The Porsche Cayenne GTS can't quite match the pace of the Turbo, but it is far cheaper and equally satisfying to drive
What is it?
This Cayenne GTS is the second generation of the more driver-focused of Porsche’s two go-faster SUVs. Unlike the Cayenne Turbo (which has two puffers attached to its V8), the GTS uses a normally aspirated, but highly tuned, V8. The GTS gives away 79bhp and a considerable 136lb ft of torque to its forced-induction sister car, but is only one second slower to 60mph and around 10 per cent more economical on the official EU cycle.
This is not an obscure niche model. Porsche sold 15,766 units of the previous-generation car, accounting for a full 17 per cent of all Cayenne sales during the time it was in the showroom.
This time around, the GTS is a healthy 160kg lighter and offers marginally more power (20bhp) and torque (11lb ft), while the CO2 output is down from 332g/km to 251g/km.
The engine has been modified with higher-lift valves (up 1mm to 11mm), stronger valve springs, reshaped camshafts and new engine management. When in Sport mode, the pulses of engine intake noise are directed into the cabin by the Sound Symposer, which channels noise up inside the A-pillars. Electronically controlled flaps in the rear silencer add to the volume.
On the standard-issue steel springs, the GTS sits 24mm lower than the Cayenne S, or 20mm lower if you tick the option box for the air suspension. Standard on the steel-sprung car is Porsche Active Suspension Management, a three-stage (Comfort, Normal, Sport) switchable active damping system. The air suspension can be set at five different height levels. Twenty-inch wheels are standard, though our test car was fitted with 21s.
Our test car was also fitted with Porsche’s optional PDCC anti-roll system. This uses hydraulic swivel motors which, using the steering angle and lateral acceleration as a guide, twist one end of the anti-roll bar in relation to the other, quelling body lean. Porsche says it has speeded up the changes of the eight-speed automatic gearbox and the final drive ratios on the front and rear axles are shorter for more responsive performance.
Inside, the cabin gets a mixture of leather and Alcantara and substantial eight-way-adjustable sports seats. The rear bench is shaped for two passengers. The exterior styling – with its body-coloured extensions and gloss black trim – can hardly be missed.
What is it like?
Proof that it is possible to make a two-tonne SUV handle like a sporting estate car. We tried the GTS in southern Austria, on a route that took in a demanding 2000m-high mountain pass as well as long, fast valley roads. There’s no doubt that it’s a very quick car and, impressively, for a naturally aspirated engine it does not need a huge amount of stoking up to extract the performance.
The particular chassis set-up on our test cars was something of a surprise; even when the damping was in Sport mode, the ride was not tooth-jarringly hard. Only on short, sharp undulations did it become irritating. While most of the test route was almost billiard table smooth, the odd stretches of badly broken surface were transversed with remarkable calm in Sport mode. However, even in Normal the GTS stills feels pleasingly crisp.
The impressive body control dovetailed with the very precise steering, which made placing the big Cayenne on the mountain passes very easy. This also allowed the car to be threaded around the very steep switchbacks with great accuracy. The anti-roll system was particularly impressive, keeping the cockpit flat and level, even with significantly steering input into tight turns. In extreme situations (in the middle of switchback) it was possible to feel the torque being redirected across the back axle.
The upshot is an odd sensation for the driver. The combination of the precise, weighty steering, lack of roll, fine body control, punchy engine and enclosing cockpit design makes the GTS feel like a much smaller, sportier machine. Where it not for the elevated driving position, you could be in a conventional road car.
There are few obvious downsides. The gearbox could be a touch snappier and rear legroom is snug for a large car. The big, six-piston, 360mm disc brakes are very strong, but there’s no mistaking that this big and rapid car needs a load of hauling in. It should be noted that, according to the trip computer, our hard-driving morning in the Austrian mountains burned fuel at a rate of 17mpg.
Should I buy one?
If you are in the market for a rapid Cayenne, the Turbo version makes the most sense, if only because of its extraordinary pace. The combination of the high-point driving position and the phenomenal acceleration means never getting stuck behind a tractor again.
The GTS can’t quite make the same insane progress, but it is still a very rapid machine. Moreover, the GTS’s entry-level price is also a good £23k less than the Cayenne Turbo, which makes it look like a better buy straight off the showroom floor.
Having said that, our test GTS did benefit from a number of very impressive chassis upgrades, especially the PDCC anti-roll system and the air suspension, which will add to the price. Whether the combination of steel springs and PASM switchable damping control is as impressive as the air suspension and PASM remains to be seen, especially on UK roads.
The GTS is a strange combination of family haulier and driver-centric, highly tuned, naturally aspirated engine. Somehow, it works. It is crisp, controlled, accurate and a very satisfying way of covering ground quickly, if you really can’t do without the big view out. Think of it as the penthouse version of the Panamera GTS.
Porsche Cayenne GTS
V8, 4806cc, petrol;
414bhp at 6500rpm;
380lb ft at 3500rpm;