First Drive: 2008 Porsche Cayenne GTS
A spicier mix of power and handling
Porsche has fashioned a new sports machine that comfortably seats four adults and hauls lots of luggage, but we're not referring, yet, to the Panamera Gran Turismo sedan. It won't reach showrooms until 2009, but, to the chagrin of purists who still mourn the day Porsche began building trucks, the Panamera's promised combination of performance and luxurious utility is available, right now, with the 2008 Cayenne GTS, our seat-of-the-pants choice as the best-handling SUV on the planet.
Powered by a freer-breathing, 405-horsepower version of the 385-horsepower, 4.8-liter V-8 offered in the Cayenne S, the $69,300 GTS slots neatly between the S and the 500-horsepower Cayenne Turbo in engine output and price, but its dynamic prowess makes the GTS more than just a marketing exercise. The GTS also gets down the road, paved or otherwise, with genuine Porsche spiritedness. The factory claims (conservatively, we think) 0-to-62-mph dashes of 6.5 seconds with the six-speed Tiptronic S gearbox and 6.1 seconds when equipped with the new six-speed manual (and its shorter final drive), and both models will reach 100 mph in around 15 seconds, but this more than sufficient acceleration isn't even the GTS's core strength.
The GTS instead stands out from the crowd of five Cayenne models by its handling, as we discovered on the narrow, winding roads along Portugal's rugged western coastline. It's the first Cayenne to echo Porsche sports-car practice by matching its amazing Active Suspension Management system with steel springs instead of with air suspension - but not on GTS models sold in America because of federal ride-height regulations concerning the Cayenne's classification as a light truck. U.S. models instead will get, as with the other Cayennes in the lineup, PASM combined with air suspension.
Even so, the GTS coming to America will benefit from a 0.79-inch-lower stance than that of a similarly equipped Cayenne or Cayenne S, stiffer suspension algorithms in the three-mode electronic shock controls, and 21-inch running gear. Visual sizzle comes from Turbo-sourced front and rear fascias, blackout pillars, wider wheel arches, and an optional twin roof spoiler that contributes zero improvement to the vehicle's aerodynamics but at least looks like it should. With a drag quotient of 0.36, a curb weight of almost 5000 pounds and so much power on tap, the GTS thirst for fuel is as voracious as Grendel's appetite for blood. The EPA says the manual achieved 11/17 and the automatic 13/18 in its test cycle, but if driven the way we drove it in Portugal, the GTS took us no farther on a gallon of gas than had we been flogging an exotic sports car.
It wasn't our intention to reduce the world's oil reserves so aggressively, but we have to admit to being urged on by an exhaust note that sounds like an angry grizzly is being dragged along under the rear bumper. Push the Sport button on the tunnel console, then, and that grizzly goes psycho from the suddenly sharper throttle angle and reduced exhaust backpressure. Technical tomfoolery, sure, but it certainly enhances the jaw-dropping thrill of carving crisp apexes over back roads in the weighty sport/ute.
Most Cayenne owners will opt for a more benign experience, one that allows a greater appreciation of the upgraded interior. Cocooned in standard leather upholstery and under a canopy of soft Alcantara, the occupants suffer from no lack of amenity. The front seats are supportive and comfortable 12-way-adjustable sport buckets that do a good job easing the strain of high lateral g loads, while the rear bench is well bolstered for two adults. Fitting in a third would require lots of thigh rubbing. About the only kink in the well-conceived cockpit is the congestion of buttons and switches needed to control the many electronic handling and passenger convenience systems. A thorough understanding of the owner's manual is required to fully exploit the GTS's many features.
The GTS badge is not taken lightly in Stuttgart, nor by the Porschephile, as it once adorned the beautiful 904 GTS Carrera race cars. Engineering had no little pressure on it to ensure the GTS's character would reflect the heritage represented by that famous nomenclature. Did they succeed? Well, the Cayenne GTS won't ever be mistaken for a champion hillclimb racer, but there's no doubt it was built by the same outfit that has given us some of the world's finest sports cars.