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2022 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT first drive review: Peak performance

Porsche's latest Cayenne variant is one of the best-driving SUVs ever.

The new Cayenne Turbo GT is a fantastic SUV.

James Chrosniak/Roadshow

It's hard to believe that it's been almost two decades since Porsche stormed the SUV scene with the original Cayenne. At the time Mercedes and BMW had sporty versions of their first SUVs, but the Cayenne came out guns blazing, with excellent dynamics across the lineup. Over its three generations the Cayenne has always been the driver's choice in the luxury SUV segment, culminating in the awesome new Turbo GT.

The Turbo GT uses the same twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 as the normal Cayenne Turbo, but the crankshaft, fuel-injection system, airflow and cooling systems, turbochargers and other internals have all been upgraded, and there are three additional radiators. That all means the engine makes 631 horsepower and 626 pound-feet of torque, increases of 90 hp and 59 lb.-ft. The GT's 3.1-second 0-to-60-mph time and 186-mph top speed are 0.6-second quicker and 9 mph faster than the standard Cayenne Turbo.

Porsche also upgraded the eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission. Even in the Normal drive mode it shifts quicker, and in Sport Plus the transmission allows the driver to preselect lower gears under braking. The electronically variable all-wheel-drive system received tweaks to compensate for the additional power, with the system better optimizing power distribution and delivering it more quickly than in the standard Turbo.

The Turbo GT has a number of subtle styling changes.

James Chrosniak/Roadshow

But the best mechanical change is the Turbo GT's new exhaust system. It features a pair of centrally mounted tips -- just like the optional setup on the Cayenne GTS and Turbo Coupe -- but the GT's exhaust is made of titanium. It ditches the center muffler, too, and the two branches feature continuously adjustable flaps. Overall, the GT's titanium system saves around 40 pounds compared to the Cayenne Turbo's exhaust. The oval tips are larger and feature cool slots around the edge, and they turn blue after use.

The Turbo GT comes standard with all of the Cayenne's myriad performance options, and it gets a number of unique chassis tweaks, as well. Staggered 22-inch wheels are wrapped in specially developed Pirelli P Zero Corsa summer tires and hide gigantic carbon-ceramic brakes. The front wheels are an inch wider, and their negative camber is increased by almost half an inch compared to the regular Turbo. The adaptive air suspension sits 0.7-inch lower in its standard height and is 15% stiffer than a Turbo Coupe's, and the 48-volt Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control active antiroll system is reworked to further reduce body roll. Rear-axle steering, torque vectoring and variable-ratio steering are also included.

The Turbo GT is only available in the Cayenne's Coupe body style, and it gets a number of subtle styling tweaks that differentiate it from the regular Turbo. There's a deeper front lip, larger air intakes, a redesigned carbon-fiber rear diffuser and new carbon-fiber end plates for the rear wing atop the roof. The adaptive rear spoiler on the hatch has a new gurney flap lip that's twice the size of the normal Turbo Coupe's, and it takes up half of the view through the rear glass when it's popped up at highway speeds. The Turbo GT is also only available with a carbon-fiber roof.

The interior is pretty standard Cayenne fare.

James Chrosniak/Roadshow

All of that adds up to create the best Cayenne yet, and maybe the best performance SUV ever. Aside from a throatier exhaust note on idle, around town the Turbo GT feels like, well, a Cayenne. But once I'm on a good, empty road and put it in Sport or Sport Plus mode, the Turbo GT really comes alive.

The GT's acceleration is truly astonishing -- it's quicker to 60 mph than a new 911 GT3 -- and it continues pulling with the same intensity to much higher speeds. A quarter-mile is dispatched in 11.6 seconds, and passing power on the highway is immense. The transmission's ultraquick shifts are a lot more violent and satisfying than in the Turbo, especially in Sport Plus mode, and even left to its own devices the eight-speed auto shifts at the perfect time.

The Turbo GT's cornering abilities are, frankly, absurd. In one of the Cayenne's digital gauge cluster screens I bring up a G-meter, which shows achieved lateral cornering forces of over 1.25 G -- in an SUV that weighs 5,000 pounds. Aside from the feeling of being higher up, the Turbo GT really does drive like a sports car; the limits of its cornering capability are way higher than I think. It changes direction quickly and with no drama, with steering that's sharp, direct and full of feedback. Thanks to that 48-volt system there's basically zero body roll, and the GT stays planted even when accelerating midcorner. This thing is just super fun to drive.

These titanium pipes are one of the Turbo GT's best features.

Porsche

And man, does the Turbo GT sound good. That titanium exhaust completely changes the character of the V8's noise beyond just making it louder. With the exhaust in its Sport mode, there's more of a metallic resonance sound that you can hear from the center of the car as revs increase, but there's no annoying drone. Porsche also dialed in more overrun both on upshifts and downshifts, which is most noticeable in Sport Plus. The Turbo GT has a much more race-car-like sound than all other Cayennes. It even sounds better than a Lamborghini Urus, which uses the same V8 engine. 

Unlike other SUVs that are overly skewed toward performance at the expense of usability, the Turbo GT strikes a perfect balance. In Normal mode the ride is smooth and supple, but even with the suspension in its sportiest setting the GT is never crashy, despite the huge wheels and sticky tires. Driving the Turbo GT quickly on a twisty road is never stressful or taxing, and even after hours in the car I don't feel fatigued.

My test car has the no-cost 18-way adaptive sport seats, which prevent you from being able to have the GT's standard sweet gold-striped suede upholstery but provide a lot more adjustability and support -- not to mention the ability to spec ventilated seats. You can only get a four-seat setup, with a center console splitting the rear seats, which is fine since the center seat in the regular Cayenne Coupe's rear bench is tight anyway. I especially like the optional Bordeaux Red and black two-tone leather scheme, with this car featuring optional black seat centers.

Expect this moniker to show up on more Porsches.

James Chrosniak/Roadshow

This is my first time using Porsche's new PCM infotainment system, which is rolling out across the lineup for 2022. It's not too different from the outgoing PCM, but it looks cleaner and is snappier in operation. It also finally gets Android Auto capability. This Turbo GT also has options like a Burmester surround-sound stereo, a head-up display, 360-degree camera system and Porsche's InnoDrive suite of features that includes adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Sure, it's annoying that all these things are options on a range-topping SUV, but I'm glad they're at least available on such a performance-oriented model.

The Turbo GT starts at $182,150 including $1,350 for destination -- a $47,300 increase over a normal Turbo Coupe -- though loading up a Turbo with all the GT's performance features closes the gap to around $20K. You can scoff at that price, but hear me out: The Turbo GT is better to drive than the Aston Martin DBX and Lamborghini Urus, the latter of which shares the same basic platform and engine and is around $40K more expensive to start. Plus, the Cayenne is more well-rounded than both.

The Cayenne Turbo GT offers astonishing performance and tons of driving fun, period -- no "for an SUV" caveats here -- as well as excellent daily drivability. And based on some sly reactions from Porsche representatives when questioned, it seems like the Turbo GT moniker will appear on the company's other models in the future. Taycan Turbo GT, for instance? Sign me up.