2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS first drive review: The right place to be

Sandwiched between the standard models and the capital-T Turbos, the 2021 Cayenne GTS is one heck of a driver's car.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
5 min read

Porsche's GTS badge is conferred upon some of its best-driving vehicles, positioned in a space above the base models but below the true insanity of the Turbo and Turbo S variants. It's generally assumed that any Porsche is good to drive, even its larger SUVs , but the GTS treatment takes it a step above. Returning for the 2021 model year, the GTS proves that its two-door models don't get to have all the fun.

Usually, you have to pay for a sinister look, but the Cayenne GTS -- and all GTS models, for that matter -- makes it standard. It's a good look, too, with tinted headlights and taillights, 21-inch black alloy wheels and the elimination of every smattering of chrome. My tester is a Cayenne GTS , which picks up even more character by way of sleeker rear-end bodywork and the additional spoilers that come with it. This specific car also comes with the $10,350 Lightweight Sport Package, which adds another inch to the wheel size in addition to a carbon fiber roof and a sharper exhaust with centrally mounted tailpipes. It all looks the business, but then again, regular ol' Cayennes look pretty darn good, too.

While the Cashmere Beige Metallic paint ($3,150) might not be the most aggressive motif out there, my tester ramps up the character inside by way of proper houndstooth cloth inserts on the seats, which look and feel fantastic alongside the leather-clad interior panels. The GTS doesn't go too hard in the paint otherwise, adding some subtle trim finishers on the dashboard and some suede throughout but generally leaving the rest of the interior as-is. My tester adds a bit more sport by way of Race-Tex suede on the steering wheel (part of the lightweight package) and the center console's grab handles ($1,380). Despite the Coupe's abridged roof, the second row still has enough space for me to stretch my 6-foot frame in either of the two rear seats -- the middle's been carved out with a storage cubby.

2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS is always ready for a good time

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All that stuff is well and good, but the real important bits on the Cayenne GTS are the ones you can't see. A V8 has triumphantly returned to its position underhood, which replaces the old GTS' high-strung V6, and while its 453-horsepower, 457-pound-foot output doesn't sound impressive against the 541-hp, 567-lb-ft Turbo, I can guarantee you that the GTS makes the most of every single inch of its new 4.0-liter. Acceleration comes on quickly, but not brutally so -- Porsche estimates a 0-to-60-mph sprint of 4.5 seconds, dropping to 4.2 with launch control. The Coupe accumulates speed quickly, but not so quickly that it catches me by surprise, even though most of my brain power is spent enjoying the louder exhaust barking like a pack of pissed-off dogs as the revs rise.

That's kind of the name of the game with the Cayenne GTS: Predictable, but ample performance. Acceleration only tells part of the story; despite being on the larger side, the Cayenne GTS is agile. In its perkier Sport and Sport Plus modes, the standard air suspension keeps things sufficiently stiff, holding the body flat through tight corners. The steering, which has been tweaked to provide better feeling, is tight and direct, and the corner-carving on my tester is further enhanced through all-wheel steering ($1,620) and active anti-roll bars ($3,590). The eight-speed automatic transmission is thoroughly competent, rattling off shifts so precise I thought it was a dual-clutch, and it holds gears at appropriately high revs when placed into one of the sportier modes, although I prefer to use the shift paddles for a bit more control.

Usually, leaving the suspension in its softest Comfort setting while keeping the powertrain in a sharper setting is my jam, but that's not the case with the Cayenne GTS. Comfort mode is actually way too soft for spirited driving, which is fine, because that means regular driving is rewarded with some impressive comfort. Combined with thicker glass ($1,130), the cabin is serene and free of jostling in daily use. Even though the GTS is all about driving, Porsche clearly understands that owners do occasionally want to chill out.

Some of the prices mentioned might sound appalling at first glance, but that's par for the course at Porsche. Even though the Cayenne GTS Coupe starts at $111,850 including $1,350 destination, a surprising amount of kit is not standard. While I understand that Porsche wants every owner to truly customize their next car, I don't think it's appropriate at this price point to charge $940 for keyless access, $420 (nice) for auto-dimming mirrors, $990 for four-zone climate control or $1,060 for four heated seats. Further adding to the frustration is the fact that you can see the grayed-out buttons for absent options on the center console. Even at this price stratum, you're still getting poor-shamed. My tester's out-the-door price is a staggering $162,760. Jesus.

2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS
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2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS

The buttons around the shifter look cool... until you realize you can see the switches for the options that aren't installed.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Blissfully, most of the Cayenne GTS' tech is straight-up standard. Four USB-C ports provide juice for each passenger, but with the addition of wireless Apple CarPlay (standard) and device charging ($690), the cord isn't technically necessary, though it's frustrating that Android Auto is still not present. Smack dab in the middle of the dashboard is a 12.3-inch screen running the Porsche Communication Management infotainment system. It's one of my favorites, with tons of configurability, individual driver settings, a Wi-Fi hotspot, embedded navigation, you name it. Two smaller screens flank the central tachometer in the gauge cluster, bringing things like audio and map information front and center for the driver. This is further enhanced in my tester by a $1,720 head-up display that, while small, puts all the relevant information even closer to the road.

When it comes to safety, it's time to pay the piper once again. A surround-view camera system with impressive resolution will set you back $1,200. A night-vision getup adds another $2,420 to the bill, and blind-spot monitoring requires $950. The proper good stuff, though, is hidden behind Porsche's InnoDrive suite, which combines adaptive cruise control, active steering assist and lane-keeping assist to keep the vehicle pacing traffic in its lane. This hands-on system feels pretty solid, with very little lateral motion and smooth braking when needed. I don't know why you wouldn't want to drive this car yourself, but hey, everyone needs a break from time to time.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS is a hoot on the road, because every iteration that's come before it has been equally exciting. Whether you want it in "coupeover" form or not, the GTS will reward you with a driving experience to which other sporty SUVs should aspire.