Believe it or not, Porsche's best-selling car is an SUV. The Cayenne outsold Porsche's signature 911 lineup in 2008, and that trend has continued this year.
With five Cayenne trim levels and two special editions, the SUV has almost as many variants as the 911, which gives it a huge range of consumer appeal. Positioned squarely in the middle of the Cayenne lineup is the GTS, which is the model I tested. You can compare all of the Cayenne varients, here.
There's no doubting the Cayenne's authenticity as a performance SUV — after all, it's a Porsche. As a modern SUV fit for everyday driving, however, it misses the mark. Even with $15,575 worth of upgrades and a $90,175 as-tested price, some seemingly useful features — that we see in much less expensive SUVs — were absent.
The GTS gets a 405-horsepower, 4.8-liter V-8, a standard air suspension with electronic adjustable dampening (you choose your preferred level of firmness) and a bevy of appearance add-ons. The Cayenne lineup ranges from $44,600 for a base Cayenne up to $123,600 for the Turbo S. The GTS starts at $70,900 for the manual version and $74,600 for an automatic.
I tested the automatic. There's nothing wrong with it, but I suspect a manual would have added credibility to the Cayenne's sport-themed performance. The available manual transmission is one of the Cayenne's unique features that isn't available in any of its competition, like the BMW X5 or Land Rover Range Rover Sport.
Acceleration & Handling
The 405-hp V-8 moves the GTS quickly, but it isn't what I'd call fast. Porsche says zero to 60 mph takes 6.1 seconds for the automatic version I tested, while the manual goes in 5.7 seconds. For similar dough, you can get a 555-hp BMW X5 M that scoots to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. Now that's fast.
The best part of the GTS engine is the way it sounds. The V-8 changes tone with the push of a button: When the Sport button is pressed, an intoxicating soundtrack taunts you to play with the accelerator. I gladly obliged, even though it was a case of more bark than bite.
In everyday driving, the Cayenne feels like a substantial SUV, with heavy steering. It wasn't until I started throwing the SUV into corners that the hefty feeling was transformed into a surprising display of agility. Thank a tag-team of acronyms for the GTS' handling prowess: Porsche Traction Management (PTM), Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), automatic brake differential (ABD) and anti-slip regulation (ASR) all work together to make the GTS corner with minimal body roll, and to keep power planted to the ground.
The suspension and all-wheel drive (Porsche Active Suspension Management and Porsche Traction Management) can adjust on the fly to best maneuver the heavy SUV by lowering and stiffening the suspension, as well as transferring power between the wheels.
Available suspension modes include Sport, Normal and Comfort. Sport mode lowers the air suspension and firms up the shocks. It's noticeably stiffer than Normal mode's settings and reduces body roll during spirited driving. I had a tougher time discerning between Normal and Comfort modes.
More Sport Than Utility Vehicle
You don't expect to find many conveniences in a sports car's driver's compartment, like storage or cupholders, but you do in an SUV. The Cayenne disappoints with only two cupholders up front — and they barely fit a bottle of water. Even an ordinary medium-sized fast-food cup didn't fit securely. C'mon, Porsche, you do realize Americans are buying the Cayenne, don't you?
In the back, creating a flat load floor in the cargo area requires multiple steps. None of those steps are particularly graceful, and it's a pain to remove the headrests, flip up the bottom seat cushions, and fold and secure the head restraints. You can arrange a flat load floor in most SUVs with one pull of a lever and no head-restraint removal.
For an SUV that sits high off the ground and has limited rear visibility, a rear backup camera and parking sensors are essential. The Cayenne's $3,300 navigation option doesn't include a backup camera or parking sensors. They're optional — and they're expensive. These are commonly found in less expensive SUVs, either included with the navigation system or available as a stand-alone option.
For the most part, the inside is covered in quality materials you would expect from Porsche. Fine stitching carries through the leather-covered dashboard, center console, seats and door panels. The optional Alcantara simulated suede looks classy in its highlighted use on the pillars and front and rear seats. The speedometer and tachometer gauges are classic old-school Porsche. The amber-colored backlighting looks outdated to me, but those buying a Porsche may appreciate its dedication to heritage.
Not so classy is the aluminum-looking plastic on the door panels and gear selector. A few editors commented on how cheap those materials looked, and even a few passengers I carted around said the same thing. I think just adding a brushed finish would have spiced up the bland appearance.
The front and rear seats are stylish, and even the rear seats have side bolstering I would argue is more aggressive than some front seats out there. The front seats were comfortable on short rides, but after longer excursions my lower back became sore because I couldn't find a comfortable seating position. You may have better luck finding the sweet spot than I did.
Features & Pricing
In typical Porsche fashion, be prepared to empty your wallet for the simplest conveniences, like satellite radio and a USB input for iPods. Adding those two options meant an additional $1,190 on our tester. To give some perspective, a USB input and satellite radio come standard on a 2010 Hyundai Sonata, which costs less than $20,000. (In fairness, Hyundai is ahead of the curve on USB inputs, but some luxury carmakers are also starting to make them standard.)
Those features are a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of the leather interior with Alcantara highlights ($3,170) and the navigation system ($3,300). The optional Bose sound system ($1,690) sounded good, but could have used some more punch from the bass; its price, however, is reasonable considering what some other options cost. All in all, our tester checked in at an eye-popping $90,175.
Remember the missing backup camera and parking sensors? That package costs $2,670, and it's only available if you've already added the navigation system.
What Else $90,175 Can Get You
That high sticker price was hard to justify after spending a week in the GTS. Every time I got into the car I couldn't help thinking, "What else could I get for $90,000?"
That high price tag is already hard to swallow, but the introduction of the $85,400, 555-hp 2010 BMW X5 M makes it an even bigger knock against the Porsche. The GTS is quick, but the X5 M approaches ludicrous speed with its awesome acceleration. To be honest, the first time I planted the accelerator to the floorboard in the X5 M I felt as giddy as a 16-year-old taking his dad's sports car out alone for the first time. I was able to find many X5 M's in Cars.com's inventory in the $85,000 - $95,000 range.
Cayenne GTS in the Market
Given that it's a Porsche, you're not looking at a value winner with this SUV. That was clear in our loaded tester, which didn't even feel like it had all the necessary SUV options and provisions for daily driving. It did at least feel like a Porsche in the way it performed on the pavement and the way it sounded and looked, though, and that may be enough for some to overlook its flaws.
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