Porsche’s GTS models have been part of the line-up for years now, so it’s no surprise to find the German brand has just applied the badge to the large and luxurious Panamera.

Slotting between the entry-level 4S and the explosively fast Turbo, the Panamera GTS aims to deliver a mix of thrilling driver engagement and everyday usability.

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To this end the newcomer gets a lightly detuned version of the twin-turbo V8 from the flagship, a more focused chassis set-up and a handful of visual tweaks aimed at boosting the car’s kerb appeal. Available in both standard saloon and more practical Sport Turismo guises, it’s the former we grabbed the keys to for an early first drive on road and track in the baking hot Gulf state of Bahrain.

Visual clues to the car’s status follow the same theme as Porsche’s other GTS models, which means you get the distinctive Sport Design Package that includes a gloss-black finish for the window frames, bumper inserts, badges and headlamp surrounds, plus GTS logos at the base of each front door. Black is also used for the standard 20-inch alloy wheels and quad exit sports exhaust. As a final flourish, the Panamera’s retractable spoiler gets extra elements to increase its surface area and boost downforce.

Inside, the changes are more subtle. Alcantara trim covers the seats and the steering wheel, while GTS logos have been added to the rev-counter, tread plates and headrests of the front seats. The addition of a stopwatch on top of the dash signifies that Porsche’s Sport Chrono system is standard.

Elsewhere, the cabin is pure Panamera, which means it’s beautifully finished, spacious (although it’s still a strict four-seater) and filled with tech, including a 12.3-inch infotainment screen in the centre console, plus two seven-inch configurable displays either side of the rev-counter. Making its debut in the GTS – and now available on all Panamera variants – is a full colour head-up display with crisp graphics.

Twist the key and the 4.0-litre V8 burbles purposefully into life. Essentially the same unit used in the 542bhp Panamera Turbo, here it delivers 453bhp and 620Nm of torque; the latter available from just 1,800rpm. It’s connected to an eight-speed PDK transmission that drives the brand’s clever, electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system, and this combination gives the GTS strong urge off the line – even if it doesn’t feel a lot faster than the already rapid 4S.

+Flicking the rotary drive mode controller into Sport or Sport+ (there’s Normal and Individual, too) sharpens the throttle and opens flaps in the exhaust to give the V8 it’s full, baritone voice. It’s nowhere near as bombastic as Mercedes’ AMG models, but it’s loud enough to signal the car’s performance potential.

Of more interest to keen drivers will be the changes to the suspension. Like all Panameras, the GTS rides on three-chamber air suspension with adaptive dampers. However, it adds a 10mm lower Sports chassis, stiffer anti-roll bars and revised software. Our car also benefitted from optional four-wheel steering, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control active anti-roll system, torque vectoring rear differential and ceramic brakes, which all-in totalled an eye-watering £11,770.

With all these features the Panamera felt pretty sensational. While you’re always aware of the mass when pushing on, the steering delivers good feedback and has a near perfect rate of response. It all combines to make the Panamera feel remarkably agile as it seemingly pivots about your hips as you scythe with pinpoint precision through bends. Body control is superb, while those optional brakes work tirelessly.

Out on the road, the Panamera feels equally poised, yet it has a level of driver engagement that elevates it beyond most big sports saloons. We’ll have to try the car in the UK before we deliver a definitive verdict on the ride, however, which on Bahrain’s smooth roads had a touch of firmness at low speed but became supple the faster you went.

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