Taking friends to a track day? You need this $320k Porsche
PORSCHE PANAMERA GTS
Base price: $325,500.
Powertrain and performance: 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8, 338kW/620Nm, 8-speed automated dual-clutch transmission (PDK), AWD, Combined economy 10.3 litres per 100km, 0-100kmh 4.1 seconds.
Vital statistics: 5053mm long, 1417mm high, 2950mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 500-1340 litres, 20-inch alloy wheels with 275/40 front and 315/35 tyres.
We like: Crazy-fast everywhere, muscular V8, exquisite quality.
We don't like: Crazy-expensive, confusing digital cockpit.
One thing Porsche never has trouble with is cooking up new versions of existing models. Meet the new Panamera GTS.
So many models, so little time: what's a 'GTS' again?
Porsche does like to rattle on about the heritage of the Gran Turismo Sport badge, which first appeared on the 1963 904 Carrera. But that's a bit tenuous when we're talking about a monster five-door machine like the Panamera.
So let's just say that the GTS is the most sporting and focused of the Panamera range before you get into the really serious stuff like the Turbo. Yes, all Panameras are turbocharged, but the Turbo-with-a-capital-T name is still reserved for the really fast ones. Porsche is weird like that.
So while the more mainstream (hard to say that with a straight face) Panamera models have a six-cylinder engine, the GTS picks up a twin-turbo V8 - pretty much the same one you get in the Panamera Turbo, just in a lower state of tune.
The GTS retains three-chamber adaptive air suspension, but it rides 10mm lower. The Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) has been recalibrated and the car is fitted with very substantial brakes: 390mm front, 365mm rear.
There's some extra style to go with the dynamic substance. Front and rear bumpers are different, there's an imaginatively named "Panamera" design of 20-inch alloy wheel (although our car wears the $5850 21in option) and all of the chrome and badges are blacked out, which is a bit overwhelming on a black car.
Inside, there's lots of Alcantara trim and anodised aluminium. The GTS is also the first Panamera to have a head-up display, to which you might say "about time". And you'd be right.
Ideally both, because the concept of the GTS models (including the 911) is that they offer all of the comforts of a top-line luxury car, but are still "fit for the track" in Porsche's words.
This one's clearly dripping with luxury equipment and the "4+1" cabin provides generous accommodation. For four at least.
Beyond that, it's hard to fathom how a car of this size and visual status makes such an executive lunch of the silliest little backroads. The twin-turbo V8 is impossibly muscular, the steering precise. All-wheel drive takes care of traction - to the point where those 3+1 passengers might be feeling pretty queasy by the time your destination is reached.
The GTS is much less compliant than a Panamera like the 4S, but it's still capable of a cosseting cruise.
Speed - you can have that in any drive mode. But click the rotary controller around to Sport Plus and you experience a whole other side to the GTS's character: the engine howls, the throttle becomes hyper-responsive and the eight-speed automatic slams between gears like a racing car.
You can turn the whole lot up to 11 with the Sport Response button, which gives you maximum everything for 20 seconds. Gimmicky? Maybe, but wow.
No, it's not a sports car; you don't dance from corner to corner. But it sticks to apexes and sings.
One of the aims of the Panamera GTS is to give you the best of both worlds: luxury car refinement and the kind of A-to-B ability that makes you want to go on to C and D as well. It works.
That dashboard looks pretty busy. Is it confusing?
It sure is. It looks amazing and the clarity of the display, plus the sensitivity/feedback you get through your fingers is arguably the best of any such system in a production car.
But Porsche's old love of lots of buttons has certainly translated to a love of lots of menus in this Advanced Cockpit configuration, which is similar to that used in the Cayenne and has also been adapted to the all-new 911.
Once you've found what you want, the screen(s) are actually quite intuitive, with generous use of graphic displays rather than mere words and numbers. But it still takes some time to get your head around.
It's all very digital, but one physical dial does remain: in Porsche tradition, the tachometer is still mounted proudly in the centre of the instrument panel and it's still an analogue dial.
Again, it's all familiar from the Cayenne; the two models are closely related, sharing a platform and electronic architecture.
Should I just wait for the Cayenne coupe then?
There's certainly a bit of crossover there (get it?), although the Cayenne coupe hasn't been launched in NZ yet.
The initial model range doesn't include a GTS version either - just a turbo-six and then the actual "Turbo", with a more powerful twin-turbo V8 than you get in our Panamera here.
Any other cars I should consider?
The frankly awesome Panamera Sport Turismo (that's "wagon" to us) is also available in GTS form, for an extra $6400. So there's that.
There's also the Cayenne SUV, which also isn't yet available as a GTS (it'll come, it always does) but is "just" $261,200 even in top Turbo form (with the same 0-100km time as the Panamera GTS). You know, if you like SUVs better than long, low road rockets. Which you probably don't if you're considering the Panamera.
Beyond that, $300k-plus gives you so very many options among the prestige establishment. Let's face it, this is a crazy-expensive car.
But super-fast five-doors that are sensational on public seal and circuit alike? The Panamera is still pretty special in that respect.