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BT EXCLUSIVE

These three letters might help you find the perfect balance of furious and luxurious in a car

The handling in this driver's car is wicked. It's no slouch in the looks department either.

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PORSCHE PANAMERA GTS

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Bahrain International Circuit

ASSUMING you've been dealt certain cards in life and managed to play them exceedingly well, then there ought to come a point when you have to decide not whether to buy a Porsche, but which Porsche to buy.

That's not as straightforward as it sounds, because for a relatively small manufacturer (Porsche built a smidgen over 20,000 cars a month in 2017, which is less than the number of cars Toyota cranks out in a day), the Stuttgart-based sportscar specialist has a bewildering array of models; on Porsche's Singapore website I counted no fewer than 51 different cars.

You could narrow your choice down by size or the number of seats your wife tells you you need, but there's plenty of nuance to the Porsche model range to consider.

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Take the new Panamera GTS. As first it only seems to add to the confusion, but it zooms in on a highly specific audience with laser-like precision. "The GTS is for customers who have a passion for driving," Armin Köpcke, the engineer in charge of tuning its handling, told The Business Times.

On the Panamera pricing ladder, the GTS is a new rung that slips between the (fast) 4S version and the (furious) Turbo.

That's only half the story, and the "GTS" label itself hints at the other half. Porsche fans will be familiar with what the three letters stand for (Gran Turismo Sport), but everyone else should think of "GTS" as shorthand for whenever the factory equips a given model with all the things a committed driving enthusiast would find worth having.

At the heart of these are go-faster and stop-faster items: the 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 engine lets 460 horsepower loose (20hp more than what a Panamera 4S has), and conjures up a mighty 620 Newton-metres of pulling power at only 1,800rpm. The GTS comes with large brakes (390mm in diameter up front and 365mm at the back), and it has the large, 20-inch wheels to accommodate them.

While those latter two items look a treat, the rest of the GTS is no eyesore, either. It has sportier looking bumpers and tailpipes than the Panamera norm, and what's usually shiny and chrome is a rather badass black instead.

Inside, you'll find acres of Alcantara (a lightweight synthetic suede material) and plush front seats that look like someone nicked them from a racing car.

As if hinting at what's in store for the driver, the upholstery is embroidered with "GTS".

And what's in store is… pretty much what you would expect from a Panamera, at least in crowded city traffic. Although it sits 10mm lower on its air springs than a regular Panamera, the GTS feel only marginally firmer over bumps, and there's enough overall refinement on offer to make all-day driving a relaxed affair.

But if it's painless at low speed, the Panamera GTS quickly becomes pleasurable as you pick up the pace. There's a simple reason the press launch was at a Formula One circuit: perhaps more than any other limousine this size, the Panamera GTS is an absolute fiend when let off the leash.

Lots of big cars can match the Porsche's acceleration, but the first hairpin is where they sometimes lose the plot. Not so the Panamera GTS, which can change direction with breathtaking aplomb.

Köpcke told BT he fiddled with the suspension to make the front of the car sharper and more pointy than a normal Panamera, and it's obvious that he did his work well. It's a challenge to get the front tyres lose their hold on tarmac.

Being a large, two-tonne machine still, the Panamera GTS does come up against physics if you're sloppy-handed with the steering or too jumpy on the accelerator, in which case the stability control does a fine job of saving your bacon by killing small slides before they turn into big ones.

Yet, when you try and drive it with some finesse and smoothness, the GTS is satisfyingly communicative, and as fulfillingly precise as any proper sportscar.

Mind you, the press cars were fitted with vital options such as rear axle steering (which Köpcke highly recommends), active anti-roll bars and ceramic brakes. Without these a GTS would very likely feel less adept at track work, so be prepared to raid the piggy bank if you want the best from the car.

That said, the GTS package itself includes a number of extras that would add plenty to the price of a standard Panamera 4S.

Air suspension, the Sport Chrono Package (which adds a dash-top stopwatch and sharper driving mode) and the extra rumbly sport exhaust package are prime examples of worthwhile stuff that's standard on a GTS but would cost S$30,021 on a Panamera 4S.

Add 20-inch wheels (S$8,039), the SportDesign body kit (an eye-watering S$20,288) and so on, and before long you would have loaded up on more than S$80,000 of extras. And you still wouldn't have some items that aren't on the options list, such as the GTS' V8 engine, its tuned suspension or its fold-out rear wing (taken from the Panamera Turbo).

That should make it clear that if you want a Panamera that looks, goes and handles better than the 4S model, the best option to tick is to make it a GTS.

For the first time, though, the Panamera GTS can be had in Sport Turismo guise, with its 4+1 seating configuration and wagon body. Trust Porsche to make a family-oriented car cooler than its slinkier sibling - just imagine the looks you'll get when you overtake someone on the track with a wagon.

The GTS card may be an obvious one to play for a Panamera buyer, but the Sport Turismo version throws an amusing wildcard into the mix.


PORSCHE PANAMERA GTS
Engine
3,996cc, twin-turbo V8
Power 460hp at 6,000 to 6,500rpm
Torque 620Nm at 1,800 to 4,500rpm
Gearbox 8-speed twin-clutch automatic
Top Speed 292km/h
0-100km/h 4.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 10.2L/100km
Price To be announced
Agent Stuttgart Auto
Available Q1 2019 (estimated)