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First drive: Cayenne GTS drives to new extremes

Road-going: GTS is differentiated by 21-inch alloys, a lower ride height and Turbo-style bumpers.

Cayenne GTS emerges as quickest point-to-point Porsche SUV ever

19 Nov 2007

By MARTON PETTENDY in PORTUGAL

EIGHT months after releasing its facelifted and expanded Cayenne SUV range in Australia, Porsche has launched the wildest, most tarmac-oriented Cayenne yet seen.

Due on sale here in late March at a price of $153,500, the GTS plugs the yawning gap between the $134,500 Cayenne S upon which it is based and the range-topping Cayenne Turbo ($215,200).

Porsche bills the new GTS variant, which will be the fourth variant in the SUV line-up following the addition of the V6 entry version ($94,700) as part of the upgraded range that landed here in March, as the most road-focussed Cayenne it has produced so far, or "the sportscar of the Cayenne family".

The world's most profitable car-maker says it "can't exclude the possibility of another variant" joining the Cayenne range, which raises the spectre of the GTS treatment being applied to the ballistic Turbo flagship at some point before the Cayenne is renewed in 2010, when the sportscar manufacturer's second-generation SUV range is expected to begin being rolled out with V6, V8, V8 turbo, hybrid and possibly even diesel power.

For now, however, for the extra $19,000, the GTS adds a significant deal of performance enhancing equipment to the Cayenne S menu – apart from cosmetic changes like front/rear bumpers and side skirts from the Turbo, a roof spoiler and two unique paint colours: GTS Red and Nordic Gold metallic.

Porsche says that, despite its even more aggressive appearance thanks also to a 20mm-lower ride height and specific 21 x 10-inch alloys (which dwarf the 18x8s of the S and even the Turbo's 19 x 8.5s) with larger 295/35-section tyres, the GTS won't steal sales from the $62,000-dearer Turbo, buyers of which are expected to remain faithful to the top-shelf Cayenne.

Instead, Porsche expects GTS buyers to migrate upwards from the Cayenne S and from high-performance wagons wearing M, AMG and RS badges.

Indeed, Porsche Cars Australia believes the GTS will comprise 10 per cent of Cayenne sales locally, shrinking the Cayenne S share of the mix from 50 to 40 per cent, while the V6 should remain at 30 per cent and the Turbo at 20 per cent.

25 center imageOverall, Cayenne sales comprise about 40 per cent of PCA's sales, which will reach a new record this year. Around 1300 sales are forecast for 2007 – up from the all-time benchmark of 1264 sales achieved in 2004, when the Cayenne found a record 562 new homes in its first full year of sales.

First revealed at the Frankfurt motor show in September, the GTS also features increased negative wheel camber at both ends, 14mm-wide plastic wheelarch flares to conceal its substantially wider wheel tracks, as well as black window surrounds and door-handles, unique GTS-badged sill plates, a "satin aluminium" centre console and sports seats – the latter featuring part Alcantara trim to match the fake suede roof lining, 12-way power adjustment and memory function up front and more substantial side bolstering both front and (for the outboard positions) rear.

Turbo-style red brake callipers replace the silver S items, while the GTS steering wheel also offers beefier padding and powered column reach/rake adjustment.

Unlike in Europe, Australia's Cayenne GTS will come standard with adjustable air suspension (as do all Australian-delivery Cayennes except the V6), a six-speed automatic transmission (with more sporting gearshift points) and the option of Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), the active stabiliser bar system that was introduced on the revised Cayenne range from this year.

The GTS also gains a "Sport" button, which makes the automatic's shift points even more aggressive, improves throttle pedal response and selects the firmest setting from the standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) variable damping system, which is standard as it is on the S.

For the GTS, the Cayenne's front anti-roll bar has also been stiffened while the rear bar has been softened.

As with other Cayenne variants, a six-speed manual version can be ordered as a no-cost option for driving enthusiasts prepared to wait about three months.

Complimenting the dynamic and aesthetic improvements to the GTS is a warmed-over version of the Cayenne S petrol V8, which was increased to 4.8 litres in capacity and blessed with direct fuel-injection from this year.

Benefitting from a 6mm-larger (82mm) throttle butterfly diameter and a variable back-pressure exhaust with twin chromed dual-outlets, the tweaked GTS V8 offers 298kW at 6500rpm – 15kW and 300rpm up on the Cayenne S (283kW at 6200rpm). Peak torque is unchanged from 500Nm at 3500rpm.

Driving through a 15 per cent shorter final drive ratio (4.10:1 versus 3.55:1 for the S), the result is 0-100km/h acceleration that is three-tenths quicker in auto guise at 6.5 seconds (6.1 for the manual), as well as 0-160km/h acceleration that's half a second quicker at 15.2 seconds and 80-120km/h acceleration that's a second quicker at 7.8 seconds.

Claimed top speed also increases by 1km/h, to 251km/h (253km/h for the manual), though we saw an indicated 255km/h in both versions.

Of course, combined average fuel consumption also rises, from 13.7 to 13.9L/100km, as do CO2 emissions – from 329 to 332g/km.

Naturally, the lower ride height not only reduces ground clearance in "normal" suspension mode from 215 to 195mm, but reduces the approach and departure angles to 29.7 and 23.3 degrees respectively and the wading depth to 535mm, while the wider wheel/tyre package sees the GTS Cayenne's drag co-efficient rise from 0.35 to 0.36Cd.

Although it's unlikely to ever venture off-road, the GTS retains the 2.7:1 low-range reduction ratio and centre differential lock of other Cayennes, as well as their permanent electronic multi-plate clutch-operated all-wheel drive system comprising 38/62 per cent front/rear torque split and Porsche Traction Management (PTM) traction/stability control system.

Drive impressions:

NEWER super-SUVs from Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover and even Jeep may have threatened its status as the king of performance off-roaders, but the GTS has reinstated the Cayenne as the world's quickest point-to-point SUV.

As it proved over almost 300km of winding Potuguese roads, the GTS has the chassis rigidity, balance and poise to give it the most car-like handling of all SUVs.

It might lack the sledgehammer-style brawn of the Grand Cherokee SRT8 and the scintillating outright pace of its own Cayenne Turbo stablemate, but it also spares its occupants the hard-as-nails ride of the Jeep and the less accomplished handling ability of its far more expensive sibling.

Don't misunderstand: even on the glass-like freeway surfaces of the Algarve coast the Cayenne GTS is susceptible to fore-aft pitching and even minor road undulations have its tail twitching when taken at speed.

On the few roads B-roads that were comparable to most low-quality Australian roads, the GTS is simply too busy to bear for extended periods. And switching between the Sport, Normal and Comfort modes of the variable damping system doesn't seem to make much difference.

That is the price one pays for mid-corner grip that can only be described as mind-boggling. We expected the GTS's lower ride height, firmer springs and retuned roll bars to make the Cayenne a sharper, more precise device at speed, but for once the marketing hype proves true: the GTS handling improvement really is greater than the sum of its parts would suggest.

The combination of a stiffer front and softer rear sway bar suggests the GTS should understeer more than other Cayennes. We're unsure if it's the higher corner speeds it is capable of or the much sharper initial turn-in that masks it but, if anything, the GTS seems to offer even more oversteer than the S – both under power while exiting bends or while trail-braking deep into turns.

Either way, the GTS is one finely honed SUV that belies its weight and bulk when the road gets twisty. Think you've braked too late or turned in too sharply? No way: the GTS simply hooks into the turn, bites the bitumed hard and then slingshots out again.

What it loses to the mighty Cayenne Turbo in terms of blistering corner exit, it more than compensates for with crisper, more confidence-inspiring corner entry, much higher mid-corner speed and superior handling adjustablity on most surfaces in most conditions.

Yes, the Turbo might also come with the option of PDCC anti-sway technology, but the GTS's lower centre of gravity and firmer overall set-up sees it employs its larger and wider footprint for even greater results. That might not please those that have forked out more than $215,000 for the most expensive Porsche SUV, but augurs well when it comes to the prospect of a Cayenne Turbo S/GTS.

The optional PDCC system has proved its worth on lesser Cayenne variants by harnessing bodyroll between 0.65g and 0.8g of cornering force. Beyond that it allows enough roll for its driver to sense how much grip remains, rather than making the vehicle sit flat all the way to its limits of adhesion.

Fact is the GTS puts more rubber on the road to start with and, thanks to its stiffer set-up, telegraphs the communication between road and chassis even more precisely.

All this makes the GTS by far the sportiest example of the already-sporting Porsche SUV model, but that certainly doesn't make it a sportscar. No 2225kg vehicle could ever be regarded as such.

For further proof, witness the Cayenne's near-lifeless steering, which is worlds away from the alive-in-your-hands tillers found in the likes of a Boxster, Cayman or 911.

No there is no doubt the Cayenne GTS sets new benchmarks for a tarmac SUV and is easily the "most road-focussed Porsche SUV ever", but that's faint praise in times of global warming and unprecedented concern for the environment.

The last thing the world needs is an off-roader that's even less suited for off-road use. Rear bucket seats means it is even less of a five-seater than its donor car and reduced off-road ability means its low-range ratio is even more redundant (at least a transfer case is a practical optional on the M-class).

Porsche may be struggling to keep up with global Cayenne demand and it's true that the SUV's success has allowed Porsche to invest more capital than ever into the development of its sportscars, as well as to increase its shareholding in Volkswagen.

But none of that justifies the Cayenne, nor the GTS in particular, as a worthy addition to the long list of acclaimed models from the hallowed Germans sportscar maker.

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