A deep, crackling exhaust note sings through northern Sweden’s endless sea of snow and forest, and mounds of snow and ice are rising in swirly puffs. We lift a frozen boot and tap the brake pedal to engage the standard carbon-ceramic rotors, shifting the weight toward the front axle as we remember not to enter the next corner with too much gusto. We’re thinking, “Stay patient; wait for it,” but every instinct is telling us to give in and unleash all 570 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. For a fleeting moment, as we finally nail the throttle and keep this 4,927-pound German locomotive from jumping the track, we forget all the dogma. It doesn’t cross our mind that in the fun Porsches, the real Porsches, the engine isn’t supposed to be up front.
So how is it that an SUV can provide this much entertainment? Part of it is that driving on snow and ice is fun in most any vehicle. But credit also the engineering of the refreshed, high-powered 2016 Porsche Cayenne. Never mind that a microscopic percentage of Cayenne owners will ever put their super-luxe SUV through anything more strenuous than racing for a parking spot outside Neiman Marcus. Porsche knows full well that to customers, the knowledge of what’s possible is part of what helps sell ever-rising quantities of well-equipped Cayennes.
Plenty of brawn
We learn exactly what Cayenne owners are missing out on at a former military base outside of Skelleftea, Sweden, where we test the limits of the Cayenne GTS and Turbo S in winter conditions.
The Turbo S is the heavy hitter of the Cayenne lineup. Its 4.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 bellows with 50 more hp and 37 lb-ft of torque more than the Cayenne Turbo. The Turbo S’s astronomical output of 570 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque is achieved with larger turbochargers placed directly in the exhaust manifold for faster spooling.
The Cayenne GTS, which sits between the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo, features a new twin-turbo V-6. It’s hardly a weakling, serving up more power than the V-8 it replaces with 440 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque. The engine is also more efficient and is 42 pounds lighter.
The sporty-looking GTS is some 275 pounds lighter than the Turbo S, and it feels more nimble. Power delivery is smooth as can be once the turbos are spooled up. Torque is readily available and totally level from 1,200 to about 5,200 rpm. In comparison, torque from the Turbo S crescendos to its momentous peak from 2,500 to 4,000 rpm. If the lighter and more precise GTS navigates the former military base with sniper-like precision, the Turbo S is an unguided rocket launcher fired from the hip.
On a wide, empty circle of ice, we’re able to exercise the Turbo S’s power without restraint. We disable all of the electronic nannies and commence doughnut-izing. We fly in frenzied circles like a second hand around a frozen watch face. The Turbo S is so powerful that even out here we can smell the winter tires roasting.
No shortage of brains
But on snow and ice, added muscle alone doesn’t make the Cayenne much quicker around this tricky handling course. All the power in the world is no good without grip, and even on winter tires it takes some effort to maneuver the Cayenne Turbo S with grace. We’re grateful for the standard air suspension, which combined with active anti-roll bars keeps the big hunk of metal on an even keel no matter how we try to capsize it. It takes barely any effort to spin the wheels and coax the beastly Turbo S into satisfying misbehavior, but Porsche’s crime-fighting alliance of electronic watchdogs intervene at unpredictable times, making it tough to execute your chosen driving line.
We have better luck with the 2016 Porsche Cayenne GTS. Porsche engineers tell us that the electronic stability and traction control systems in this model are a little looser on the reins, and the result is far more enjoyable. The system lets us drift around sweeping bends with ease, stepping in when we get cocky and enter the corner too aggressively.
Porsche knows as well as anyone else that the Turbo S is overkill. But Turbo S buyers want the absolute peak of performance and engineering, and if they’re seriously considering it, they won’t even blink an eye at the $158,295 price for the hallowed badge. We’d much rather live with the more expressively styled Cayenne GTS, which is totally capable, still well-equipped, and more than $60,000 cheaper.
These are not the Porsches you’re looking for … or are they?
We all know that it’s only by the hot-selling grace of cars such as the Cayenne and Panamera that we ended up with hypercars like the 918 and purebreds like the upcoming Cayman GT4. The 2016
Porsche Cayenne GTS and Turbo S might not be the Porsche sports cars that get purists’ seal of approval, but they nonetheless have a crucial role to play.
In many ways, the Cayenne is even more impressive of an engineering accomplishment than modern-day Porsche sports cars. It’s one thing to make a rear- or mid-engine sports car even faster and better performing, but it’s something else entirely to make a vehicle capable of extreme winter performance, logic-defying track capability, serious towing capacity, and everyday usability. Porsche engineers prove their chops not because they can make a falcon fly even faster, but because they can hatch a warthog with wings that actually keeps up.
2016 Porsche Cayenne GTS, Turbo S
- On Sale: April 2015
- Base price: $96,495/$158,295 (GTS/Turbo S)
- Engines: 3.6L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve twin-turbo V-6/440 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 443 lb-ft @ 1,600-5,000 rpm; 4.8L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8/570 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 590 lb-ft at 2,500-4,000 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
- Fuel mileage: TBD
- Suspension, F/R: Control arms, coil springs/multilink, coil springs (Cayenne GTS); control arms, air springs/multilink, air springs (Cayenne Turbo S, opt. on GTS)
- Brakes: Vented discs; carbon-ceramic rotors, vented discs (GTS/Turbo S)
- Tires: 275/45R-20; 295/35R-21 (GTS/Turbo S)
- L x W x H: 191.1 x 76.9 x 66.45-67.0 in (GTS, Turbo S)
- Wheelbase: 114.0 in
- Cargo Capacity (seats up/down): 23.7/62.9 cu-ft
- Weight: 4,652/4,927 lb (GTS/Turbo S)
- 0-60 mph: 4.9/3.8 sec (GTS/Turbo S)
- Top speed: 163/176 mph (GTS/Turbo S)