It’s hard to believe the Porsche Cayenne has been in production for more than a decade now – an internal revolution that saw the marque break its sports car mould to cater for families as much as upwardly mobile singles.
Back in 2002, Porsche purists - and a large portion of the world’s automotive media - thought the first-generation Porsche Cayenne was a huge mistake that would only serve to water down the celebrated German sports car brand that had created the iconic Porsche 911.
After all, Porsche was a manufacturer of relatively lightweight sports cars and was seen to have no stake in heavy five-seat SUVs that weighed more than 2000kg.
But history has proved Porsche was on the money (literally) with the Cayenne and that the cynics got it all wrong.
The Porsche Cayenne SUV has already notched up more than 360,000 sales since those wobbly days in 2002, and still going strong.
The second-generation Porsche Cayenne was launched in 2010 with what many saw as a more appealing design, with rounder edges and a less bulky profile. And sales have been even more encouraging with more than 120,000 sold to date.
Porsche has since expanded the Cayenne model line-up to include a total of eight model variants (up from six), but the Cayenne S Diesel - and what will become the range-topping Turbo S model - won’t arrive in Australia until 2013.
The $164,400 (before on-road costs) Porsche Cayenne GTS we tested here currently sits at number two in the Cayenne pecking order, behind the $247,500 4.8 Turbo model.
There’s a tradition of Porsches wearing GTS badges that dates back to 1964 when the legendary four-cylinder Porsche 904 Carrera GTS took out the Targa Florio and Le Mans in the same year against more powerful rivals.
The Porsche Cayenne GTS is, if you like, the driver-focused Cayenne. Armed with Porsche’s most powerful naturally aspirated V8 engine, it also presents an imposing presence on the road.
Sitting up to 24mm lower than the Cayenne S (20mm with optional air suspension) on standard 20-inch alloy wheels with extra large front air intakes, wider wheel arches and quad black exhaust tips, the Porsche Cayenne GTS looks suitably mean.
And it’s not all about visuals. The 4.8-litre V8 powerplant under the bonnet of the Cayenne GTS gains more power and more torque (15kW and 15Nm) over its Cayenne S sibling, thereby delivering a total output 309kW of power and 515Nm of torque.
It’s enough to send the 2085kg Porsche Cayenne GTS from 0-100km/h in a keen 5.7 seconds (claimed). Top speed is 261km/h. That equates to the same straight-line acceleration performance as the upcoming Cayenne S Diesel, but well short of the scorching 4.5 seconds that the Turbo S model is capable of.
It’s efficient, too. In spite of the Cayenne GTS’s additional power and performance, it consumes just 0.2-litres more than the Cayenne S. That’s mainly down to Porsche’s seamless stop-start system, which assists in the Cayenne’s claimed fuel consumption of 10.7L/100km (combined) and equally frugal CO2 emissions of 251g/km.
The fun starts from the moment you insert the key fob (there’s no start button) and twist. The Porsche V8 wakes with an angry high-pitched crackle that’s enough to make you want to immediately shut it down and start it up again, just to be sure.
The powerful, naturally aspirated engine is refreshingly responsive – step on the throttle and the Porsche Cayenne GTS immediately gets down to business. And there’s a lot more of that angry exhaust note from the moment the rev counter nudges 3000rpm, especially with the Sport button lit up.
The Cayenne GTS gets a standard fit sports exhaust system featuring a Sound Symposer (in Porsche speak) that effectively pipes the full roar of the 4.8-litre V8 engine into the cabin, with scintillating effect.
In-gear thrust is also very strong with the Cayenne GTS. Keep your right foot planted and the big Porsche keeps on pulling with peak torque from 3500rpm through to 5200rpm. It doesn’t mind revving either, with the redline set at 6800rpm on the centrally mounted binnacle.
While the eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth enough on the upshift, it lacks the urgency (even in the quicker shifting Sport mode) that you might expect with such a thoroughbred model from Porsche. However, downshifts in Sport mode are crisper and are accompanied by perfectly timed throttle blips.
If there are any doubts as to how much Porsche DNA has been poured into the Cayenne GTS – those are dispelled from the very first time you get to thread a series fast S-bends together. The GTS corners flat like a sports sedan with body roll largely eliminated. And that’s without assistance from Porsche’s Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) that further reduces body lean.
Despite its sizeable proportions, though, the Cayenne GTS never really feels like you’re piloting a large SUV, such is the impressive throttle response, body control and precise, weighty steering that allows the Cayenne to be placed on the road with pinpoint accuracy.
In standard guise the Porsche Cayenne GTS features Porsche Active Suspension Management System (PASM), which effectively manages damping forces depending on driving style and road conditions.
While there’s an underlying firmness to the Cayenne’s ride, drivers can choose between Comfort, Normal and Sport settings - and there is actually a noticeable difference between comfort and sport.
Sitting in traffic, or even ambling around suburbia, the Cayenne is more than happy on the softest setting. However, that doesn’t signify any great change in the way the GTS corners – it’s still surprisingly sharp.
Switch to Sport mode, and there’s an instantaneous shift to a noticeably firmer ride, although smaller blemishes on the road are comfortably absorbed.
There’s loads of grip, too, from the optional 295/35 series tyres (275/45 are standard) on all four corners. Combined with the Cayenne’s active all-wheel drive, rapid progress across a variety of road surfaces is assured.
Porsche has always placed great importance on brakes, for good reason, and the Cayenne GTS is no exception. The big six-piston front brakes (painted red) and four-piston set-up on the rear wheels are hugely capable when it comes to stopping power and pedal feel is progressive and confidence inspiring.
With such benchmark levels of performance and handling it’s all too easy to forget that the Porsche Cayenne GTS also doubles as a luxury SUV with all the benefits of space and practicality, of which there is plenty of both.
Not only is there a large amount of load space in the boot area with all five seats in place, (670-litres) the extra wide aperture means large appliances such as dishwashers and dryers will slide right in. Drop the second row and load space increases to a cavernous 1780-litres, despite not folding 100 per cent flat.
Rear legroom is generous but while there’s certainly room for three in the rear, it’s a squeeze in the middle. It’s a similar story with headroom and elbowroom – there’s plenty of it, courtesy of the Porsche Cayenne’s significant width (1954mm).
The Porsche Cayenne GTS is beautifully appointed. The standard spec Alcantara upholstery is superbly comfortable with aggressive bolstering on the front pews that wrap around you, snuggly.
There’s a centre console that shares its fundamental design with those in the Porsche Panamera and Porsche 911, complete with Porsche’s signature five-binnacle instrument cluster along with soft touch leather/Alcantara and polished metal accents throughout. We especially like the Alcantara roof liner – ultimate luxury.
The superbly crafted Alcantara sports steering wheel is another beautiful piece of design work with its striking metal inlays, but this reviewer would prefer the standard and more tactile leather-wrapped version, for grip alone.
Our test vehicle was fitted with the optional GTS interior package, which added the matching red stitching, red seatbelts and red ‘GTS’ embroidery on the headrests.
For those Cayenne owners intending to participate in the occasional Porsche Sport driver-training day, the optional Sport Chrono Package adds a cool-looking motorsport-derived stopwatch on the dashboard. The system is able to record lap times and acceleration performance with graphical representation on the integrated touchscreen.
On the creature comfort side, the Porsche Cayenne GTS comes with an extensive inventory of standard kit despite including Bi-Xenon headlamps with static cornering lights, LED daytime running lights, electric parking brake, 7-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Bose surround sound system, Bluetooth phone with music streaming and USB interface, park assist (front and rear), auto dimming exterior and interior mirrors, automatic tailgate, electrically adjustable sports with driver memory package and the choice of either 19 or 20-inch alloy wheels.
Safety on board the Cayenne GTS includes six airbags and Porsche’s stability management system with anti-locking braking and brake assist functions.
The Porsche Cayenne GTS, then, offers the level of performance and handling you expect from the Porsche badge. It’s just that it’s sensed from an elevated seating position and with more versatility than usual.