Twenty years ago, if you told a Porsche engineer on the 962 racecar that they would eventually produce an SUV (an unheard term at that point), albeit one with 440 horsepower and legitimate track capability, they would probably unhinge your jaw from your mouth. In 2016, however, Porsche makes an aggressive, polarizing and admittedly fun SUV in the Cayenne. The GTS is the lineup’s emboldened version, with a muscular body kit, lowered ride height and the whiff of a sports car.
What the engineers couldn’t tell you 20 years ago was that the Cayenne — an SUV — would be Porsche’s best-selling model across its lineup. The reason is simple: It’s so universal, it can fit almost any person’s needs. Want something quiet for the incessant commute? Grab a base Cayenne. How about great fuel economy? The e-Hybrid gets 47 mpg combined. Want to go stupid fast? The Turbo S is your monster. You get the point. The Cayenne’s versatility in a crowded SUV space means that Porsche can keep certain liberties with a sporting attitude and non-SUV-like features. And buyers love it; they sold over 16,000 in 2015, more than any other Porsche by quite a margin. The mom can pick up the kids on Friday afternoon from school, while the dad can hustle to the store through the woods in one of the ride's sports modes. (Or vice versa; it’s that easy to drive.)
With these successes, Porsche can build cars like the Cayenne GTS, and no one questions it. It’s hard to think of a better car for bombing down NYC streets and then cutting up backcountry roads. There are obviously better sports cars out there for chopping up the landscape. (Ed note: Porsche officially calls the Cayenne a sports car, which is a bit ridiculous to us. Careful, Porsche, don’t lose your way.) However, the way the Cayenne can soak up insurmountable disasters of public infrastructure and then lower itself thanks to the air suspension for smooth byways is just a modern marvel.
Where the GTS differs from its Turbo counterparts is the 20mm drop in suspension travel, allowing for better handling dynamics (and a great looking stance from outside with complimenting 20-inch wheels). But if you’d like, you can raise the suspension to normal and high levels depending on the terrain. The Cayenne will ford water, crush highways with aplomb, or it will drive perfectly sedate like any other car; the choice is yours.
Though the electronic wizardry is wonderful for combating most forces of nature, one can still find the breaking point of both physical adhesion and saving graces. Weight is a factor in any SUV, and the Porsche is no different. When you’re in mid-corner pushing 4,652-pound around with a taller greenhouse, you feel the tires flex and the body fight gravity, especially on slick public roads and modestly heated tires. The GTS is impressive, but there are limits.
You can reach limits mighty fast with the new 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6. Replacing the V8 that came before with an additional 20 horsepower, now 440, the V6 really shines with torque. It’s up an impressive 63 lb.-ft thanks to the quick responsiveness and efficiency of the turbochargers. A little above idle — 1,600rpm — and you’re already at the max torque of 443. A playful engine mixed with the 8-speed Tiptronic S transmission means that acceleration is fast and brutal, offering 0-60 of 4.8 seconds.
The V8 is easy to miss, though, as the sound cannot be compared with the new and efficient turbo motors, with fake sounds plumbed through beautifully appointed cabins. Porsche even used to offer a manual transmission option, though sadly, no longer.
Leather, Alcantara, instrument clusters and buttons, oh my! Porsche took the best from the Panamera and the 911 and included them on the Cayenne to make an interior that is incredibly complex, but also fairly easy to learn. While the overwhelming amount of buttons on the center console might throw you for a tizzy at first, once your spatial awareness settles in, finding the right action is second nature. Honestly, it’s always refreshing getting into a Porsche interior when not everything is dictated by touchscreen.
Gripes are few and far between, but we did find the seats to be a bit too firm. While they offer a great amount of adjustability and bolstering, the padding verges on non-existent. Also, the Start/Stop functionality — a great fuel-saving feature all cars should come with — can make the ride jerky because pressure on pedal changes once brakes aren't boosted. In other words, as you approach a stop light, the pressure you’re used to differs and stopping smoothly becomes more difficult. Again, it’s a considerably minor gripe, but this is a $100,000 luxury truck that could afford to be a bit smoother.
It always impresses me that trucks and SUVs are made like this — ones that can handle tremendous horsepower and handling efforts and still provide comfortable driving dynamics. Granted, you pay for what you get, but eventually, the technology will trickle down to less and less expensive options, and we give Porsche credit for that. They’re spearheading the “sports car” SUV effort with options that continue to inspire the next generation of automobiles.
Efficiency: 16/23/19 mpg (city/highway/combined)
0-60 MPH: 4.8 seconds
Top Speed: 163 mph
Horsepower: 440 horsepower
Torque: 463 lb-ft
Cost: $95,500 (base) / $110,590 (as tested)