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It’s not the fastest of Porsche’s high riding SUV, but the sporty GTS is arguably the sweetest.

As the world (and Australia) trends away from big, heavy SUVs, and large-capacity engines are replaced by smaller turbocharged units, Porsche could be accused of swimming against the tide with its new GTS version of the Cayenne soft-roader.

In fact, the new GTS does its best to address the question of its carbon footprint and, in the process, emerges as the real driver’s car in the Cayenne line-up that also includes the V6, V8 S, hybrid, V6 turbo-diesel and V8-powered Turbo S.

As well as making the Cayenne a much more satisfying car to drive, the Cayenne engineers have also shaved up to 160kg from the vehicle’s weight (compared with the previous GTS) and have improved driveline efficiency to the point where the new car claims an official fuel figure of 10.7 litres per 100km, against the previous model’s 13.9 litres.

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Some of these improvements were ushered in with the new Cayenne back in 2010, but the tweaks that have produced the GTS’ real flavour are all new.

Citing “emotion” as the new car’s signature, Porsche has managed to pare the weight back to 2085kg with extensive use of lightweight body technology and the use of aluminium in many of the suspension components.

Performance of the 4.8-litre V8 is up thanks to some work internally (most notably a revised camshaft and a very high 12.5:1 compression ratio) and it now revs to 6700rpm and makes 309kW and 515Nm of torque in the process.

The all-important look is the result of a full body-kit including a roof spoiler, many styling cues from the Turbo model and (badges aide) a complete lack of brightwork. In fact, even the four exhaust tips are matt black.

Of course, no car can be a true driver’s car without the appropriate soundtrack, so Porsche has adapted a couple of technologies to good effect.

The first is an active exhaust which amounts to a flap in the system which can be opened to liberate more decibels. Pushing the Sport button in the centre console activates this flap as well as switching the adaptive dampers to a firmer setting.

The second element in the soundscape is a pair of resonance boxes that tap into the inlet tract (and pick up the sound of eight pistons slurping air) and pipe that sound to the interior of the car via the A-pillars.

To be honest, we’ve heard louder soundtracks, but the Cayenne’s is certainly one of the most refined.

And that’s the operative word here, because the engineers have also been chasing Nth degree refinements to make the experience sportier.

There is, for instance, a new breed of suspension sub-frame mounts which adapt to the conditions to damp out bad vibrations, and the engine computer has been upgraded with extra sensors to tailor the car’s systems towards driver gratification.

The GTS isn’t the fastest Cayenne (that trophy goes to the Turbo) but it does have the sweetest combination of performance and feedback.

The throttle sensitivity is beautifully considered and allows the driver to have much more say in what the engine does and when.

The new eight-speed automatic transmission also works seamlessly and only gets overly aggressive when the Sport function is dialled up.

Porsche claims a 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds although, from the seat of the pants, it doesn’t feel quite that quick. That said Porsche performance claims are usually, if anything, pessimistic.

Ride quality is firm on Sport but entirely capable of soaking up poor surfaces in any of its other two settings. The GTS corners very flat and while the steering (now electrically assisted) lacks the last ounce of feel and feedback, it is remarkably accurate and makes piloting the big, wide GTS a cinch, even on unfamiliar, narrow Austrian roads.

Porsche’s claim that the GTS is the Cayenne for the keen driver is not a hollow one, then, and, if you were in the market for anything other than the diesel version (which makes up half of all Cayenne sales) of the big Porsche SUV, then the GTS should probably be your first stop.

All Australian GTSs will come fitted with 20-inch alloy wheels and air suspension and will carry a price-tag of $164,900. Deliveries are due to start in September this year.

First drive review: Porsche Cayenne GTS
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