More than a little flak was thrown my way when I published a photo taken at the 2001 Porsche Parade held in Milwaukee of a PCA member wearing a T-shirt with the words, “The Heck With Le Mans We’re Building SUVs”. That sentiment was a reaction to Porsche’s decision to pull out of competition in the great race at la Sarthe in favor of investing in producing the Cayenne. It quickly became clear that their decision impacted the Porsche faithful deeply. History, however, has proven that Porsche’s response to the demand in the marketplace for a Porsche-badged SUV quite literally helped save the company financially. In fact, the Cayenne turned into our favorite marque’s best-selling model.
That really shouldn’t have been a surprise since German brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz were having success selling SUVs, and none of their faithful were wearing snarky T-shirts. And despite the vast difference in size between the two companies, recent sales figures for the Porsche Cayenne vs. the Mercedes Benz GLE series show that the relatively tiny Porsche brand sold almost three times as many Cayennes as its gigantic Stuttgart neighbor did GLEs in the same time frame.
My assignment for this article was to drive the Cayenne GTS you see here from my home in Northern New Jersey to Southern Indiana. A quick check of the map revealed that it was an 800-mile ramble across several states. Joining me on this trip is my friend George Beuselinck from 944 Ecology.
Load Up & Roll Out
When the press loaner arrived in my driveway, its melodic exhaust rumble made my dogs’ ears perk up. My neighbors know that occasionally press loaners appear by the garage and when they do, I always offer a walk-about and then a ride around the neighborhood. A Ford Mustang-owning friend was walking by on his daily exercise jaunt when the music of the Porsche’s V8 stopped him in his tracks. While his 5.0 V8 Ford has a great sound, he admitted he preferred the Cayenne’s standard Sport exhaust’s baritone rumble—high praise indeed.
We planned to be in Indiana on Sunday, so we had to leave New Jersey on Saturday at Zero-Dark-Thirty. That meant filling up the luggage compartment the night before to ensure an early, stress-free departure. Since the trip would span eight days, we had a few suitcases and just-in-case rain gear. I also had two pro camera bags, some lighting gear, and a very serious (meaning big) tripod.
Given all that kit, we were concerned that we would fill up the back of the Cayenne and have to invade the rear seat area. Color us surprised because, like the proverbial circus clown car, our trusty Teutonic steed gobbled up every bit of gear we threw at it and stood ready for more. So while George B. calls his beloved 944s “Porsche pick-up trucks,” he had to admit the Cayenne’s capacity for cargo was virtual light-years better.
The week we were scheduled to drive west recorded the highest gasoline prices of the year. Blame OPEC, Covid, or Lord Voldemort. My back-of-the-envelope calculations told me that our Cayenne GTS could drain my wallet if I pushed the loud pedal too hard. That meant careful use of the Sport and Sport Plus settings. With an EPA combined mpg rating of just 19 and around a 2,000-mile round trip facing us with 93 octane selling for over $3.50 per gallon, the gas penalty could exceed $350.
Having driven many turbo-powered cars in my career, I learned that if you keep the revs low on the highway, you could record surprisingly good mileage numbers. Since our trip would be mainly on the highway, we followed that plan, and we were able to drive a lot in eighth gear while delivering a carefully measured 26 mpg! Color me amazed.
For those unfamiliar with Porsche model terminology, the GTS tag reveals that Porsche’s engineers have breathed a little extra magic into the engine and other important bits of chassis paraphernalia. Under the hood, the GTS’s twin-turbo V8 delivers 453 horsepower, a step up from the base and the S models but a few steps below the 541-hp and 631-hp of the two top-of-the-line internal combustion engine models.
In my times with this beautiful beast, though, we never felt a lack of get-up-and-go for a second. It cruised from New Jersey to Indiana at an average speed (with gas and biology breaks) of over 70 mph. It especially impressed us as it ate up the hilly asphalt highways in Pennsylvania better than that hot dog guy at Nathan’s in Coney Island. And thanks to the brilliant design of the Tiptronic S transmission and the engine’s robust torque band, it did it all in top gear.
As a kid, I read road tests in Car and Driver and Road & Track and got jealous when the reviewer opined that a particular car was so comfortable after a long trip that the driver and passenger got out of the vehicle none the worse for wear. Of course, I drove Volkswagen Beetles back then, so driving comfort over long distances was just a dream. In this Porsche, though, those dreams became a reality. My co-pilot and I both felt that the 18-way adjustable buckets cuddled our hinter regions as comfortably or better than the best sports seats in the marketplace.
Also important for comfort, at, ahem, our generally “brisk” pace, wind noise was low, and road noise was only intrusive when our Cayenne’s gigantic Pirelli rubber—285/40R-21 in front and 315/35R-21 in back—encountered rough road surfaces. That meant we spent a lot of our journey speaking at normal conversational levels. A cockpit so quiet there was no shouting. You have to love that!
The Cayenne’s Bose Surround Sound infotainment system in our $120,000+ dream machine included all of the usual melodic and Bluetooth suspects along with a surprisingly competent and easy-to-use SAT-NAV system. With careful study of the encyclopedic owner’s manual, we found out how to display the navigation information on both the huge center-dash screen (George B. may be the world’s best navigator) and in a smaller but still easy-to-read pod to the right of the speedo. In eight days of driving, we never got lost.
Despite the Cayenne’s weight (it’s greater than two tons) and its head-level height, handling on twisty backroads and tight exit ramps was a revelation. Even though most of our trip was on highways, we had no trouble following two-seat Porsches through winding two-lanes over a 125-mile backroad route. Yes, the grippy summer tires on 21-inch wheels were part of the equation. Still, there are brilliant electronic and mechanical nannies down below, like Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), Adaptive Air suspension that includes Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), the GTS’s standard 30 mm (1.2 in.) lower ride height, and standard Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV+) seamlessly working their magic to make the driving experience drama-free.
And then there are the brakes. One morning as we were driving to a local café for breakfast, three deer with a death wish bounded over the guardrail and sped across the bow of our Porsche. I hit the brakes like I meant it, and to our amazement, we missed them all with just inches—not feet—to spare. The last of the trio disappeared momentarily below the front of the hood, just out of our vision. It popped back up unharmed, gave us a look, and sped off to join her friends—we swear she was snickering. George B. described the braking as “Hand of God,” and three deer out there could vouch for that.
In addition to being equipped for impressive performance, this GTS is also filled with lots of amenities that make driving relaxing and safer. This press loaner was fitted with Surround View (great for parking in tight spots), wireless cell phone charging, auto-dimming mirrors, Comfort Access (the key stays in your pocket), and maybe the most useful for our over 2,000 miles of mostly highway driving, Lane Change Assist. It also had my “I wish all of my cars had this” option—a heated steering wheel. Our time in the Cayenne GTS was spent in intensely hot days, so this fantastic option was never needed. But if you live, like I do, in a place that gets cold in the winter, you should spend the $450 it costs and get ready to send me a thank you card on the first frigid morning.
We experienced “biblical” rain from Indiana through Pennsylvania on the way back home—the worst since Noah reached for his carpentry tools. How bad? We passed quite a few vehicles that had spun out and crashed into guard rails along with many others inching along with their four-way flashers going full-tilt boogie.
While passing them, I asked George B. if he knew how fast we were going. He speculated we were going about 45 mph—in reality, we were going, safely and securely, over 65 mph. Yes, once again, our remarkable Pirelli tires were a big part of it, but the Porsche engineered stability control and handling magic were clearly involved. Thanks to the inherent goodness of our Cayenne’s design, we never put a wheel wrong in the stormy 800-mile trip home to New Jersey.
Were there gripes? Yes, but very few of them. If I were going to nit-pick, I would like to have a way to turn off the “stop-start” function for good (shh, don’t tell the EPA). Also, the “flappy paddles” that can be used to shift the brilliant eight-speed transmission manually are a little too close to the back of the steering wheel for my Oscar Mayer jumbo hot dog-sized fingers. Over the many miles we drove, I never once used them. Why? Because, once, at a race track, with the great David Donohue sitting right seat, I was shifting a Cayman R like I knew what I was doing when David tapped me on the arm and said, “Put it in D…it’s better than you are.” The Cayenne GTS is the same—another lesson learned the hard way.
George B. and I once did a Florida road trip in a first-generation Cayenne. We were surprised that anything that looked that much like a truck could deliver such an exciting “Porsche Quality” driving experience. Years later, after Porsche has lavished two decades of attention and a lot of their world-class engineering expertise on the successors to those early offerings, the new Cayenne continues to be better in every measurable way.
You can drive it very much like a sports car and enjoy 0-60 mph jaunts in less than four seconds. On a skidpad, you can generate road holding in the 1.0g range. Want to embarrass that pimple-faced kid in the fart-can blatting sport compact? No problemo. You have a sub-13-second quarter-mile run under your right foot that you can effortlessly do while listening to the sultry sounds of Beethoven on the Bose-enhanced satellite radio.
More important, you can then take it to the local warehouse store to pack in mega-sized boxes of essentials. When that’s done, you can go over to the soccer field with your kids and their gear while still enjoying the uplifting feeling you can only get from a Porsche—not the soul-killing drudgery of driving a mini-van penalty box! Oh, the humanity…
When you spend a week driving over 2,000 miles in a vehicle, you get to know its qualities—good and bad, inside out. This latest version of the Cayenne GTS is rich in the best of the industry’s finest driving assets. And the Cayenne shows why it remains the Porsche brand’s biggest-selling model line. Yes, it’s a big, heavy truck-like vehicle. But don’t be fooled. It’s still a Porsche!