5,000rpm, which gives it some en­vi­able punch when ex­it­ing cor­ners.

It’s put down well too: Porsche’s ac­tive all­wheel drive sys­tem makes sure all that mus­cle is de­liv­ered to the tar­mac with­out any tyresmok­ing drama.

Com­ple­mented by a long wheel­base you get a car that feels in­cred­i­bly sta­ble when you turn the wick up – es­pe­cially through the faster high-speed sweeps. Gear changes are han­dled by the firm’s ex­cel­lent eight-speed PDK trans­mis­sion that, when set to Sport Plus Mode, has your back through all bends. Even though there are pad­dles on the wheel you will never need to use them – it’s that good.

Night falls and my sec­ond ses­sion is held un­der ar­ti­fi­cial light. The lay­out has been switched to the full-fat For­mula One cir­cuit and there are a few tighter and more com­pli­cated cor­ners thrown into the mix.

And the GTS hides its heft well when chucked through them thanks to its trick sports chas­sis. Not only does it sit 10mm lower to the ground than the reg­u­lar Panam­era but the ac­tive three-cham­ber air sus­pen­sion sys­tem has been tweaked to de­liver sharper han­dling on the ragged limit. Turn-in is might­ily im­pres­sive for such a large ma­chine while body roll is barely dis­tin­guish­able.

You could be for­given be­liev­ing you were in a smaller ve­hi­cle. Yet for me the star of the dy­namic show is the brak­ing per­for­mance. Equipped with the op­tional car­bon ce­ram­ics there is zero fade present here – even af­ter three hot laps that in­clude brak­ing from 240km/h to about 60km/h in less than 100m. It’s quite as­ton­ish­ing.

But then the whole pack­age is. Well, at least from what I can tell af­ter driv­ing it for a few short hours. You’re get­ting all the lux­ury of the lesser mod­els plus a sportier ex­te­rior part­nered to the kind of per­for­mance po­ten­tial few own­ers will ever dream about chan­nelling.

And if Porsche does land the Panam­era GTS range at un­der R2m when it ar­rives here in South Africa next year, well, then it’s some­thing of a bar­gain too. See it then as the think­ing man’s Turbo. Just not in Bahrain though: race­track aside I think I’d be more com­fort­able tak­ing a taxi. —

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.