With the 2013 Cayenne GTS, Porsche has whipped up six distinct SUVs out of the Type 958's recipe book. However, even if there are plenty of shared ingredients with the other Cayennes on Porsche's menu, the GTS is the most savory of them all. This newest Cayenne is a feast of Porsche engineering, and it demonstrates how spicing up a few, key components can deliver on the promise of the GTS badge, indicator of the sportiest naturally aspirated models in the fleet.

The GTS sports unique side skirts and widened fenders, a twin-plane rear roof spoiler (good for a slight increase in rear downforce), black exhaust tips, gloss-black trim, 20-inch wheels, black tailgate trim, and black bezels within the front lighting assembly. The list of standard equipment includes air suspension, which allows a 0.8-inch drop in ride height over the Cayenne S, and Porsche Active Suspension Management. The bumpstops and the adaptive damping system's logarithms are GTS-specific, and each of three levels of ride comfort settings are set to offer between 5-10 percent stiffer control with each step.

What makes the GTS an especially juicy dish, though, is the unashamed bravado of its powertrain. The 4.8-liter V-8 yields 20 more horsepower and 11 lb-ft of torque than in the Cayenne S, and exhibits an extroverted, rumbling swagger of assertive performance. The 420 horsepower is routed to the four wheels through the same 8-speed automatic as the S, but the two final drive ratios were amended to make the most of the ponies and the more aggressive torque curve. The GTS' transmission is one of the finest auto-shifters yet developed. A boost in system pressure now delivers crisper, quicker shifts, and Porsche's Sport Design steering wheel and shift paddles are standard here.

Choose Sport mode, hammer the throttle, and the GTS will travel, says Porsche, from 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Okay, not bad, but the most satisfying part of burning all that fuel comes from the wonderful symphony of intake rasp and exhaust roar. Of all the Cayennes, only the GTS offers Porsche's Sound Symposer, comprised of membranes in the twin air boxes that, when activated, transmit certain raucous frequencies into the cabin through channels in the A-pillars, while, at the same time, a flap in the exhaust system re-routes gasses by one of the sound baffles to produce a rumbly, low-pitched scream. Then, when you lift off the throttle, a few drops of fuel are seeded into the exhaust system to produce the delightful crackles of a powerful engine revving down.

This ability to change gears with two hands on the wheel came into serious play over part of our drive route at the tail end of the Alps in southern Austria. The mountain road we were on climbs and falls over an almost 7000-foot pass via 52 corners and few straights. Less than two lanes wide and tailor-made for a motorcycle or two-seater, it provided a challenge to the Cayenne's sheer bulk, but the GTS' refined chassis turned what could have been a tedious exercise in wheel twisting to a comfortable partnership between an underworked driver and a vehicle always on alert.

We worked much harder on the small test track, slick from the rainstorms and set up as a series of tight corners and sweeping turns. When fully engaged, Porsche's traction systems keep the Cayenne's mass well within the limits of the contact patches, which have been shoved outward by an increase in track of 0.5 inch in front and 0.7 inch at the rear. Pushed harder, the GTS responds with an insistent understeer. Put it in Sport mode, push beyond the tires' slip angles, and the rear end steps out lightly before gracefully stepping back in line. It would have been unwise to test a GTS under those conditions with no traction controls in operation.

It was not unexpected that we would experience an improved second-generation Cayenne. Starting with a chassis some 400 pounds lighter than its predecessor was a huge advantage. In fact, the lighter, more refined chassis and uprated powertrain often made us forget we were piloting an SUV. Even better, when we were reminded of its considerable mass and ride height, it was only to be glad that, because of the awful weather, we weren't in a low-slung sports car on summer tires.


2013 PORSCHE CAYENNE GTS
BASE PRICE $83,025
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 4.8L/420-hp/380-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4600-5000 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 114.0 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 190.8 x 76.9 x 66.3 in
0-60 MPH 5.4 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 15/21 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 225/160 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.13 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. September 2012