2021 Porsche Panamera GTS Review: The Most Well-Rounded Porsche, Period
The Porsche Panamera GTS excels as a performance car, a daily driver, and a constant affirmation that you’re driving a real Porsche.
When the Porsche Panamera first emerged in 2009, reactions were mixed, to say the least. As a body politic, we’d just gotten used to the idea of Porsche making things that aren’t two-door sports cars, and blammo—here comes this odd, front-engined sedan-thing with whose chunky design roughly recalled a mutated 911. It stood out, and not in a great way.
Jump forward to 2022, though, and the vibes around the Panamera couldn’t be more different, and especially around the 2021 Panamera GTS we tested for a week. Today, this flavor of Porsche’s luxury saloon feels more and more like a rare, precious thing: a straightforward V8 performance car designed to fit into your life without a second thought. Part of that is due to where we’re at with electrification, with SUV-ification, and with the computerization of high-end sports cars that make a show out of how much software can be layered between the driver and the road. The GTS has plenty of tech, to be sure. But it adds up to an experience that feels a lot more uncomplicated than the spec sheet would suggest.
In Porsche’s world, the GTS trim is often referred to as the Goldilocks model, with just the right amount of performance cred and luxury touches to act as a true all-rounder. And if you think about what that means in totality for a Porsche—something that can serve as a functional daily driver, while also looking and driving and carrying itself through the world like a real P-Car—then the Panamera GTS emerges as possibly the most complete experience the company offers today.
2021 Porsche Panamera GTS Review Specs
- 2022 base price (as tested) $136,550 ($158,680)
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 | 8-speed dual-clutch automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 473 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque: 457 lb-ft @ 1,800 to 4,000 rpm
- Seating capacity: 4
- Curb weight: 4,561 pounds
- Cargo volume: 17.4 cubic feet seats up | 47.1 seats down
- 0-60 mph: 3.2 seconds
- Top speed: 186 mph
- EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city | 21 highway | 17 combined
- Quick take: The most well-rounded example of the most well-rounded Porsche.
- Score: 9/10
For 2021, Porsche gave the Panamera a mid-cycle update that sprinkled power upgrades and some new standard feature sets around the lineup. What it didn’t change is the sheer breadth of the portfolio—there are no fewer than 24 different Panamera trims available between the sedan, wagon, and long-wheelbase body styles. The Panamera GTS gained +20 horsepower and a bit of a visual lift from the now-standard Sport Design package outside, but otherwise marched into 2021 (and 2022) mostly unchanged.
Not that that’s a bad thing—the Panamera’s design took a huge leap forward when the second generation launched on the Porsche-developed VW MSB platform, shared with Bentley, in 2016. In particular, the rear was reshaped to hew closer to the 911 template, with the roofline arcing down the back glass to a sharpened rear fascia complimented by a light bar spanning the taillights. In many ways, its looks finally match the congruity of the 928, another Porsche with grand touring aspirations. The current Panamera feels like a natural expression of Porsche’s design in a novel form, and the restraint exercised in visually separating the GTS—clear taillights, red brake calipers, and unique 20-inch wheels—is most welcome.
I’ve seen some people complain that the Panamera is looking a little too plain next to the electric Taycan, which seems poised to replace it in the not-so-distant future. Personally, I think that’s criticism for criticism’s sake; the Panamera is a beautiful machine.
Inside, it’s no less a refined experience, though here’s where the restraint does start to feel like a little much. The Panamera GTS shares the same dash and center console design as all Porsches today—clean lines, a modern twist on the five-pod gauge cluster with a physical tachometer front and center, and a panel of touch-capacitive non-buttons flanking the gearshift. Bonus points for Porsche resisting the stuck-on iPad design trend and embedding the 12.3-inch infotainment screen in the dash.
Standard, the GTS offers an all-black colorway mixing in leather and Race-Tex fake suede, and the dark motif is a little muted. A full leather interior with more interesting colors is available as a no-cost option, and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t go for that. Overall, it’s a comfortable and spacious cabin that packs an impressive 47 cubic feet of storage with the rear row down. Speaking of which, there are only two seats back there as standard.
The GTS is special for many reasons, high among them that it’s the cheapest V8 Panamera, starting a full 50 grand below the Panamera Turbo S. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 is a real gem, pushing 473 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and it sings through a special sport exhaust in the GTS. Porsche said it’s also retuned the engine to produce a more linear power delivery—more on that in a bit. That’s all packaged in a super sharp chassis honed even further with the addition of Porsche Adaptive Suspension Management, Porsche’s active damping system. This car was specced with the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control active anti-roll bar system ($5,010), a must-add if you plan to drive it hard, as well as rear-wheel steering ($1,650), which is not.
Driving the Porsche Panamera GTS
No one would call a $150,000-plus Porsche a simple machine, but the way the GTS presents itself is comparatively straightforward. You’ve got three drive modes, two suspension settings, and one loud button for the exhaust. The rest of the experience was dialed in back in Stuttgart—and there’s a real joy in that as a driver.
Around town in Normal mode, it’s every inch a luxury sedan, comfortable and solid, just one that happens to have livelier-than-normal steering. There’s a hint of slack in the throttle, enough to smooth out your inputs while still feeling plenty responsive for a performance car. The suspension is supple enough to absorb a speed hump at 30 mph, but otherwise remains taut in a way that reminds you this car is capable of something. Though it comes with a lift function for tricky driveway transitions, the Panamera GTS isn’t absurdly low to begin with. It’s pretty quiet, returns great real-world fuel economy in 8th gear on the highway, and has plenty of space for all your junk. I would drive one across the country tomorrow without a moment’s hesitation.
If there’s one fault to its daily drivability, it’s that the retuned V8’s linear power delivery doesn’t quite pan out. There isn’t much torque at the bottom end of the tach until the turbos come on hard around 2,500 rpm. I appreciated the engagement it delivered, but it also made some low-speed situations a little too choppy. And the auto start-stop—on by default in Normal mode—now activates at low speeds as you’re approaching a stop. But it’s not smart enough to know when you may be slowing momentarily to a crawl instead, leading to times when it’ll shut off the engine and start it back up within the span of a second as you speed up again. To anyone outside, it sounds like you’ve stalled the car.
But up in the canyons, or out in the hills, or down in the valley, or wherever your great driving roads are: Man, the Porsche Panamera GTS is phenomenal. The sonorous V8 is worth the price of admission—between 3,200 and 4,300 rpm, it develops this super throaty, muscular, almost percussive note as it hammers its way up the tach. Brutal yet exquisite. Keep it in fourth gear and you’ll find that linear power Porsche promised, forward progress synced up with your right foot. The transmission is unsurprisingly stellar too, though even in Sport+ I found it more rewarding to use the paddles than wait for the occasional late downshift.
Because when you’re in the zone with the GTS, you don’t want anything taking you out of it. It’s quick as hell, snapping off a 3.2-second zero-to-60 mph time, but between the all-wheel-drive and the relatively sensible power figures, it feels altogether manageable, even friendly, as you leap out of a curve and line up the next one in your sights. The steering is super direct, though numbed a bit by the suede steering wheel, and you know how we feel about those.
Brakes on this particular car are the optional mirror-finish Porsche Ceramic Composites, and the six-piston calipers gripped strong and true with no hint of fade over a two-hour spirited drive through Angeles National Forest. They’re another must-add despite costing nearly $9,000—so often on these not-quite-track models, the standard brakes are a weak point.
To go back to what I said earlier, the GTS is a highly complex vehicle managing a whole bunch of performance tech in a way that feels natural and easy. You could even call the result old-school—when competitors like the BMW M5 offer a thousand different ways to dial in your perfect custom driving mode, Porsche’s approach is to say, "You know, we’re pretty good at building cars. We got this. You just enjoy the drive."
The Highs and Lows
The Porsche Panamera GTS’ greatest high is probably the complete experience it delivers as a Porsche. From the look to the drive to the way strangers stare at it in parking lots—the way they never would at a Cayenne or Macan—the Panamera fulfills the promise of the badge while also being eminently usable as a daily driver. (It actually has more cargo space than the Macan!) Behind the wheel, staring out past the five-pod gauge cluster and analog clock and arcing hood with the same low vantage point as a 911, feeling the engine’s power with your right foot and the responsiveness of the chassis in your hands… the GTS is like a classic hit remixed into another banger in a completely different genre of music.
But no car is perfect, and frustratingly, the GTS’ biggest stumbles come from the cabin tech that you use every day. The PCM infotainment software went through a major upgrade in the time since we drove this car, but the version we experienced had inconsistent boot times that approached 20 seconds on multiple occasions (though PCM in general is responsive and intuitive once it gets going). Wireless Apple CarPlay is on tap, but it too was spotty. Use the wired connection, you say? The Panamera only has two USB ports up front, one of which is USB-C. The backup camera is strangely low-res. And the center HVAC vents can only be adjusted with touchscreen controls, which is going to annoy some people.
Porsche Panamera GTS Features, Options, and Competition
Also like a true Porsche, the Panamera GTS comes pretty unadorned out of the box. On the performance side, you get the V8, adaptive air suspension, adaptive headlights, and the sport exhaust. Inside, freebies include a heated sport steering wheel, 18-way front power seats, brushed aluminum trim, and GTS stitched into the headrests. There are only two packages on offer—the $5,100 Premium group, adding four-zone climate control, front and rear heated seats, a Bose sound system, soft close doors, Lane Change Assist, and multicolor ambient lighting; and the $2,750 Assistance Package, which brings adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, and a surround-view camera.
Everything else, from a white tachometer face ($420) to a rear middle seat ($1,000) is an à la carte option. This particular car had about $23,000 in options, but most of that was for the brakes, PDCC, 21-inch 911 Turbo wheels, and rear-wheel steering. The à la carte addition of Lane Change Assist, the Bose surround system, and soft close doors tacked on just $3,400. I would drop the 21-inch wheels and add ventilated seats, a full-leather brown interior (with a different exterior paint), a middle rear seat and adaptive cruise control.
The Porsche Panamera’s most direct competitors are its German performance saloon brethren: the Audi RS7, BMW M5, and Mercedes-AMG E63. All have V8s, fancy AWD systems, zero-to-60 times in the low threes, and prestige for days. The Panamera starts out as the most expensive and stays that way if you spec them like-for-like. These are all excellent cars, and whether you find the Porsche premium worth it will come down to the subjective experience. The RS7 is clinical, the M5 is a bruiser, the E63 is a hot rod, and the Panamera GTS is a precise, ultra-engaging machine.
The elephant in the room is that the gas Panamera is currently sold alongside its electric replacement, the Taycan, which makes any talk about recycled materials or powering the supply chain with green energy feel a bit flimsy if you’re justifying the Panamera as a sustainable choice. It’s not—but it is surprisingly economical, especially for such a capable performance car. The GTS is a rare example of a big V8 car that handily outperforms its EPA fuel economy ratings of 15 city, 21 highway, and 17 combined. I saw around 22 combined in mixed driving, boosted by a solid 29 mpg on the highway.
Value and Verdict
Between the high starting price and expensive options tree, the Porsche Panamera GTS doesn’t appear like a great value until you consider what it really represents: a four-door option that truly looks like a Porsche, swims like a Porsche, and quacks like a Porsche. You’re not getting this level of verisimilitude in a Cayenne or Macan, great as those vehicles are in their own right. I would ask why people choose a Cayenne over this in droves, but the Cayenne GTS is $20,000 cheaper than the Panamera GTS, so… the value proposition for most is kind of cloudy.
And that’s too bad, because the premium is worth it. The Porsche Panamera GTS is the most well-rounded version of the most well-rounded model the company offers today. That premise alone makes it well worth a look, and the follow-through is there. Let’s just hope more people realize that before it’s too late.
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