Porsche Cayenne GTS: First Drive Review

We pushed Porsche’s dynamic new SUV to the limit on California's Angeles Crest Highway.
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The Angeles Crest Highway is one of the worst kept secrets of Angelino boy racers — a virtual Wild West of Ducati Panigales, roll cage-bolstered VW Golf Rs, and so many lowered Civics you could shoot an entire issue of Super Street on any given Sunday. It is a sublime network of mountain roads seemingly dreamed up by a video game designer working on the latest Need For Speed update.

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It is on these roads that we are chasing a black BMW M3 like a bad Michael Bay flick, sticking close to its barking quad exhaust ports. Only we’re not in a stripped down Miata or heavily modified Mitsubishi Evo — we’re in a SUV tipping the scales at around three tons (4,954-lb curb weight, 6,305-lb gross), a mammoth block of forged steel and glass you would never imagine could keep up with a Bimmer in such conditions. 

Yet here we are — where German and Japanese tuner eagles dare to soar. And within five minutes of chasing the black supersedan we’re blinking left and overtaking him when a rare passing lane materializes. Ten minutes later we’re putting motorcycles in our rearview.

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How the hell are we doing this in an SUV? Simple. We’re not in any ordinary crossover, we’re in a Cayenne GTS, the most dynamic SUV Porsche builds. No it’s not the apex Porsche SUV — that would be the 550-horsepower Cayenne Turbo. But the GTS is the most nimble, most athletic, most capable on these spilled spaghetti roads undulating over the topography of the San Gabriel Mountains. Hence its moniker as a “Gran Turismo Sport”, a callback to the 1964 Targa Florio-winning 904 GTS, one of the shapeliest Porsches ever. 

Perhaps an incongruous name for a lumbering SUV that tips the scales at nearly 5,000-lbs dry, but after a couple hours whipping one in these extreme conditions — surely more extreme than 99% of these vehicles will ever be driven, pitiless Whole Foods parking garage notwithstanding — the name will be justified.

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Once again for 2021 the Cayenne GTS will feature a V8 engine — as it did when it first debuted in 2007. Unlike that original Cayenne GTS’s naturally aspirated lump, however, this gen’s V8 is blown by twin turbos — a big leap from the last model’s V6. The 4.0-liter V8 is plucked from under the hood of the flagship Cayenne Turbo and detuned to 453 horsepower and 457 lb-ft. of torque, but fret not you won’t lack power. With a 168-mph top speed the GTS launches from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds — or 4.2 seconds if you choose the fastback GTS Coupe model with Sport Chrono Package.

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While the base MSRP on the Cayenne GTS starts at a respectable $108,000, don’t be fooled. With aesthetic options like a Carrara White Metallic paint ($800), 22-inch Sport Classic Wheels ($2,770), black gloss roof rails ($830), and grab handles in Race-Tex ($1,380), our GTS quickly swelled to more than $140,000.

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Expensive, sure. But still cheaper than other comparable Super-SUVs like the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus, both which start base much higher ($160K and $207K respectively) than our kitted-out Cayenne GTS. And those luxurious brutes are notable for more than simply being VW Group cousins — they also share with the GTS both a chassis and one of the most next-level technological advances any SUV can boast: the genius Dynamic Chassis Control (+$3,590), an active roll stabilization system that counters weight transfer via 48-volt electromechanical anti-roll bars. 

Paired with active rear-wheel steering (+$1,620) and the GTS’s standard Porsche Active Suspension Management and Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus, and the GTS transforms into a responsive vehicle with shockingly sharp handling. At one point we hit an off-camber turn at high-speed, and the GTS’s active dampers, torque-vectoring and active roll bars all worked in unison to corner with the flat-footed assuredness of a sportscar half its weight.

Aesthetically the GTS’s Sport Design package blacks out the vehicle’s brightwork with a tinted LED rear light bar and black door handles, air intakes, trim and badging, while the interior gets layered in charcoal Alcantara and brushed aluminum. There’s embroidered GTS-exclusive heated and cooled eight-way adjustable sports seats ($1,060), HUD (+$1,720), Ionizer (+$350), ambient lighting (+$430), BOSE Surround Sound ($1,200) and a thoroughly cleaned up interior. 

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Gone is the jet-fighter center consoles of yesteryear littered with a tangle of buttons and levers in favor of a clean sweep of black glass, utterly more elegant and minimal. Instead only dedicated HVAC, traction control and suspension buttons to play with.

As SUVs eat up more and more market share, high-performance offerings are only going to multiply. And while the most common complaint thrown at the Cayenne GTS is the steep pricetag, considering it’s a Porsche that can blow out M3’s while still able to tow 7,700-lbs and hold 60.3 cu-ft of cargo, the Cayenne GTS just might be a value proposition when compared to some of its swankier cousins.