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Porsche Cayenne GTS review (2012 onwards)
Summary: Porsche takes the Cayenne to another level with this new high-performance GTS model. Slotting into the range between the S and the Turbo it brings unique character and incredible handling to the premium SUV segment.
We like: Astonishingly capable chassis (with options), impressive ride comfort, furious noise, shock value
We don't like: Overly keen automatic downshifting, exterior styling won't be for everyone
This is ridiculous. The Porsche Cayenne GTS is an SUV - it shouldn't be able to go round corners like this. It shouldn't sound like this. Arguably, it also shouldn't look like this. Very soon after making its acquaintance you are almost certainly going to swear. But in a good way.
Admittedly, the examples Porsche has laid on for the launch are all optioned up to nines. Air suspension is fitted in place of the normal steel springs, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control helps it resist rolling through the turns while Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus keeps it hewing to your chosen cornering line.
Still, even an unadorned GTS includes Porsche Active Suspension Management, with the greatest variation between comfort and control yet seen on a Cayenne. The 4.8-litre V8 boasts an extra 20hp, and a new Sound Symposer complements the standard-fit Sports exhaust to enhance the way this fondles your eardrums.
We're sure the stock version's a riot. But with all the toys attached the GTS is spectacular - a two-tonne technological showcase for Porsche's best chassis kit, and a decidedly cavalier two fingers in the direction of conventional sporting performance. It's the kind of car we really shouldn't like. But oh, how we do.
There has been a Cayenne GTS before. That car was notably amusing for a number of reasons - including the availability of Nordic Gold (aka orange) paint and a manual gearbox. This time it's an eight-speed auto only, but you can pick the Cayman R's Peridot Green if you're feeling especially outlandish.
Shorter gearing and more aggressive
We made do with a silver one, a colour that nicely accentuates the GTS-specific black detailing - such as the headlight bezels, gloss window and boot trimmings, and matt-black finish to the quadruple exhaust tips. A full body kit with side skirts, wheel arch extensions and rear wing accessorise the Turbo front bumper.
It isn't as fast as the 500hp Turbo, naturally. Compared to the Cayenne S, which shares what is fundamentally the same engine, that extra 20hp means 420hp total, and it ripples with 380lb ft of torque, an 11lb ft gain. Getting the motor to breathe better is the key, hence the new exhaust, plus changes to cams and valving.
Just to really rub the S's nose in it, however, the GTS also gets shorter gearing and more aggressive gearbox programming. The result is 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and 162mph flat out - shaving off 0.2 of a second and adding 2mph. It also smushes the previous GTS into the carpet with 15hp more and 160kg less.
So while the new GTS isn't really about raw performance - there are quicker SUVs available - it fairly monsters the horizon whenever you're inclined. Activate the Sport switch and it does so with considerable drama, free-flowing the exhaust and piping induction noise directly into the A-pillars.
You read that right. A variation on the Sounds Symposer tech introduced on the latest Porsche 911 is used to fill the Cayenne's body cavities with the V8's good vibrations. To say this brings the noise is a huge understatement - some might even say it's too much. Not us. The actual exhaust note is awesome, too.
Less good, however, is the weird "so-called backfire" (Porsche's words, not ours) introduced on downshifts, and the rumble on the over-run - which is actually too subtle; it's easily mistaken for something rattling in the boot. The gearbox is also hypersensitive in its auto settings, which gets annoying almost immediately.
That is to say, it'll downshift if you so much as look at the accelerator with a heavy eyelid. Curious given the meaty amount of torque and the swelling sound tucking into it stimulates. Avoid this, and the unanticipated jarring provoked by the newly accelerated gearshifts, by slapping the stick into manual mode instead.
Ride and handling
Manually actioned gear selection makes more sense here anyway. The Cayenne GTS demands your engagement - not because it isn't perfectly capable of pottering along left to its own devices, but because at some point physics is going to notice all the laws it must be breaking, and take away its privileges.
It's jaw-dropping how far you can push it
You are, therefore, duty-bound to make the most of it before this happens. More seriously, lowered suspension (24mm on the steel springs, 20mm if you go for the air), wider track, modified mountings and those wide-ranging adaptive dampers work marvels on what was already a class-leading 4x4.
Yes, the car we were driving was hopped up with loads additional chassis devices. This doesn't make the outcome any less outstanding - and besides which, the chances of anyone in the UK buying one of these without air suspension, for example, are pretty negligible. It would be residual suicide.
The speed this SUV is able to carry through corners surely shouldn't be possible. It actually takes a considerable amount of time to recalibrate yourself to the Cayenne's missing limits - sitting so high, yet staying so flat, it's genuinely jaw-dropping how far you can push it. Thank you Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control.
The Torque Vectoring meanwhile, does wonders to quash understeer - assisted by the fast-acting four-wheel drive, which you can just occasionally also detect shuffling the power forward to keep the tail under control as you exit tighter turns. For heaven's sake, Porsche even let us drive it round a twisting test track.
On top of this is the remarkable ride quality. We were on the optional 21-inch alloys, hacking hard over some truly gnarly surfaces and the GTS resolutely refused to get upset by any of it. We would happily live with the dampers set to Sport day-to-day; Normal and Comfort go further still to take the bumps away.
Our only slight worry is the steering feel. Fitted with the also optional Power Steering Plus, Porsche's variable ratio system, our test car felt a little too light around the straight ahead, and would sometimes weight up rather abruptly. A small niggle, but it would have been good to try one without this extra complication.
With so many functions and so many buttons - including some on the roof - the interior of the second generation Cayenne is in danger of looking like the cockpit of a particularly complicated aircraft. Still, the quality is high, there's a good amount of rear legroom, and some tasty additions for the GTS.
Like the cockpit of a complicated aircraft
Porsche's beautiful metal shift paddles come as standard - a tactile delight compared to the idiosyncratic push-me-pull-you switches you usually get with the Tiptronic auto - and lashings of Alcantara sportify the rest of the interior. There are exclusive sports seats fitted as well.
Also new for the GTS is the optional Sport Chrono Plus package, which makes its Cayenne debut here. This features the usual stopwatch on the dashboard and additional instrument displays for lap timing (seriously). Put the money towards the optional carbon ceramic brakes instead, for their added security.
Economy and safety
That's not to say the standard stoppers aren't up to the job. Driven with a degree of restraint on the road we experienced no concerns, despite several downhill mountain descents replete with hairpins and lane-lazy bikers. The pedal was getting soft after a short number of circuit laps, though. Two tonnes will do that.
Euro NACP doesn't test cars of the Cayenne's class, but other safety kit includes the usual stability control and fleet of airbags. It's built like a tank, too, and even without all the tasty extras should change direction better than almost any other SUV available.
It seems unlikely the fuel economy will be a primary concern for most buyers - you'd be looking at the Cayenne Diesel instead, right? - none-the-less it represents a vast improvement over the previous GTS at 26.4mpg instead of 20.3mpg. It's also barely worse than the Cayenne S, on paper.
We suspect the shorter gearing and that incorrigibly appealing engine sound will make a meal of this limited gap in reality, however. We drained half the 85-litre tank in around 120 miles - not counting the time spent on the track. Its 251g/km CO2 keeps it just out of the top tax bracket, but you're still talking £460/year.
The MSN Cars verdict
Tooled up in this fashion, the Porsche Cayenne GTS doesn't just drive well for an SUV, it drives well for a sports car.
With all that additional artificial assistance you might expect it to be boring. Yet somehow the engine noise, the feedback, the sheer juxtaposition between appearance and performance, the way it charges into corners - all conspire to keep you involved. It has charisma to burn.
The tasty gizmos come at a price, though - we calculate an extra £5,378 over the £67,147 basic. While some will struggle to see the point of such an outrageously agile SUV, if you're after one car to cover the practical, the dynamic and the high-seated security bases, the Cayenne GTS is phenomenal.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 4.8 V8
Engines, diesel: n/a
Power, hp: 430 @ 6,500rpm
Torque, lb ft: 380 @ 3,500rpm
0-62mph, secs: 5.7
Top speed, mph: 162
Mpg combined: 26.4
CO2 / Tax: 251g/km / 35%
Model rated: Porsche Cayenne GTS with Air Suspension, PDCC and PTV Plus
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