|The Cayenne stays miraculously flat when you turn-in and inspires confidence instead of mild panic|
Fortunately for Porsche, challenging looks don’t seem to be a barrier to sales success, and the Cayenne remains a valuable cash cow (their words, not mine). It is also apparently a good way into new markets where sitting in the back of the cars you own, rather than driving them, is the thing to do.
This latest Cayenne, the GTS, is even more of an on-road off-roader than before and is being marketed as the sportiest version in the model’s line-up. It’s powered by the naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 from the Cayenne S, but thanks to a freer flowing intake system gets an extra 20bhp, taking the total up to 400. Of perhaps more importance to the sporting claim, though, is the fact that this is the first Cayenne to be made available with the combination of steel springs and PASM adjustable dampers. The former lowers the Cayenne onto its humungous 21in wheels by a further 24mm compared to the standard S, while the latter gives the driver the option of choosing between Comfort, Normal and Sport ride settings.
Get up into the cabin of the GTS and there are a few surprises. First is the sensation that you’re a child in an adult’s car: everything is rather big. The multifunction buttons on the steering wheel, for example, look as if they were designed to be operated with mittens on. The second curiosity is that it doesn’t actually feel particularly special. The new sports seats are very supportive but overall it’s just a bit dull. The third surprise, in our test car at least, is the presence of three pedals and the optional manual gearbox. I’m all for a manual ’box, but it does seem slightly incongruous here.
Turn the huge key and things improve considerably as the V8 starts expelling gases through the sports exhaust. Rich, complex and angry, it sounds like an American racing V8. It feels a bit lethargic below 4000rpm, however, so you need to work the slick gearbox to keep it spinning high where it pulls hard.
We’re in southern Portugal and the roads are fantastic. Admittedly they feel narrow in the Cayenne, but twisting, rising and falling through the forests of eucalyptus trees, they would demand your constant attention whatever you were driving. Unfortunately the steel-sprung Cayenne simply can’t match the road. It’s not giving any confidence as the front end wallows and fails to feel like it’s keying into the corners. It copes badly with compressions too, feeling all at sea and frankly rather unpleasant. Cover the Porsche badge and try to imagine what a big, heavy SUV would feel like if driven quickly and you’ll get the idea.
Fortunately it’s a major failing that’s easily rectified by spending an additional £2148 on air suspension with PDCC (Porcshe Dynamic Chassis Control), Porsche’s clever active anti-roll bar system. Now the Cayenne stays miraculously flat when you turn-in and inspires confidence instead of mild panic. Instead of having to be manhandled through corners it reacts cleanly and allows you to really feel and subtly exploit the 38:62 front:rear power split. It defies your expectations of what over two tons of 4x4 should be able to do and deserves its Porsche badge. It’s genuinely fun.
This only leaves two slightly sticky questions. One, why is the GTS, supposedly the most sporting Cayenne, not based on the 494bhp Turbo, and two, how can you possibly call what is clearly ginger ‘Nordic Gold’?