This one isn’t for me. Of all the types of cars currently being manufactured, the sporty crossover might be the only one that I find totally unappealing. It’s a type of car that I’d never under any circumstances buy for myself. I don’t get it. But, that doesn’t mean Porsche can’t make an amazing sporty crossover. It can. In fact, the Cayenne GTS is one of those.
Full Disclosure: Porsche wanted me to drive the Cayenne GTS, so it rented a house in Novi, MI and invited me over to pick up a sanitized Coupe for a day of driving. I had one beer in the backyard after I gave the car back. I don’t remember what kind it was but it was pretty good.
Testing Conditions: A nice day in the Detroit suburbs. Some freeways, empty parking lots, but primarily backroads and a dirt road. Got a stern talking-to about speed, but no ticket.
2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS Explained
The Cayenne GTS is the third most expensive Cayenne in the Cayenne lineup behind the Cayenne Turbo and the top of the line Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid. It’s powered by the twin-turbo V8 from the Turbo, detuned from 541 horsepower to 453 HP. Like every car in the Cayenne model line, it’s available in coupe or regular. They say this one’s the best “driver’s car” in the Cayenne lineup.
I remember reading Wes Siler’s review of the BMW X6 in the old print edition of Jalopnik. (You remember that? The smell when you first pulled it out of the mailbox? Magic.) Siler talked about the X6’s rear diff and how BMW used electronics to reduce roll. As I read that, fresh ink staining my hands, I remember thinking that before too long they’d be able to make cars of any shape and size behave more or less however they want—that sensors, etc, would get small enough, reliable enough and cheap enough that engineers could really start bending the rules and making popcorn that tastes like pineapple.
That was a little more than a decade ago, and while we’re far from blurring the line between the Cayenne GTS and a 911, it is worth considering how much better the 911 had to get from a performance standpoint to maintain that distance. 2020’s big crossovers can really hustle.
Save for height, the current car is a smidge bigger in every external dimension than a standard first-gen Cayenne. But, it looks much lower and more hot hatchy. The overall impression isn’t the old upright, rugged, alpine type sportiness, just a different version of the regular Porsche kind of sportiness. The pictures don’t really convey this, but trust me, it looks slammed. It is actually only 30 mm (1.18 inches) lower than an S, but a little reduction in ride-height goes a long way visually.
By pure happenstance, I pulled onto a freeway next to a first-gen Cayenne. For a moment and we were more or less side by side and the old car seemed to tower over me despite being less than half an inch taller at the roof. Jonny Lieberman should really do one of those Instagram posts where profile shots of both cars are stacked, to point out the various design tricks and optical illusions that allow the new Cayenne to appear smaller and lower. But until then, let’s say it’s clear that by now, and especially with the GTS, Porsche is being one-hundred-percent clear about the fact that this car is not likely to go off-road on purpose, even if it is allegedly pretty capable of doing that. You do get up to 10.2 inches of ground clearance, some decent approach, breakover and departure angles and a 21.2-inch wading depth claim if you pump the air suspension all the way up.
Usually on a launch like this, every test pilot would cycle through a few different versions of the car being reviewed, but obviously Covid—and the unfortunate fact that journalists love to sneeze and cough on press cars—makes that a logistical nightmare.
I drove a black coupe with the Lightweight Sport Package, a $10,350 option. That means you get a carbon-fiber roof, some carbon-fiber interior trim, a “Race Tex” Steering Wheel, the good exhaust option, and 22-inch GT Design wheels. I could not stop staring at these wheels. They look cool, tasteful, etc. But man, they are huge. It’s not so much the diameter, we’re used to 22's now. It’s when you bend down to look into them, the depth is just... there’s just so much wheel down there.
The most notable thing about the GTS driving experience is that it refuses to roll. You can try— take a corner way too hard, seesaw the wheel— it won’t do it. It’ll understeer a little, oversteer a little on throttle in sportier modes, but one thing it absolutely will not do is rock back and forth like a canoe. At all.
The GTS gets Porsche’s Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control system (PDCC), which senses conditions and inputs that create roll, dive, and pitch and adjusts in real-time to cancel it. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s very impressive, and the car behaves in ways that an SUV shouldn’t. Mid-corner, it’s absolutely composed and responsive to steering inputs. On the other hand, body roll is feedback.
Conventional steel-spring suspension isn’t available here, every US-bound GTS gets Porsche’s air suspension setup with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM). The system works well, giving you comfy when you want comfy and sporty when you want sporty. It’ll also let you adjust the ride height to suit any number of situations.
The GTS is quick, but if you’re looking to scare your passengers, you’ll have to do it with cornering speed. It gets up and runs, but it doesn’t do the explosive acceleration thing. If you do everything right, it’ll take 4.2 seconds for the Coupe to hit 60. That’s fast, but it’s not insanely fast by today’s standards. In the regular GTS, it’s 4.5, unless you choose the Sport Chrono option, which gives you “Performance Start” (launch control for Porsche’s with traditional automatic transmissions.)
Given that this is a detuned version of the motor that pulls the Cayenne Turbo around, you might be thinking: “Why not buy this one, take it to so and so for a reflash and see if I can’t end up with a Cayenne GTS Turbo?” You can probably do that, and I would love it if you did and reported back to me with what happened. But I wouldn’t expect Porsche to honor your warranty if what happened was something terrible.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of Porsche claiming to use a lighter version of the ZF 8-speed transmission on the GTS than it does on the Turbo. I wasn’t able to slide under the car to check part numbers, but another way to find out would be to apply Turbo-levels of torque to the GTS transmission and see what kinds of sounds it makes.
The interior is, just like everything Porsche makes now, very nice. Here’s what stood out to me: The seats have fun woven houndstooth pattern inserts. Even though my test car was a coupe, interior space is impressive. Porsche lowers the rear seats so you can fit real big boys back there and it works. I was able to sit comfortably behind the little tablets mounted to the back of the driver’s seat, I’d be happy enough doing a road trip back there. The rear cargo area is also impressively large—I’d say you stand at least three, possibly even four beer kegs in it.
Look, there is nothing really “weak” about this car. Porsche in 2020 executes just about perfectly. Is a fast crossover appealing to me? Absolutely not. Do they look cool to me? Not exactly. But as far as nailing the design brief, consider it nailed.
Euro NCAP for a standard Cayenne is five stars. We don’t have NHTSA data, or IIHS data, but I’m sure the Cayenne is not out to kill you.
Jalopnik Recommended Options
I think you’re going to want to get the Lightweight Sport package. It’s the only way to get the sport exhaust system on a GTS. It sounds great and yes, it does to the little artificial backfire thing. Porsche pulled some of the sound deadening stuff out so you can hear it, but from inside the cabin, it’s still pretty muted. If you do end up going with that exhaust it precludes you from getting a trailer hitch. I know, dealbreaker.
Sport Chrono is standard on GTS Coupes but optional on the regular Cayenne GTS. It’s the option you click if you want Performance Start and the little clock on the dash.
Class And Competition
You might cross-shop this against a Range Rover Sport SVR, Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrafolio, BMW X6 M50i and Mercedes GLC 43/63 AMG. The AMG 63 will offer more in the explosive acceleration department, similar quality and for a lot less money.
The Range Rover and the Alfa are more powerful and less obvious, the BMW is also cheaper and more powerful. If memory serves, and you’ll have to excuse me, it’s been a while since I’ve driven a few of these, the GTS is, true to Porsche’s claims, the one that sticks out to me as the driver’s car of the bunch. That may or may not be what you’re looking for in a crossover.
If you’re after a premium SUV that is genuinely engaging to drive fast, this is probably the best one I’ve driven. Hard launches aren’t going to blow your mind, but it’s grippy. throwing it into corners and jumping on the throttle early and feeling the rear steering bring the car around is fun. It makes a nice sound, with just enough of the crackling thing to get the attention of the valet. The interior is great, it’s comfortable and versatile, road trip capable.
It wouldn’t be my choice of track cars, but I’d love to see you show up in one at a track day. On a call with Porsche engineers after my drive, a colleague asked a classic auto-journalist question: Something to the effect of “What percentage of Cayenne GTS owners would track them?” The engineer didn’t provide an exact figure, because, come on. But I do remember the engineer saying that owners should track the car, that it was built for that. If it had been a “before times” car launch, we would have probably had some laps on a race track and it would have been a hoot.
I don’t have any desire to own a car like this, but I do want to take it bombing down some dirt roads, I want to mount snows and go drifting around in a blizzard, I want to see what it’s really capable of off-road.