Exploring the sweeping bends, sharp turns and short straights of Southern Ontario's Niagara wine route in Porsche's latest Cayenne GTS is perhaps a dream come true. This latest SUV from Zuffenhausen grips the road like white on sauerkraut, steers through corners with sports car-like immediacy, soaks up the rough surfaces of Niagara Region's ill-maintained back roads like an off road racer, and thunders through the valleys with a bellowing exhaust note that could only be made by a Porsche V8.
A performance sport utility vehicle might seem like a rolling oxymoron, but if any company can make a tall box on wheels handle like it's on rails, it's definitely Porsche. Yet, the Cayenne GTS is more than that. Although it's powered by the same normally-aspirated V8 found in the pedestrian Cayenne S, the GTS has more power, accelerates more quickly and sits lower, making this Cayenne more aggressive and a top choice for those drivers who like their SUVs with a serving of speed.
Porsche created the GTS to fill the gap between the Cayenne S and the wicked Turbo – it's more than just the Turbo model less the pair of turbochargers. The GTS, particularly with the optional black exterior package, looks unique among Cayennes. The contrasting black trim, Turbo-esque air intakes and subtle body-colour fender flares distance the GTS from its less sporting brothers. It sits lower, shorter than the S by 24 mm, which only serves to give it a more aggressive stance and, since it's a Porsche, that stance is backed up by its performance.
Engineers at Zuffenhausen have a long-standing reputation for understating the outright performance of all Porsches. The Cayenne GTS is no exception to this practice.
Officially, the Cayenne is said to accelerate from zero-to-100 km/h in 5.7 seconds. The seat-of-the-pants-meter tells a different story, however. On a grippy road surface, the GTS feels quicker, as if it will hit 100 in closer to five seconds, despite its 2,085-kg curb weight. An exclusive lower final drive ratio helps the GTS achieve a licence-confiscating 261 km/h top speed.
The revised 4.8-litre V8 uses all the tricks to make its 420 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Direct fuel injection, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, and a dry sump oil system make the GTS powerful, but – gasp – surprisingly efficient. The Cayenne is rated at 14.2 L/100 km in the city and an almost miserly 9.6 on the highway. Real world numbers always vary, so expect to see high teens in the city and around 11 at highway speeds, depending on your willingness to use the throttle, of course.
While the Tiptronic name may have been slandered when first installed in 911s of old – make no mistake – the eight-speed Tiptronic automatic is a marvel in the GTS. Eight cogs give the V8 exceptional flexibility and maximize both performance and efficiency. While shifts aren't PDK-quick, they are as immediate as you'll find with any automatic and gear changes, up and down, are smooth enough to avoid upsetting the balance of the GTS. Porsche accomplishes this with a little engine management trickery – during shifts, cylinders are deactivated briefly to adjust engine speed faster. The aluminum paddle shifters that accompany the standard Sport Design wheel (otherwise optional on other Cayennes) give the driver direct control over the gears.
Porsche Traction Management is standard on the GTS. PTS is a simple name for what is a very sophisticated active all-wheel drive system that integrates an electronically-controlled, central clutch for front-rear torque distribution, an electronic limited-slip differential (which uses the braking system instead of a mechanical differential), as well as traction and stability control systems. These all work together, harmoniously, to ensure ideal torque distribution and control in all driving conditions – from aggressive acceleration out of a slow corner to low-grip situations like our Canadian winters. To the driver, the system is simply indiscernible, and the GTS seems to always have grip no matter the driving conditions. Plus, the GTS uses an exclusive shorter final drive ratio.
In line with the GTS' sporting nature, Porsche Active Suspension Management system is standard equipment. Optional on down-range Cayennes, PASM is another way of saying the GTS has sophisticated shocks with electronically-controlled damping. The PASM dampers are paired with conventional steel springs, with double wishbones in the front and an independent multi-like rear suspension. With the optional meaty 21-inch tires, the GTS is confident at speed in any corner and soaks up road imperfections with aplomb.
Like all Porsches, the brakes were bred for German autobahns, as well as the race track. The 360-mm rotors up front are clamped by six-piston aluminum calipers. In the back, the GTS uses a still formidable set up – four-piston calipers and 328-mm rotors. Repeated, heavy braking on Niagara's winding roads never taxed the GTS' stoppers and any fade was never detected. Of course, on the GTS, the brake calipers are painted red for that sporting touch.
The GTS comes equipped with sports seats that are a clear upgrade over the standard chairs. The aggressively-bolstered cushions keep you in the driver's seat and it's comfortable and supportive for even the longest trips. Those of average height, though, will find climbing over the bottom bolster aggravating on a daily basis.
On the open road, visibility is superb, which is a Porsche hallmark. It's only when parking the GTS you will perhaps need some assistance. The optional front and rear park assist helps tremendously, because you simply can't see much out of the small rear window.
Audiophiles may argue that a fine sound system has no place in a motor vehicle,but the Burmester sound system is perhaps the best available feature of the GTS. It transforms the cabin of the Cayenne into a virtual theatre, concert hall or studio depending on your musical preferences. Thankfully, Porsches don't require a special cable for iPhone connectivity – the standard USB is all you need. Another option that adds heavily to the bottom line is the GTS interior package. While it makes for a more visually exciting interior – red contrasting stitching and red seat belts – it's an expensive option at $3,940.
Among SUVs, very rarely do you get to have your cake and eat it too. The Porsche Cayenne GTS is an exceptionally well-rounded machine, capable of driving in virtually any conditions. From carving corners to taking the family to the cottage to going off road, the Cayenne GTS is a sport utility that truly does it all.
2013 Porsche Cayenne GTS
Base Price: $93,600
Engine: 4.8L V8
Horsepower / Torque: 420 hp / 380 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Ratings: 14.2 / 9.6 / 12.1 L/100 km (city / hwy. / comb.)
Options on Test Vehicle: Extended exterior package painted high-gloss black ($4,170); self-dimming mirrors ($480); comfort lighting package ($290); Sport Chrono package ($310); power tilt/slide moonroof ($1,360); heated rear seats ($600); GTS interior package in Carmine Red ($3,940); PCM with navigation ($4,200); front/rear park assist with camera ($2,000); Burmester sound system ($6,500); 21" Cayenne Sport Edition wheels ($1,560).
A/C Tax: $100
Price as Tested (before taxes): $120,225
Basic Warranty: 48 months / 80,000 km