Porsche's tuning gives the Cayenne GTS 20 more horsepower than the Cayenne S, but it falls far short of the 550 horsepower offered by the Cayenne Turbo S, the next jump up in performance. The GTS also stands out from the rest of the Cayenne lineup by its lowered suspension, more firmly placing it as an on-road vehicle. Considering how few Cayennes are actually used off-road, the GTS seems like a more realistic vehicle.
But it does come with all the suspension and all-wheel-drive equipment as the rest of the line. That means console-mounted controls to lock the differentials and put the vehicle in mountain-climbing mode, a feature that probably sees little use in Cayennes.
Console controls also let you adjust the air suspension, setting it between Comfort, Normal, and Sport modes, and raising or lowering it manually to negotiate obstacles. A separate big Sport button not only engages the sport suspension mode, but also sharpens up the throttle response.
Though the Cayenne GTS handles better than just about anything else that fits into the SUV segment, and even beats out most cars, we were disappointed as we launched it into the turns to feel plenty of body lean. Thinking back to the BMW X5 M we tested last year, the Cayenne GTS paled in comparison. Where the BMW would stay flat and kick its rear wheels out a little to rotate through a turn, the Cayenne GTS leaned too much for confidence.
Initially we thought BMW had really succeeded in besting Porsche, until we looked at our Cayenne GTS' option sheet and realized it didn't have the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control. This $3,510 option actively counteracts body roll, and would make a significant difference to the Cayenne GTS' handling.
But as it was, we were still able to get through corners at speed, using the incredible nimbleness of the Cayenne GTS' steering. The body lean merely kept us from pushing it far enough to get tire slip. Again and again, the car let us double the recommended speed on turns. And in one series of short, tight turns, the Cayenne GTS really did feel like a sports car as we darted the nose back and forth.
Further emphasizing the performance nature of the Cayenne GTS is the fact that its standard transmission is a six-speed manual. You don't often see a manual transmission in an SUV.
This particular gearbox required a lot of attention because of the close gear ratios. On a fast launch you need to shift almost immediately to second, as the engine pushes redline in just a little over a second. And third is only good up to about 80 mph, with a shift to fourth needed to avoid redlining the engine.
All of these gear changes are not made easy by the shifter, a long pole more at home in a truck than in a sports car. We imagine Cayenne GTS drivers develop very strong right arms with all the work the car requires from them. We certainly found it easier lifting coffee cups and pint glasses after spending time with the Cayenne GTS.
We spent a lot of time using the car's sport mode, and found that, beyond sharpening the throttle and hardening up the suspension, it also makes the Cayenne GTS a big gas hog. The EPA numbers for the car, at 11 mpg city and 17 mpg highway, are not pretty. We found ourselves at the bottom of that range, turning in a tank average of 11.6 mpg.
The 2009 Porsche Cayenne GTS is an odd beast, half sports car and half SUV, not really doing either task as well as a more dedicated vehicle. But some people might prefer having that kind of interior space and high ride height while tackling corners at speed. That sort of person probably likes to laugh as Mazda Miatas. For performance tech, the Cayenne GTS is impressive, with lots of horsepower cranked out of the engine and its air suspension offering different ride modes. We also take the dynamic chassis option into account for its performance tech score, but it also gets docked for the abysmal mileage. You could get as much range in a Tesla, with zero CO2 emissions.
Porsche did a good job of elevating its cabin tech with the new PCM. Although it doesn't push the cabin tech envelope like some other car companies are doing, it keeps the Cayenne GTS competitive, offering the kinds of electronic comforts that people are coming to expect. For design, we think the ergonomics of the touch screen could be improved. Otherwise, the body style is unique, you won't mistake a Cayenne for anything else, and it offers the practical interior space of an SUV.
|Model||2009 Porsche Cayenne|
|Power train||4.8-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||11 mpg city/17 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||11.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, USB drive, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||350-watt, 14-speaker Bose surround sound|
|Driver aids||Hill hold|
|Price as tested||$90,580|