In the middle of the desert, enveloped in dust clouds drifting off the dunes, is the Bahrain International Circuit. Built in 2004, the race track promptly hosted the Middle East’s first Formula 1 race on its Grand Prix Circuit—a 3.4-mile route with about a dozen late-apex corners, a layout requiring a car with substantial braking chops. It’s an apt stage for the 2019 Porsche Panamera GTS and GTS Sport Turismo to make their world premiere which we recently joined as guests of the brand.
In a world of waining luxury car sales, Porsche is adding a pair of sporty, enthusiast-focused models to its flourishing four-door sports-car range. Positioned between the mid-level Panamera 4S and the Panamera Turbo, the GTS (short for Gran Turismo Sport) is designed to appeal to customers seeking a sportier version of the car. For 2019, the GTS models get larger brakes, a standard adaptive air-suspension system with three-chamber technology, and a sport chassis that sits one centimeter lower for faster cornering.
The emotion begins just by looking at the fleet of shiny Panamera vehicles parked in the pit lane. Porsche has endowed both models with a bounty of high-gloss black trim—on the spoiler lip, the tailpipes and side window strips, to name just a few places—and a set of satin-black, 20-inch Panamera design wheels.
The look suits the latest addition to Porsche’s GTS family, the enthusiast trim level across its various vehicles. The acronym harkens back to Porsche’s first road-approved sports car, a 1963 Carrera GTS designed to compete on the track.
Even though the GTS model’s 453-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 engine doesn’t make significantly more power than the 440-horsepower Panamera 4S directly below it, the Panamera GTS boasts greater torque, burlier brakes, and a meaner snarl. The net result, as we find during a dozen laps on the track’s Grand Prix Circuit and its perimetral 2.3-mile Outer Circuit, is a dynamic experience.
On the track, the 4,400-pounder hides its size and heft, holding nimbly through a pair of especially sharp turns, thanks to its rear-axle steering and Porsche’s stability management system (PSM). On straights, we find the four-door pushes ahead, eager to match pace with the smaller 911 Turbo leading the hot laps. In short, it’s a gleefully satisfying drive.
The new models also come with the digital Porsche Advanced Cockpit and adaptive cruise-control offered across the second-generation Panamera portfolio. Wagon fans will appreciate the Sport Turismo layout’s additional passenger seat, second-row headroom and configurable cargo space, plus a convenient lower, wider loading zone at the rear.
The interior is outfitted with black Alcantara and anodized aluminum trim, a heated (though unnecessary even after the Bahraini sunset) multifunction sports steering wheel with paddle-shifters, and—for the first time in a Panamera—an optional head-up display. The optional GTS Interior package adds colorful contrast stitching and a plethora of GTS logos on the headrests, doorsills and tachometer—as if you needed a reminder that this is no ordinary Panamera.