Redefining the “Sport” in SUV

On the road in the Cayenne GTS Coupe.

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August 13, 2020

I was never a big fan of the Cayennes I’ve driven in the past. At some point in my life, I didn’t even like SUVs in general. These days, though, my beloved daily driver is a Macan, which I fell for quickly after having it as a service loaner for two weeks. I loved it so much that I literally returned the loaner, walked from service to sales, and bought one on the spot. It drives and handles like a car, but it still has room for things like a 75-pound Siberian Husky plus a bunch of gear.

I bring up the Macan in comparison because I have driven several Cayennes: the first-generation (9PA) Cayenne Turbo S, the second-generation (92A) base Cayenne, Turbo, and Turbo S, and the third-generation (9YA—sub-classified as the 9Y0 in standard form and 9Y3 in Coupe guise) base Cayenne. All those drives led me to the same conclusion: the Cayenne just wasn’t for me. The main reason being that the Cayennes felt like large SUVs with too much body roll.

So when the opportunity came up to try the latest third generation GTS variant, I was genuinely curious about what exactly was different about this sleek, sporty GTS Coupe, and whether it would result in the same verdict as the others, or change my mind about the Cayenne.

The Rundown


The big kicker being highlighted about this third-generation Cayenne GTS is its 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine. Porsche reverted back to a V8 after a stint with a 3.6-liter V6 in the second-gen GTS. This is a very different V8 than before, taken from the updated Turbo models but tamed a bit. It makes 453 horsepower (an increase of 13 hp vs. the second-gen) and 457 lb-ft of torque (up 15 lb-ft).

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Return of the V8—now with twin-turbos.

There are several efficiencies achieved with this new engine compared to the old V6. It’s actually more compact due to placing the dual opposing-spin turbochargers inside the cylinder V. Its overall smaller dimensions allow it to be placed lower in the car, giving it a lower center of gravity. This design arrangement also means a shorter path for the exhaust gas to the turbos, improving throttle response, and an optimized direct fuel injection system improves combustion and efficiency. Additionally, there are tweaks in the production in both process and materials that help reduce wear and increase strength and rigidity.

You can now sprint 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds (an improvement of 0.6 seconds over the second-gen) with Performance Start, the non-PDK version of Launch Control that’s part of the Sport Chrono package. Power-wise, compared to other updated Cayennes, the GTS Coupe’s 453 hp engine sits slightly above the Cayenne S (at 434 hp) and below the Turbo (at 541 hp). As you can see, the power is much closer to the S than the Turbo. Given that the price of the GTS Coupe ($110,500) is so much higher than the Cayenne S ($85,100), what else are you paying for?

The GTS-exclusive Sport exhaust system comes standard with a muffler that differentiates in volume and has a reduction in sound deadening components. This allows the occupants to better hear the exhaust notes from inside the cabin. If you opt for the Lightweight Sport Package that came on this test car, there is an additional option only available on the Coupe—a special exhaust system with two separate pipes originating from the center muffler extending all the way to the exclusive centrally-mounted oval tailpipes (instead of the outer sides). This design generates a higher frequency sound giving a unique pitch for the GTS Coupe.

On a side note, the Cayenne has the most exhaust system options of any Porsche platform. There is the base model exhaust, the standard Turbo model exhaust, then Sport exhaust options for both, and now the two distinct GTS exhaust versions.

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Color accent options are part of the GTS Interior Package.

The latest chassis technology improvements across the Porsche lineup are also seen here in the Cayenne GTS models, including the active all-wheel drive Porsche Traction Management (PTM) system, which manages and optimizes the power distribution between the front and rear axles. Air suspension and the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) damper controls have been configured specially for the GTS with a sportier setup. This lowers the GTS’ ride height by 30 mm (1.2 in.) compared to an S.

Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV+) is also standard on the GTS models, which calculates a number of key factors and distributes the power to optimize the steering response, handling, and traction under various driving conditions. Our European-spec test vehicle came with optional Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), but you also have the standard cast iron or the new Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (PSCB) to choose from. Stopping power comes from standard six-piston calipers in the front on 390 mm (15.35 in.) discs and four-piston calipers on 358 mm (14.1 in.) discs in the rear. This is 28 mm (1.1 in.) wider in the rear in comparison to the Cayenne S.

Another option that sets the GTS models apart is Rear-Axle Steering. This improves steering response, precision, handling prowess, and stabilization at high speeds. The turning radius also decreases from 39.7 ft to 37.8 ft. And finally, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) is a 48-volt active roll stabilization system that further improves handling and reduces body roll. As you can see, numerous technological features come together to give the GTS Coupe a unique driving experience compared to other Cayenne models.

Outside & In

The design of the GTS Coupe floored me. I got to see it next to the standard GTS model, and it was night and day between the two. The primary difference is the sharply sloping roofline and rear window that significantly trims down the rear and instantly gives it a more coupe-like silhouette. Wrapped in Carmine Red and the high-gloss black trim that is a signature detail on the GTS models, this was an unexpected beauty to behold.

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Our test vehicle came with the $12,620 optional Lightweight Sport Package in Carbon Fiber, which includes extensive carbon fiber from the entire roof down to the side mirrors, tailpipes, and interior. This option also upgrades the standard 21-inch RS Spyder Design wheels to 22-inch GT Design wheels. The second-gen only had 20-inch wheels. And finally, for that hefty price tag you get that exclusive, GTS Coupe-only center-mounted Sport exhaust. This particular test car came with sticky Yokohama Advan Sport tires (285/35-ZR22 in the front, and 315/30-ZR22 in the rear), which I told was one of the summer tire options that would be available with this SUV. These would be no different than the options that come with the other Cayennes.

The lower ride height from the standard Air Suspension and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) makes a big difference in the GTS Coupe’s overall silhouette. It’s still a big vehicle, but the Coupe’s lines bring extra sophistication to it. I see on the internet that people find using the term Coupe in the model name controversial, based on the definition of the word. I understand the validity of the argument, but I give it a pass as simply the spirit of using the word for the differentiated roofline shape of the vehicle compared to the classic Cayenne form.

The adaptive rear spoiler extends out quite a bit and is another differentiator of the GTS Coupe. The doors are soft-close (at $780 for the option). It’s an elegant detail, but I prefer a decisive, single solid sound signifying closure of the heavy doors.

The interior has trim in the aforementioned carbon fiber, as well as black brushed aluminum and the new Race-Tex suede-like material that is being used in the latest Porsches. The instrument panel is the new standard Porsche analog center tachometer with digital side displays. I’m familiar with the main touch-screen display, but I am not a fan of the touch buttons around the shift lever. When I’m driving, I need the tactile feel and feedback to know what button I’m pushing based just on location reference and feel. Having to look down that far while driving to make sure you’re touching the exact right spot is not ideal.

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Comfort options abound, including 18-way adaptive sport seats.

The 18-way adaptive sport seats not only hold you securely on spirited roads, but they also provide a surprisingly comfortable sleeping option as the seats practically lie flat. I can personally vouch for actual sleep comfort, as I took a 30-minute nap at some point during my nine hours of test time. This is actually important for me, as I am on long drives in the middle of the night several times during the year, and I do need to pull over to nap at rest stops. There are numerous other features and options not named here, but if you want more in-cabin luxury and comfort, it’s likely already standard or is available as an option.

On the Road

Would the GTS Coupe hold up to the expectation of the “sportiest” model in the lineup? We took to some mountain roads with low and high speed turns where the Cayenne can best showcase its ability to find out.

Angeles Crest Highway

This well-known stretch of mountain road was the perfect place to test the prowess of the GTS Coupe. It contains varying-speed corners with occasional decently long stretches to ramp up speed a bit. The center-mounted Sport exhaust system hums a beautiful tune as you start up the car, and really opens up some pretty glorious notes as the rpm climbs and higher speeds are reached.

The eight-speed Tiptronic S transmission shifted gears effortlessly, although I did switch it to manual mode at one point. As expected, the Tiptronic shift timing is not as crisp or precise as the PDK I’ve grown accustomed to in other Porsches, but considering how Cayennes will primarily be driven, you wouldn’t notice it unless you were doing some really spirited driving.

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I started a little conservatively, as I had no idea what to expect of the car’s handling. In the Sport Plus suspension and drive modes, I quickly found that I could push it further, as the car felt very solid and stable through corners, and handling was surprisingly agile considering its 4,932-lb curb weight. I never thought I would be able to dive into corners the way I did in a vehicle of this size!

The car was so confidence-inspiring that it wasn’t difficult to frequently reach the grip limits of the tires (at least those specific Advans in the condition they were in) and squealing around corners, which captured some surprised looks from the usual bands of sports car enthusiasts camped out at various lookout points. We ran into a group of such cars on the road, and while they weren’t fully pushing it, we had no trouble keeping up in the GTS.

I also tested a second-gen 2016 Cayenne GTS for comparison on the same route up and down Angeles Crest. As good as that one felt compared to other Cayennes, the new third-gen GTS Coupe felt noticeably better across multiple factors. Agility and stability were the main points, but there were finer details as well that are absolutely worth an upgrade if you currently own a second-gen GTS. I was definitely able to achieve faster times and drive with more confidence and precision through the corners in the new GTS Coupe. A big thank you to Porsche Woodland Hills for securing that vehicle for me.

Lake Piru

Back in the new GTS Coupe, the drive to Lake Piru took about 90 minutes, which would be a decent commute. Cruising on the highway was as expected. The ride quality in all chassis and transmission mode combinations were comfortable enough even for a lengthy drive. So regardless of your driving preference, you will have a comfortable experience. We had some breathing room from traffic and were able to test out the acceleration properly. It felt a little slower than I expected, but 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds is very good for an SUV.

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Carbon-fiber touches are part of the Lightweight Sports Package.

Once we got into the mountains, we had an opportunity to test the vehicle’s handling once again and go over some rougher terrain for fun. Having been at the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles and seeing what the Cayenne’s off-road capabilities are, I had confidence in this aspect of performance.

Most of the time, you won’t be carving mountain roads in a Cayenne. You’ll likely be on a commute and might carry a load. From a comfort perspective during normal, everyday driving, the biggest difference I noticed is a much-improved cruising experience with regards to roll and pitch, at least compared to the other Cayennes I’ve driven. The GTS Coupe sits lower, is much more stable, and has migrated much closer to feeling like driving a car, while the other model Cayennes reminded me of driving a truck. I’m probably a little more motion-sensitive than most people, but this was the single biggest reason I bought a Macan over the Cayenne, other than the price difference.

After I returned the car, I heard the vehicle maintenance crew asked the Porsche spokesperson I was chatting with to come outside to look at something on the car. Apparently, I had driven the last signs of life out of those Advans, and they were going to need to replace them in the morning for the next driver.

The Verdict

So is this Cayenne a buy? That always depends on the purpose of the car and whether it intersects with what you—the driver—wants. For me, the Cayenne GTS Coupe finally achieved the balance I felt was missing in the previous generations and models of Cayennes I’ve driven. It is the closest to feeling like driving a sports car, with the agility and handling that gives it outstanding cornering abilities. Acceleration is fast enough to feel powerful, but that’s not the priority for me.

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The carbon roof saves 46 lbs compared to the glass version.

I define “sporty” in an SUV platform as being more about the handling than the 0-60 mph times. And indeed here it shines. It feels more nimble in the corners than you’d ever expect from a vehicle this size. If you prefer all-out power, the Turbo models will be a better bet. With all the GTS-only trim and options, it just looks expensive and feels exclusive with its black trim and carbon detailing. The combination of the lowered right height and the sleek rear lines now puts it at the top of my board for best-looking SUV on the market, next to the Macan.

The second main consideration here is the price. While the base price starts at $110,500, you can easily blow right past that. Be prepared to drop extra cash on the options. Don’t bother getting the GTS Coupe without them. You will want the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) at $3,590 and the Rear-Axle Steering at $1,620. That’s the stuff that gives the GTS its extra edge handling the corners. If that’s not a priority for you, you can get the Cayenne S for a lot less and be just as happy.

The Lightweight Sport Package in Carbon Fiber is $12,620, which includes the GTS Coupe-exclusive center exhaust plus the carbon fiber roof and trim that makes everything feel luxurious. It’s the most expensive option you can invest in, but it just looks and sounds so good. The Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) are a nice-to-have, but won’t be needed for most people, especially considering the $9,080 price tag.

If you go on a lot of long trips or have kids, you might want to go for the wireless charging compartment, Rear-Seat Entertainment Package, which runs $380 for the preparation and $1,920 for the entertainment system itself. I could personally do without the 18-way sport seats ($1,710), four-zone climate control ($990), head-up display ($1,720), insulated glass ($1,130), and surround view ($1,200). But if you enjoy all the luxuries and comforts and fun technology, the details will add up. By then, you’re well into Turbo model prices and could possibly reconsider your priorities.

Our test vehicle was pretty loaded with options and went from a base price of $110,500 to $161,170. That’s a whopping 45 percent bump! That said, if I were to ever spring for a Cayenne, hands-down—this would be the one.

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