First Drive: 2013 Porsche Cayenne GTS

Porsche has a habit of subdividing its vehicle lines into as many models as possible, and the Cayenne is no exception. The latest derivation is the 2013 Cayenne GTS, which was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show, combines the naturally aspirated demeanor of the Cayenne S with the aggressive design cues of the Turbo. While that may sound like a recipe for a limited-appeal, enthusiast-only model, Porsche is confident that it will find plenty of buyers: the first-generation Cayenne GTS accounted for 17 percent of the nameplate's sales. We drove the GTS along winding two-lane roads, up a mountain pass, and on a small test track in Austria to see if it really felt different form a Cayenne S.

The heart of the GTS is the same 4.8-liter V-8 engine from the Cayenne S, but upgraded by 20 hp and 12 lb-ft of torque to 420 hp and 381 lb-ft. The power increase comes courtesy of a more aggressive intake camshaft, stronger valve springs, and a reprogrammed engine computer. Porsche says the GTS will reach 62 mph in 5.4 seconds, which is two-tenths quicker than the S but exactly one second slower than the 500-hp Cayenne Turbo.

"Of course you can drive faster with the Turbo," says Porsche SUV line director Dr. Michael Leiters, "But we wanted to have an emotional and purist car with the GTS."

To that end, the SUV also gets a new Sound Symposer, which channels noise from the twin air boxes to each A-pillar, creating a loud snarl inside the cabin. The sports exhaust also has a valve that opens to make the car louder in Sport mode. The end result is that the GTS sounds much more engaging and aggressive than any other Cayennes. With Sport mode turned off, however, the GTS remains about as quiet under acceleration as other versions of the SUV.

The engine mates to an eight-speed automatic transmission that has been slightly reworked to reduce shift times by five percent. There is no manual transmission, as the take rate for the six-speed stick in the old Cayenne GTS was a negligible three percent. Fortunately the standard Sport Design steering wheel, optional on other models, has big metal shift paddles that are much easier to use than the frustrating shift toggles on other Cayennes. The GTS also benefits from a final drive ratio that is 20 percent shorter than other Cayenne models, to improve acceleration.

We drove the new GTS from Lake Woerther in southern Austria to the nearby OeAMTC test track, but we first made a detour to Nockberge National Park. Within the park, the 21-mile Nockalm Road cuts up and down a mountain, peaking at about 6700 feet and includes 52 major bends along the way. Needless to say, it's an ideal route for a version of Cayenne that's supposed to feel like a sports car.

Thanks in part to the shorter gear ratio, the GTS explodes away from each turn with more verve than its 420-hp rating might suggest. There's a wonderful and seriously loud snarl from the exhaust and Sound Symposer, giving way to delightful crackles on overrun when you lift the throttle or downshift. Even though the V-8 doesn't reach its peak horsepower output until 6500 rpm, torque builds early enough to make swift progress without constant downshifting. Our tester wore Porsche's optional Ceramic Composite Brakes, providing firm and consistent braking that is reassuring given that most sections of the Nockalm Road have steep drops without guardrails.

By the time we reached the tight, narrow OeAMTC test track, it had been thoroughly soaked by a morning of heavy rain. That made the Cayenne GTS's handling traits far more apparent at lower speeds: on damp sweeping turns, the Cayenne settles into juddering understeer; in sharp corners, the back end will gently step out if you're impatient with the throttle. The carbon-ceramic brakes always stopped the 4597-pound SUV without any problems. The course we used at OeAMTC included a section of a go-kart track, which was barely wide enough for our Cayennes but still allowed us to reach about 75 mph on the longest straight.

The Cayenne GTS bears the more muscular front fascia and hood from the Cayenne Turbo, along with blacked-out exhaust tips, gloss-black trim, body-color side skirts, red-painted brake calipers, dark-tinted headlights with quad LED running lights from the Turbo, and a unique twin-level rear spoiler. Black, 20-inch RS Spyder wheels are standard, though our testers were outfitted with 21-inch wheels. So that the GTS's wheels sit flush against the fenders, the front track is widened by 0.51 inch, and the rear track increases by 0.67 inch.

Tweaked suspension allows the American-spec GTS to ride 0.78 inch lower than other versions of the Cayenne; European models without air suspension are lowered by 0.94 inch, but that would make the SUV too low to count as a light-duty truck under U.S. regulations. The standard brakes are identical to those on the Cayenne S, albeit with the calipers painted red instead of silver. Two new colors are exclusive to the Cayenne GTS: Carmine Red and the bright-green Peridot Metallic. Each is a $3140 option, and includes color-matched seatbelts. No cars were available in the eye-searing Peridot hue on our drive, as the paint hadn't yet been put into production at the Leipzig, Germany assembly plant.

Upgrades to the cabin begin with unique Alcantara-lined seats, as well as Alcantara lining on the door panels, headliner, and center console. The SportChrono system comes standard, representing the first time the stopwatch and lap timer feature has been offered on the Cayenne. Also standard on the GTS is Porsche Active Suspension Management, which automatically varies the firmness of each shock absorber to balance ride quality and handling.

Although the new GTS model is quite pricey -- $83,025 after destination, which is $16,200 more than a 2013 Cayenne S -- it's actually a relatively good value when you consider the level of standard equipment. Besides the extra power, lowered suspension, shorter final-drive, and Sound Symposer that are unique to the GTS, much of the model's standard equipment is a pricey option on other versions of the SUV. Optioning a Cayenne S with similar visual modifications, interior upgrades, and components like PASM and Air Suspension could easily match or surpass the cost of a Cayenne GTS. And some parts, like the quad-LED running lights, black liftgate trim, and red brake calipers are only offered for the Turbo and GTS models. In fact, so much equipment is bundled as standard that there are no options packages available for the Cayenne GTS, though buyers can still order individual options.

With that in mind, it's easy to see the appeal of the Porsche Cayenne GTS. It's fast, huge fun to drive, and it sounds far more aggressive than any other version of the German SUV. Add in the fact that it looks considerably bolder thanks to the new wheels and Turbo-inspired body parts, and the GTS begins to look like the coolest way to configure a Cayenne.

SPECS
2013 Porsche Cayenne GTS

On sale: August 2012
Base price: $83,025 (including $975 destination charge)
Engine: 4.8L V-8, 420 hp and 381 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: 4-wheel
0-60 mph: 5.4 seconds
Top Speed: 162 mph

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I am shocked, shocked I tell you that an autowriter after being wined and dined in Germany gives a glowing report of a car they are reviewing!

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