Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad — Miles Kington.
I couldn’t help but notice that my second-generation Cayenne GTS was painted the colour of a juicy ripe tomato, despite being named after a chilli pepper. It also looked to me like an SUV, but Porsche claims it was specified and built to be ‘the basis for driving pleasure at a sportscar standard.’ Hmmm.
It’s only a couple of months since they had handed me a Boxster, and in the space of a few hours, converted me from long-term critic to ardent admirer. Clearly encouraged by its success, Porsche brought me to Lake Wörthersee in Austria, hoping to persuade me that the Cayenne GTS is also a sportscar, thinly disguised as an SUV weighing in excess of two tonnes.
To that end, Porsche’s engineers were on hand to explain how the engine, suspension and Sound Symposer combine to make the Cayenne drive like a Boxster, or at least, to make it go, handle and sound like one. Let’s cover the latter first, because these days, it seems manufacturers are paying as much attention to Sound Engineering as they are to sound engineering.
The Symposer is a network of tuned pipes that channel intake and exhaust notes from under the bonnet, to a point in the A pillars where that noise is released, closer to the driver. To avoid directly ducting air from the engine bay into the car’s bodywork, there’s a large diaphragm in the engine bay that ensures sonic vibrations, not noxious fumes, are the only thing ducted into the pillars.
Switching to Sport mode on the centre console, in addition to enabling engine, gear change and suspension mapping changes, opens a valve in the Symposer pipes and the GTS cabin immediately becomes a louder, more resonant place of work. Drive along in the standard set-up and the cabin is a relatively quiet environment, but press the Sport button and lo and behold, suddenly there’s a more rasping V8 note filling the air and the volume level rises.
My only gripe is that I always want my cars to sound that way, which is one of the reasons I left the GTS set in Sport most of the time. But I can see the appeal of having a quieter cabin on occasion, so tended to think of the Sound Symposer more as a set of high-tech earplugs when switched off; it’s not quite the way Porsche’s engineers see things, but hey, they say sportscar, I say SUV.
My other reason for leaving the Sport button on was the inspired Cayenne GTS test route. It involved a lot of tortuous tight corners on tarmac left damp and potholed by constant rain, but more importantly, great swathes of broad, open bends across glacial valley floors, followed by sprints through dozens of hairpins up the side of a mountain.
The valley floors were just long enough to enjoy the GTS’s outright speed and air suspension in Comfort mode, while the climbs meant punching the Sport button and challenging all 515Nm of torque available to me.
Having set out with the eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox set to automatic, I fully expected to reach for the selector paddles through the mountains, but the new GTS has shorter front and rear drive ratios, keeping the 4.8-litre naturally aspirated 420bhp V8 spinning at marginally higher revs.
Combined with adaptive gear selection, which monitors driving style and speed to make downshifts earlier when maximum acceleration is called for, I quickly learned to appreciate the Cayenne’s willingness to tackle mountain roads at speed, without selecting gears manually.
But a great combination of engine and gearbox doesn’t make for a fast vehicle without a suspension to match, and the Cayenne isn’t found wanting. The new generation steel-sprung GTS sits 24mm lower than its predecessor, while the air-sprung vehicle I was driving sits 20mm lower than before.
It’s unlikely that anyone will ever be tackling any dunes in Liwa in an SUV of this nature, but the five position ride height should come in handy for randomly positioned drive-in burger bar counters.
Once back on the road the suspension automatically drops to its lowest position at 110kph for maximum stability and control. My car was fitted with the optional Dynamic Chassis Control and Torque Vectoring Plus, which combine to great effect; the former pre-loads anti-roll bars in anticipation of forces exerted in corners, whilst the latter varies torque across the rear wheels and generates rear-wheel braking to tighten turns.
The consequent lack of body roll on twisting roads was impressive, a point driven home when I arrived at the Austrian Motoring Organisation test track in ‘Sankt Veit an der Glan’. (And you thought Ras Al Khaimah had a long name). Used for driver training in various disciplines, it’s not a racetrack but a series of interconnected roadways, with barely enough room for a gearchange before each rapid change of direction.
My task appeared simple enough, to keep up with the Cayenne GTS in front, except that the driver in front was a Porsche racing instructor, and he wasn’t hanging about. Just a handful of corners were enough to deepen my respect for the work Porsche’s chassis and suspension engineers have put into this car.
I didn’t have time to worry about understeer or cabin stability, and they never crossed my mind, but then neither did smile-inducing oversteer, or changing gears manually.
The Cayenne GTS is impressively fast and stable, but remember it also stands head and shoulders above a Boxster and did I mention it weighs 2,100kg?
The infinitely adjustable sports seats kept me firmly in position, whilst constantly reminding me of the 6kg of excessive Dubai lifestyle I’m carrying around my stomach. ‘Overly supportive’ would be a fair description, though they are in keeping with the rest of the car’s interior and its purportedly sporting layout.
There’s a good sat-nav system, enough switches to keep a pilot happy, good-sized grab handles for which your front seat passenger will be eternally grateful, and a frankly distracting array of five circular dials crammed into the instrument console. No doubt they looked good in the design studio, it’s just a shame they didn’t stay there.
Does fitting a stopwatch on the dashboard make an SUV a sportscar? Nope, but you can order it as an option. And while you’re at it, you might want to order the surprisingly optional rear-view camera too, a necessity on a car with such restricted rear vision via its small (sporting?) rear-view mirror and with three back seat headrests to further obscure the view. But at least you can see how contented your passengers are; one of the advantages of this SUV’s high roofline being comfort in the rear for two or three friends up to 1.9 metres tall.
Hopefully you’ll opt for a lighter trim than the one my Cayenne was fitted with — the leather and Alcantra combination was finished well enough, but the dark grey interior was too sombre for my taste. Still there’s plenty of alternatives available, as there are for wheels, though we both know you’ll choose the 21in Sport Edition in black, because they’re the most expensive and look good in the GTS’s extended wheel arches, alongside its special side skirts. Even Porsche describes the roof spoiler as “the attention getter”, which I suspect tells you plenty about its airflow management credentials.
So is the Porsche Cayenne GTS a sportscar or an SUV, a fruit or a vegetable? Actually it’s a red-hot chilli pepper, with sporting aspirations, excellent suspension, a great engine and a superb gearbox. It sounds good inside and out, is nicely trimmed, has room inside for four or five tall adults and it looks... Well it looks better than its older brother.
If you could always use it on mountain roads and sweeping country lanes, where its height and handling gives you an advantage in terms of visibility and point-and-shoot driving style, you’d have a blast. However those types of roads are sadly lacking in the UAE, but that won’t stop hundreds, if not thousands of buyers queuing up here to buy one.
My opinion? For what it’s worth; SUV. But it was a valiant effort guys.
Specs and ratings
Model: Cayenne GTS
Engine: 4.8-litre V8
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, AWD
Max power: 420bhp @ 6,500rpm
Max torque: 515Nm @ 3,500rpm
Top speed: 261kph