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First Drive: 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS Melds V-8 Power and Sporty Handling For a Great Time

Yes, yes, Porsches should be sports cars. But we still love ripping it up in Stuttgart’s bad-boy SUV.

Billy RehbockWriterJade NelsonPhotographerManufacturerPhotographer

Pasadena, California—Logic has gone out of the window in 2020. Geopolitical events aside, the automotive industry is also experiencing head-scratching phenomena such BMW sedans based on front-wheel drive platforms, coupes with four doors, and crossovers with ludicrous amounts of power and performance. Right, OK, but what does any of this have to do with the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS?

Porsche has been on the latter trend for some time, starting with its first performance-raising Cayenne, the E1-generation GTS, back in 2008. It was powered by a 4.8-liter V-8 engine producing 399 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The E2-generation Cayenne GTS was powered by a 414-hp V-8 engine until its midcycle refresh, when it gained a 434-hp, twin-turbo V-6.

But Porsche lately seems to have realized engine downsizing isn't always the answer in today's world: take for example its 718 Boxster and Cayman GTS 4.0 models which are once again powered by flat-six engines. Now, the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS follows suit with the same 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 used in Porsche's other front-engine performance products. In this incarnation, it develops 453 hp and 457 lb-ft, up 19 hp and 24 lb-ft from the previous version of the sporty SUV. Despite adding two cylinders, this engine is just shy of being 40 pounds heavier than the outgoing twin-turbo V-6.

How Is an SUV This Good?

We met up with a member of the manufacturer's public relations team, Calvin Kim, to get a quick briefing on the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS before getting a full day behind its wheel. According to Kim, the GTS this time around is positioned to be the highest-performance version of the Cayenne, at least as far as handling and lateral dynamics are concerned. Porsche wants to position the Cayenne Turbo as more of a touring-oriented option; it features softer suspension overall even though it packs a more plentiful 542 hp.

The 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS uses a lighter transmission due to its engine's less-abundant power output, which saves 66.13 pounds versus the Turbo's beefier gearbox. The lighter parts in the Cayenne GTS's transmission mean its powertrain is more responsive than the Turbo's, Porsche says.

Porsche also makes sure the Cayenne lives up to its reputation as a GTS model with a number of performance enhancements that set it apart from the more "pedestrian" models. Engineers tuned the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS's default settings to be one notch more aggressive than the Cayenne S; its standard ride height is 7.086-inches lower due to its standard air-suspension system, for example. Porsche also fiddled with the steering to offer increase friction feedback and road feel.

In the sweeping turns of Angeles Crest Highway during our day-long test drive, the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS maintained its composure with panache that belied its 4,954-pound curb weight.

We got an early start from the pickup point and were greeted by virtually empty roads; I set the drive mode to Sport+ and started linking together the swathes of sweeping bends that lead to the famous Newcomb's Ranch parking lot. In no small part thanks to the inclusion of rear-axle steering and Porsche's Power Steering Plus ($1,620), the 2021 Cayenne GTS responded to every test it encountered as though it was a much smaller and lower-slung vehicle. It bent itself around every challenge the road offered with utter precision. As equipped, Porsche alters the steering ratio to account for the rear wheels' contributions during cornering, but it doesn't change the front-axle calibration.

Drive It How You Like It

The 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS variant also receives altered drive-mode settings to reduce shift times, and to improve steering responsiveness and feel in Sport and Sport+. These benefits are available thanks to the Sport Chrono Package ($1,130), which is a must-have for this vehicle. The revised settings also change the way Porsche Traction Management distributes power via the all-wheel-drive system, with two separate mappings. On the Cayenne S, the switch to the more aggressive mapping happens only with the mode switch set to Sport+, but the GTS receives a comfort-oriented setting in normal running and uses the more aggressive programming for Sport and Sport+ modes.

The various profiles feel radically different on the road as we test the Cayenne GTS. Porsche programs the GTS to remain rather docile in its Normal setting; it's a drama-free but communicative configuration that works well for driving in the city or in traffic. The change to Sport mode wakes the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS, however.

Spoet is best for curvy roads when traffic ahead plods along at a moderate pace. The improved shift timing feels quick, but it isn't so forceful as to jar the vehicle's occupants. When it came time to leave Angeles Crest and to find some lunch, I spent most of my time in Sport mode, with the standard sport-exhaust system activated so I could hear the V-8's buttery tones over the optional premium Bose sound system ($1,200).

Still the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS is at its best when switched to Sport+. Since Angeles Crest seemed like it was almost a bit too easy for the SUV, I brought it to the Malibu canyons to take on some hairpin turns and other more aggressive corners. While it certainly didn't feel like a compact hatchback on these roads, the standard Yokahama summer tires maintained their grip over the stretches of concrete spaghetti. Although the suspension was stiffened up significantly in Sport+, even the most pockmarked pavement didn't unsettle the chassis or lessen my confidence behind the wheel. The standard GTS brakes provide huge stopping power and didn't exhibit any fade over a day that included a beyond-average amount of enthusiastic driving.

Engine Details

The 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS engine develops maximum torque over a broad span of 1,800-4,500 rpm, and peak power develops at 6,000-6,500 rpm. This tuning makes acceleration feel absolutely savage, and our high speed test-drive runs were titillating as a result. Push the center button on the Sport Chrono dial to trigger Sport Response mode; it flips the Cayenne GTS to maximum power and responsiveness for a span of 20 seconds. Really, Sport Response is the most pure and exciting way to drive the 2021 Cayenne GTS, especially when you're testing its capabilities and further defying what you once thought impossible for an SUV of this size.

Loaded With Tech

Porsche threw plenty of luxury, performance, safety, and convenience technology at our 2021 Cayenne GTS test car, granting a rather complete experience of what customers have at their disposal when optioning a Cayenne GTS.

On the luxury side, I was thrilled by the inclusion of soft-close doors ($780) and the sporty yet voluptuous GTS interior package in Race-Tex (an Alcantara alternative), which is standard and notably soft. I wasn't as thrilled about the microsuede steering wheel ($470), which is seldom preferable to an old-school leather till for long stints on the road. However, the 18-way adaptive sport seats were a huge boon, given the fairly taxing nature of our 225-mile day which included mountain, highway, canyon, and congested-road driving. The upscale interior was finished off with Race-Tex grab handles ($1,380).

The thermally and noised insulated glass ($1,130) was a surprise favorite; it made a day driving in the Southern Californian sunshine far more bearable. In fact, Porsche added a lot of gear to keep the Cayenne GTS's interior feeling modern and sophisticated. Our test car had what is perhaps one of the most expensive head-up displays available on the market installed for $1,720, and the Sport Chrono Stopwatch atop the dashboard for $420. The cabin was spruced up further with an air ionizer ($350), ambient lighting ($430), and four-zone climate control ($990). Porsche also smoothed out smartphone integration with a wireless charging compartment ($690).

Happy Handling

In the chassis-performance category, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) rung up as the most expensive option on the list, at $3,590. However, I suspect this system is responsible for the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS's unflappable handling in the canyons. It allowed for almost imperceptible body roll and an easy-to-read chassis. The "tall wagon" trope is starting to become played out at this point among my fellow automotive writers, but that doesn't make this description any less apt—and the Cayenne GTS I tested drives like a louder, bigger, and brasher alternative to the Panamera GTS Sport Turismo.

Porsche didn't configure this Cayenne GTS to be all about performance, however; it also ensured we tested a vehicle that had plenty of safety features. Its highly attractive LED-Matrix Design headlights ($1,200) came equipped alongside auto-dimming mirrors ($420) and a heated windshield ($490). The German marque still doesn't offer much advanced safety technology as standard, though. Instead, features like "Surround View" 360-degree camera angles for parking ($1,200), lane-change assist ($950), and Porsche's semi-autonomous "InnoDrive" ($3,610) must be purchased a la carte.

If You Want the Best, You'll Have to Pay        

This 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS test drive employed a car carrying a sticker price of $140,600 after destination and delivery. Indeed, the deluge of optional equipment carried the final price more than $30,000 beyond the starting point of $108,650. We won't bore you with the details of every single exterior cosmetic improvement, but Porsche's special Carrara White paint, blacked out exterior accents, and 22-inch Cayenne Sport Classic wheels accounted for $5,410.

Even during a test drive on some of America's best roads, the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS doesn't promise ultimate speed, though it has plenty of it on tap. No, it's more about offering dynamic capabilities to meet its driver at their skill level. I entered the day of testing with the prior knowledge of how outrageously capable a Cayenne S is, and this next iteration of the E3 platform offers even more. Its power, responsive controls, and downright impeccable road manners kept me grinning during the whole day of driving. People looking for an SUV that can hang with a wide array of performance cars—and who won't blink at a price tag that starts well beyond the six-figure mark—will find a remarkable companion in the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS.

2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS Hits:

  • Among the best-handling SUVs on the market
  • V-8 engine returns, and new sport-exhaust system sounds great
  • Standard air suspension
  • Lots of customization available

2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS Misses:

  • Expensive base price
  • Most features must be added a la carte
  • Cayenne GTS Coupe sounds better

 

2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS Specifications
ON SALE Fall
PRICE $108,650/$140,600 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/453 hp @ 6,000-6,500 rpm, 457 lb-ft @ 1,800-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE TBD
L x W x H 193.6 x 86.3 x 66.7 in
WHEELBASE 114.0 in
WEIGHT 4,954 lb
0-60 MPH 4.5 sec
TOP SPEED 167 mph