MANAMA, Bahrain – We all know that guy. He’s just a little fitter, trimmer, faster and better looking than the rest of us. You may think him an ex-pro were it not for the fact he’s a self-made businessman who has both managed to make his fortune in commerce and become an impressively skilled runner/paddler/cyclist. None of us likes him too much, of course, but that says more about our issues than his supposed faults.

Envy aside, that pretty much describes any GTS in the Porsche range, too ... and is particularly accurate when it comes to the new Panamera GTS. Whereas the 4 and 4S are the sensible, pragmatic derivatives (and the Turbo the muscled, weight-room devotee), the GTS is the corporate boardroom’s toned athlete.

This particular Panamera – available in both sedan and Sport Turismo body shapes – has benefited from a training programme that’s sharpened the model’s well-documented inherent athletic abilities. Bridging the gap between the 324 kW Panamera S and the brawny 404 kW Panamera Turbo, the GTS offers powerful performance from its 338 kW twin-turbo V8, along with the promise of nimble handling thanks to a specifically tuned chassis, and a black-accented styling package that echoes its dynamic talents.

Styling

The GTS takes the starter’s orders wearing model-specific black-accented trim that includes black Sport Design side-skirts, side window strips in high-gloss black and front doors that bear GTS lettering. On the rear of the car, there’s black Sport Design lower trim, and the Porsche logo and model name feature the hallmark colour, as do the two twin-tailpipes in the standard sports exhaust system. The LED taillamps also bear a dark tint.

Inside, as standard, the GTS features 18-way power-adjustable sports seats (with memory) for both the driver and front passenger. The seats are trimmed in leather with Alcantara centre panels (the door armrests, sun visors, headliner, and the A-, B- and C-pillars are also trimmed in Alcantara). Standard equipment includes a heated multifunction sports steering wheel, paddle shifters, a mode switch for the Sport Chrono Package, as well as GTS logos on the door sills, rev counter and head restraints.

Drivetrain and chassis

New to the range is a 4,0-litre twin-turbo V8 that transmits its 338 kW/620 N.m outputs to all four wheels via an eight-speed PDK dual-cutch transmission. The chassis has been revised and, along with an adaptive air suspension with three-chamber technology and a wide spring rate, the ride has been lowered by 10 mmm and the Porsche Active Suspension Management system has been given a sportier tweak.

The Panamera GTS comes standard with Porsche’s Sport Chrono Package that includes a rotary mode switch to shift between four driving modes (Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual) and a Sport Response Button located in the middle of the dial. Press this and you benefit from maximum power potential for 20 seconds, with more direct engine response and a more dynamic shifting map from the eight-speed dual-clutch.

Handling

The first part of the launch held on the small island-Emirate of Bahrain provided little opportunity to explore the Panamera GTS’ athletic abilities – rough roads and vigilant law enforcement kept the assembled press uncharacteristically light-footed on the right-side pedal.

Fortunately, the opportunity did arrive later at the Bahrain International Circuit for some hot laps round a fast-and-flowing track that’s become a regular feature on the Formula One calendar over the past 14 years. The near kilometre-long main straight provided plenty of opportunity to move through the gears, hitting around 220 km/h before giving the new, bigger internally vented disc brakes (390 mm front/365 mm rear) a thorough test, quickly and effectively bringing the big two-tonne car down to around 80 km/h for the tight right-hander that is Turn 1.

And it’s through the circuit’s 15 turns that the black magic that Porsche’s engineers have imbued the Panamera’s chassis with come to the fore. It’s one thing having the under-bonnet grunt to slingshot down a long straight, but maintaining composure when the tarmac starts snaking left and right is where it really counts.

Thanks to a lower centre of gravity (the suspension is 10 mm lower in the GTS), the Porsche Active Suspension Management system adapted for a sportier setup, and the optional four-wheel steering, the way the big Porsche copes with these lateral dynamics is staggering. The four-wheel steering is particularly impressive through low-speed corners that see the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction to the front wheels (up to a maximum steering angle of 2,8 degrees), effectively shortening the wheelbase. A car of this size simply has no right to pivot and turn in the way it does.

When it comes to a big luxury performance sedan, this second-generation Panamera has no peers in our market and the new GTS only emphasises that. Pricing has yet to be confirmed, but when the car launches in South Africa in the second quarter of 2019, it’s likely to be at the R2-million ballpark – that’s a good half-a-million less than the Turbo.

Given the GTS’s sharper looks and improved handling – and despite the fact that I still don’t like that guy – this would certainly be my pick in the range...