Words by: Adam Allen
Well, this is embarrassing.
All these years we’ve been preaching from the sports car pulpit, admonishing our Carpages Garage congregants for thinking high performance SUVs are a fitting alternative to sports cars. The centre of gravity is too high, we’d thunder. How can something so heavy even be remotely considered sporty, we wondered aloud? Installing a powerful engine under the hood and tweaking the suspension to serve up unbelievable levels of grip doth not a sports car make, said we. Yes, we have really enjoyed flogging weapons grade SUVs in the past like the Mercedes Benz GLC 63 and the BMW X5 M Competition, and yes, they utterly shocked us at how capable and fun to drive they can be. At the end of the day, they are still SUVs and while they are adept at pasting a huge smile on their driver’s face they cannot be mentioned in the same company as their C 63 and M5 counterparts. There is a hard limit to how much driving pleasure you can wring out of a high riding brute...right?
The Cayenne Coupe GTS looks at this universal truth, the very same one we’ve been subscribing to since forever, and cries “Heresy!” Wait till you see what I can do, it seemed to whisper in the parking lot of Porsche headquarters as we went to collect it recently. From our perspective, it appeared to be like any old Cayenne, except that it was perched on striking 22” black wheels and slathered in fetching Carmine Red paint. We almost forgot that it was the new Coupe body style because the Porsche stylists have managed to coax a handsome shape out of the sloping roofline motif where others (we’re looking at you, Benz GLE Coupe and BMW X6) are kind of hard to look at. After testing the traditional ignition key on the left side, we smiled- the unmistakable soundtrack of V8 music roared to life, amplified through two centrally mounted exhaust cannons. After adjusting mirrors, pairing phones and thumbing the Sports exhaust button on the console for extra noise (a mandatory pre-journey task) we had no idea how much this Cayenne would get under our skin.
The houndstooth seats certainly didn’t hurt- they are equally great to look at and sit in- but they weren’t cooled, and over the week that saw temperatures rise to where you could fry an egg on the sidewalk we wished they were. Some of us remarked how dour it was inside, lacking any nod to flourishes of colour or brushed aluminum (although there is carbon fibre sprinkled here and there, and it is terrific) yet build quality is still typically unimpeachable. Others still wished for a bigger nod to luxury features like massaging thrones and considering the price tag they may have been right to expect more in that department. However, none of these minor quibbles mattered whatsoever when juxtaposed with the Cayenne’s inherent excellence.
In GTS trim, the Cayenne Coupe is positioned as the one for drivers. It has a whole bunch of the go-fast performance bits as standard kit that you can add to any trim level, but there’s a value proposition at play. Stuff like rear wheel steering, torque vectoring and Porsche’s PDDC Sport system are standard and are all ingredients that add up to a rather tasty dish. There are faster versions that go all the way up to the new top-dog Turbo GT variant, but our tester strikes us a kind of sweet spot. Besides, 0-100km/h in a claimed (and conservative) 4.5 seconds is not what you’d call slow. If you buy a Cayenne Coupe GTS just for straight line speed, well, you’re doing it wrong.
That’s because the Cayenne drives sweetly, with a degree of precision that is unheard of for an SUV. We didn’t think that those adjectives would belong in describing the driving experience for something that is better suited for a run to the ski chalet than carving apexes, but here we are.
Despite tipping the scales at a not svelte 2,212 kilos, Porsche engineers have somehow managed to make it feel like 500 of those kilos are not even there. Hustle a GTS down a sinewy road and you would swear that the quoted curb weight is a mistake. Fine, you say. Anyone can make even an SUV reasonable spry but the suspension tuning ultimately yields a ride so firm it becomes borderline intolerable. Not so fast, dear tut-tutting reader. The Cayenne GTS features exemplary ride quality, nailing that elusive balancing act of comfort and handling prowess. That they managed to do just that on an SUV sporting 22” wheels wrapped in summer performance tires is even more impressive. Toggle the Drive Mode selector into any setting you wish, and while the ride does get stiffer the more aggressive you go it never feels unduly harsh.
The drivetrain will also change its demeanor depending on your what setting you have called up, but we found Normal mode to be the best fit for most situations. It doesn’t feel like it’s holding back and will hold gears as needed but not unnecessary long, shifting into 8th gear whenever possible to conserve fuel. The ZF gearbox works just as well here as it does anywhere else in the automotive world but with the added bonus of Porsche calibration, which means that it feels telepathic because it always seems to be in the right ratio for any given circumstance. The 4.0 V8 it’s mated to is a sweetheart, providing a rumbling surge of low-end twist around town and charging eagerly to redline when you fully uncork it. Again, don’t forget to make sure that the Sports Exhaust is always in its most aggressive setting because you’ll want to hear this baby sing.
One final note about the dynamic delights on the GTS menu: the braking. Porsche has long been known as a purveyor of the best stoppers in the business, but most of that praise is lavished on their sports cars. Now you can mention the Cayenne in that heady company because not only do the brakes shrug off massive amounts of kinetic energy without fade, but the pedal feel is just about perfect. Never mind other SUVs, there are a good number of sports cars out there who could benefit from such a proficiently judged control interface.
The Cayenne has seen many phases as it has evolved since 2003. From brand saviour to a source of angst for Porsche purists, it is loved by families the world over and it keeps the company coffers flushed with cash to allow such gems as the 911 GT3 and Cayman GT4 to exist. It can easily conquer inclement weather and even surprisingly excel off-road for those brave enough to try. After spending a week in the Cayenne Coupe GTS, we think you can decisively add driving enjoyment to an already impressive CV. Yes, it is that good and it took us a while to come around but here we are telling you how immensely satisfying the Cayenne is to drive from an enthusiast standpoint.
That embarrassment we felt? If other SUVs can match the Cayenne Coupe GTS for driving nirvana, we’ll get over it.
2021 Porsche Cayenne Coupe GTS – Specifications
- Price as tested: $157,920
- Body Type: 5-door, 4 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 4.0-litre twin turbo V8, DOHC, 32 valves
- Horsepower: 453 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 457 @ 1,800 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,212 kg (4,877 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 13.8/100km (17 mpg)