Streetwise. That’s the single word that Porsche uses to position the new Cayenne GTS, and we’re hard pressed to think of a better description. Porsche could add “dirtwise”, as the Cayenne is far more capable off-road than you’d think. We tried it in both environments
More so than just about any recreational SUV on the market, the Porsche Cayenne GTS is unashamedly a machine for tarmac usage, and is something of a crossover between a sporty wagon and a GT sports car.
Having said that, it is still fitted with a low-range transfer box and, in spite of its radical rubber and ground-hugging stance, has the potential to venture a very long way from where the tarmac ends.
Not that you’d want to risk scratching the lustrous Nordic Gold paintwork – a R28 000 option – or damaging some of the body addenda which make the GTS stand out from other Cayennes.
The combination of a full aero kit, wheel arches flared by 14mm to accommodate the radical rubber, 21-inch alloys, blacked-out pillars and window surrounds and the startling colour certainly make it a head-turner. Few observers felt it to be a thing of beauty, however, despite its 2007 facelift that had resulted in a more elegant nose and a slightly less bulbous rear. So the Cayenne entered the second half of its life-cycle (it was launched internationally at the beginning of 2003) with happier styling and some quite extensive under-the-skin changes.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
To qualify for the GTS nomenclature there’s an uprated powerplant, lowered suspension, and subtle changes to the interior that underpin its racy nature.
The high-compression 4,8-litre V8 – which was improved with direct fuel injection as part of the update – now has 298 kW at a highly-strung 6500 r/min and an impressive 500 Nm of twist at 3500. Changes have been made to the inlet and exhaust systems to achieve this and the GTS also gets a Sport butt on as standard, enhancing both throttle and transmission (a six-speed automatic) response.
Contributing further is a shorter final drive, though at some 50 km/h per 1000 revs in top it can hardly be considered a busy cruiser.
When fitted with steel springs the GTS is 24mm lower than a standard Cayenne, further cementing its status as a tarmac warrior. But our test car had a raft of optional extras that bumped the price up to a heady R1 112 940. This extensive list included air suspension, resulting in a ride height 20mm lower than a normal Cayenne.
On the upside – pardon the pun – is the ability to lift the body in two stages for a maximum ground clearance of 248mm, according to our ruler. This really does give the Cayenne the ability to go places you shouldn’t really be going with 35-profile tyres on 21-inch rims…
The self-levelling air suspension can also be lowered for high-speed running or for convenient loading, and like the standard adaptive dampers, it offers the choice of Sport, Normal and Comfort settings, with the suspension shifting automatically to the firmest when the Sport butt on is pressed. Importantly, our test car also had active anti -roll bars – more on that under the Ride and Handling heading.
On the inside, the GTS is pretty much standard Cayenne, save for a mix of leather and Alcantara upholstery and the widespread use of the latter material throughout the cabin.
★ ★ ★
Get in behind the surprisingly large three-spoke wheel and you’re greeted by a battery of gauges, instrumentation extending to dials for oil temperature and battery voltage. It’s a well laid out and highly legible cluster, though, with the gap between the speedo and tacho creating space for a digital readout for the driving computer.
Our thick-rimmed steering wheel included optional multi -function controls as well as poorly positioned “plus” and “minus” buttons for the Tiptronic gearshift .
The car feels big, particularly in girth, and it isn’t a bad thing that optional front and rear Park Distance Control was fitted to our test unit.
The seats are superb and are almost infinitely adjustable, though some drivers complained that the Alcantara centre panels acted like Velcro, and were almost too grippy.
The rear seats are sculptured so that the Cayenne is more of a four-seater, and while they’re also very comfortable, rear legroom is tight considering the exterior dimensions. As it turns out, the wheelbase is a relatively modest 2855mm, easily the shortest in class.
In addition, the cabin is not particularly versatile compared to more modern rivals. For example, the back seat is split 60/40 and doesn’t slide, and the headrests must be removed before a flat luggage compartment floor can be achieved.
The boot itself is generous and well shaped and loading it is easy. Under the floor is a collapsible mini-spare, inflated via an air line that is attached to an outlet below the driver’s seat.
★ ★ ★ ★
Press the Sport butt on and the character of the GTS takes on a harder edge. The sound from the four tailpipes increases in both volume and bass, sounding delicious all the way to the 6750 r/min shift point.
It’s a quick car, certainly, but our best 0-100 km/h was still close to two seconds off Porsche’s sea-level claim of 6,5 seconds.
Towards the end of a long sprint the skirts had been properly picked up, however, and aft er 800m the GTS was fast approaching the 180 km/h mark.
Overtaking acceleration is very strong indeed, and in Sport mode kick-down is instantaneous (less so in normal driving), giving the driver the confidence to quickly and safely blast past traffic.
Look through the spokes of the enormous wheels and you can’t help but notice the equally massive brakes. The front discs have huge callipers with six pistons a side, while those on the rear wouldn’t look out of place on the front of most passenger cars.
The combination stops the car very quickly indeed and without a hint of drama, posting some of the best results we’ve seen. And there’s a full house of braking aids contributing to remarkable consistency.
★ ★ ★ ★
While the Cayenne may be starting to show its design age in certain areas, there is little doubt that – in GTS guise at any rate – it’s a hard act to follow when it comes to covering ground at pace. No other SUV handles anything like this.
The first thing to do is to place a firm hand to the controls, because this isn’t a car that you pander to – the driver must take charge. The steering is meaty, almost heavy in its feedback and only starts to feel ideally weighted once you get up to speed.
There’s plenty of feel and feedback through the chassis too, and you soon get to know exactly what the car is doing. Then you have the confidence to positively hurtle into corners, revelling in the front-end bite and the remarkably flat cornering attitude.
This lack of body roll is due to Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, PDCC, which means hydraulic motors are built into both the anti-roll bars, allowing them to act as ultra-stiff, fast-acting torsion springs to counter the effects of the cornering forces.
It takes a little bit of mental readjustment to realise how briskly it can be driven in Sport mode, along with a large degree of driver commitment – but that is what makes it very invigorating to hustle.
There are some sacrifices in terms of comfort. The self-levelling air suspension feels firm yet smooth in the Comfort setting, and Normal and Sport are progressively less forgiving.
Couple these choices to the short wheelbase and the low-profile rubber and you have an SUV that feels like a highly-strung track car much of the time. The best combination for those who want electrifying throttle and gearbox response without the jarring ride is to hit the Sport button and then select the Comfort setting for the suspension.
Finally, and for what it is worth, the Cayenne tackled our soft-roader course with arrogant disdain and would probably have coped with much of what we throw at “normal” SUVs.
Drive to all wheels is permanent and split 38:62 in normal usage, with an electronically controlled centre differential altering the split depending on conditions. Porsche Stability Management acts like locking front and rear differentials to control lateral split.
★ ★ ★
After a week with the Cayenne GTS we were left with two overriding thoughts and one that invariably springs to mind when assessing mega-SUVs: wow…and…why? Sure it is quick, but even almost 300 kW feels suitably blunted when you get to Reef altitude and have 2300 kilos to haul around. Yes, it handles, grips and stops brilliantly for its size and shape but there are few pukka sports sedans or wagons that won’t leave it for dead on the right kind of roads.
And finally, it is showing its age in some design areas and especially in its packaging: rear space and flexibility are limited, considering its size.
Still, it isn’t a machine you examine solely down the cold telescope of reason and logic, and if you love cars and love driving quickly, you’ll find yourself really enjoying the GTS and the sensory experience it offers on so many levels – if and when the road conditions conspire to enable you to do so…