By Amos Kwon
on 4.12.13
Photo by Amos Kwon

Certain cars don’t seem to make much sense, yet they make it to market anyway. Whether it’s because of design or practicality issues, these red-headed stepchildren of the automotive world rarely succeed. The Porsche Panamera GTS and the Panamera design, overall, has some of the warning signs of those real-world failures. More potent than the base model but not quite as maddening as the Turbo S, it still bears the bulbous but muscled body the Panamera design has become known for. As we got behind the wheel on some California roads, the question lingered: could the Germans reconcile this nonsensical creation?

OTHER 4-DOOR COUPES: Audi S7 | Mercedes-Benz CLS 550 | BMW 650i Gran Coupe

When initial renderings of the Panamera emerged on the web several years ago, it was long and sleek — like a stretched 911, still bearing much of the handsome sloping roofline of the iconic sports car. But if the Panamera was to compete with the other big sport sedans on the market, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the BMW 7-Series and the Audi A8, it would have to be capacious for passengers and gear. And therein was the problem. How do you maintain 911-like lines, house room for four to five people and make use of a hatch back for storage?

You can’t tell if onlookers love the car or are mortified by it. Either way, you won’t want for attention.

It just might work if both of your rear passengers sported Tom-Cruise’s vertical dimension, but for anyone taller, it would result in matted hair and sore necks. You’d also quite obviously have to move the engine to the front, and if you’re Porsche, you make it a big one with plenty of power. The end result was a car that was somewhat less than attractive — its length only overshadowed by its very noticeable rear end, since you can’t simply do a stretched 911. You have to make room for your friends. So, Porsche took conventional wisdom on sports sedan design and bent the rules, turning what could’ve been an impractical but handsome sedan into a useful car with presence. The Panamera’s design works; its formula is what makes this segment so exciting.

Porsche’s First 911 Sedan

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The very first Porsche 911-based sedan goes way back to 1967, built by an American-based coachbuilder, Troutman-Barnes. It was certainly a one-off, and Frankensteined by taking two 1967 Porsche 911s that had been in an accident. They chopped off the front of one and the rear of the other and conjoined them, adding suicide rear doors. Not a bad job, since they were able to maintain the classic 911 shape. Makes you do a double-take

The 2013 GTS we drove was bathed in bright red, with a black interior and shorn in black wheels — all of this clearly adding more flash to the already massive car. Even in Sonoma wine country, where money flows, the car is noticeable. You can’t tell if onlookers love the car or are mortified by it. Either way, you won’t want for attention. The interior is swathed in comfy Alcantara and the red piping on the upholstery lends to a racy-feel that matches the exterior. The buttons on the center console are numerous and a tad confusing, but you get used to it after a few hours in the driver’s seat. The back seats provide a surprising amount of room, as does the hatch, where the GTS swallowed luggage and gear.

Yes, the car is a big one, almost 17 feet long, so slathering it in a bright “Carmine Red” makes it the equivalent of a massive vehicular pimple. It can’t be ignored. And if you think the 20-inch black sport wheels lend some subtlety, think again. Plus, the fat six and four piston red brake calipers beneath give you up right quick. Practically the only thing low-key on the exterior is the spoiler, and that’s only when it’s fully retracted. You’ll spend a lot of time playing with it just to see it deploy in your rearview mirror. Inconspicuous score: zero.

The sound that’s piped through the cabin is about as intoxicating as it gets — and you’re still hauling your entire family.

The GTS’s naturally aspirated V8 provides a more-than ample 430 horsepower and moves the heavy sedan to 60 in a jaw-dropping 4.3 seconds. What’s even more noticeable than the power is the sound of the engine, effectively issuing forth the bellow of a German muscle car. You start the beast and the ECU blips the throttle, giving you giddy joy like a kid at his first go-kart race. The sound that’s piped through the cabin is about as intoxicating as it gets — and you’re still hauling your entire family. The PDK transmission is perfect for this car, giving well-timed downshifts and responsiveness that is deserving of the Porsche name. And though the car is as heavy as a grand piano, it can juke and jive like a fighter in a lower weight class.

The 2014 Panamera ever so slightly shows up the 2013 model with styling tweaks and a power bump, but the mindset behind this four-door coupe effort remains unchanged. This is how Porsche makes a luxury sedan. It’s the best kind of contradiction, in that the Panamera GTS has the creature comforts of a luxury sedan, room aplenty and yet also all the forced Porsche 911 heredity needed to make it a truly sporting automobile that spits in the face of subtlety. None of it makes sense, really, but the magical concoction of practicality, pomp and power make the Panamera GTS positively superb, and that’s why we love it so.

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