Tuesday, July 10, 2012

2013 Porsche Cayenne GTS

Driving Emotion Triumphs Over Brute Horsepower

Porsche has delivered more than 430,000 Cayenne sport utility vehicles since its introduction in 2003, which isn't bad for a company that only offered one model, the 911, less than two decades ago. The Cayenne has been such a success because it retains the automaker's basic DNA; all of its countless variants have been inherently enjoyable to drive. Yet the German automaker has just raised our brows by claiming that its new Cayenne GTS is the "sportiest SUV on the market."

Whoa, wait a second. That proclamation seems as if it will cause more than a slight disturbance in Porsche's small universe. How can a naturally-aspirated 420-horsepower sport utility vehicle be more engaging to drive than its more powerful and quicker sibling, the 500-horsepower Cayenne Turbo?

Challenged to sort things out, we took a long flight to Klagenfurt, Austria, to put the all-new 2013 Cayenne GTS through its paces.

Porsche's all-new second-generation Cayenne model debuted for the 2011 model year. Wisely, the company used the redesign as an opportunity to shed nearly 400 pounds of fat off its portly (A.K.A. overengineered) SUV. As we mentioned in our First Drive of the new Cayenne Turbo, weight was axed from the chassis when many steel components were replaced with lightweight aluminum, but even more was lost when the Cayenne received a new electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system.

A slew of Cayenne models rolled out in quick succession. Porsche followed the Cayenne Turbo (bi-turbo 4.8-liter V8 rated at 500 horsepower) with the Cayenne S (naturally aspirated 4.8-liter V8 rated at 400 hp), Cayenne (naturally aspirated 3.6-liter VR6 with 300 hp), Cayenne S Hybrid (380-hp gasoline-electric) and, most recently, the Cayenne Diesel (245-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter). The all-new Cayenne GTS is the sixth model in the Cayenne lineup, and don't think for one moment that Stuttgart is resting – if Porsche follows its predictable behavior, a Cayenne Turbo S is lurking in the wings

While we all know the Cayenne is a sport utility vehicle, automotive enthusiasts have embraced the performance-tuned GTS as a well-handling oversized sedan (Porsche sold 15,766 first-generation Cayenne GTS models). Slotted just below the Cayenne Turbo in the range's hierarchy, the all-new GTS is based on the eight-cylinder Cayenne S model. As expected, the new model has been enhanced with a slew of performance upgrades, additional standard equipment and a unique look both inside and out that more than justifies its price premium. The Cayenne S starts at $66,825 while the Cayenne GTS arrives at $83,025 (all prices include Porsche's $975 destination charge).

The exterior of the GTS is differentiated by numerous cosmetic enhancements, which include the Cayenne Turbo's front façade with larger and more aggressive intakes (the intercooler openings are plugged to retain a drag coefficient of .37), darkened headlight buckets with the Turbo's signature four-LED daytime running lights, side skirts and windows framed in black high-gloss paint. The rear of the GTS features a twin-wing roof spoiler (said to actually provide real downforce), a high-gloss black strip on the tailgate, smoked LED taillights and matte-black quad exhaust pipes.

The interior of the Cayenne GTS features standard leather and Alcantara sport seats (eight-way power-adjustable for driver and front passenger). In addition to the seat inserts, Alcantara is found on the center console armrest, door panel, roof pillars and headliner. A leather SportDesign steering wheel, with proper wheel-mounted shift paddles (left down, right up) is also standard. The GTS may also be ordered with unique packages, including contrasting stitching throughout the cabin and "GTS" embroidered in the head restraints.

Porsche is offering its Sport Chrono Package for the first time on the Cayenne. While it is not bundled with launch control or any other performance-enhancing feature (as it is on the sports cars), it does include a dash-mounted stopwatch and a performance display in the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system to record lap times, lateral and longitudinal acceleration data.

Under the hood, the all-aluminum naturally aspirated 4.8-liter V8 engine has been modified to increase its performance by 20 horsepower. Getting technical, the engineers increased the lift of the intake valves to eleven millimeters (an increase of one millimeter over the standard engine), fitted new camshafts (with steeper and higher cams) and strengthened the valve springs. The crankshaft now turns five degrees further before the intakes and outlets open and shut. The engine mapping has been completely reworked too, providing quicker throttle response and a faster build-up in torque. As a result, the tweaked engine now produces 420 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 380 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm.

A five percent bump in output isn't extraordinary, but how Porsche accompanies its delivery is. The GTS is the first Cayenne model to be fitted with the automaker's twin-flow Sound Symposer system (also shared with the Panamera GTS). In a nutshell, two acoustic pipes channel genuine engine intake sounds (no fake synthetic engine noise here) into the car body cavities terminating in the A-pillars – passengers are completely enveloped by the V8's deep throaty intake inside the cabin.

But that's only half the story, as the GTS receives a sport exhaust system too. Twin exhaust flaps, electronically actuated, open between the rear silencers and tailpipes to dramatically increase the exiting roar based on engine load, engine speed and gear. To drive the point home, Porsche also injects a tiny amount of fuel into the cylinders late in the combustion cycle (and keeps the exhaust valves open for a fraction of a second longer) to generate a low-frequency rumble and backfire under deceleration.

The standard eight-speed Tiptronic automatic has also been tweaked for GTS duty. Software remapping delivers quicker shifts and rapid accelerator pedal movements immediately enable its dynamic map – braking downshifts, gears held in corners and suppressed upshifts. Transmission ratios are the same as they are in the Cayenne S, but the front and rear axle ratios are shorter to improve acceleration.

Power is applied to the pavement through a permanent all-wheel-drive system. The standard Porsche Traction Management (PTM) system ensures that the rear axle is being driven directly, but 100-percent of the power can be sent to the front axle if slippage is detected. To increase lateral grip, the track has also been widened slightly, both front and rear. Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV Plus), a system which utilizes the driven wheels to dynamically steer the vehicle around the corner, is optional.

All Stateside GTS models will arrive with standard air suspension and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), electronically adaptive damping (until now, only the Cayenne Turbo arrives with this air suspension as standard). The engineers have tailored the five different ride height levels specifically for the sporty nature of the GTS – they are markedly different from the Cayenne S, says Porsche. Overall, the ride height of the GTS has been dropped by just over three-quarters of an inch when compared to the S.

The standard brakes are pulled directly from the Turbo model. Up front are six-piston monobloc calipers (with 14.2 inch rotors) while the rears are four-piston monobloc calipers (with 13.0 inch rotors). The oversized brakes are identified by their red painted finish (the brakes on the Cayenne S are silver). As expected, the lightweight Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) system (with painted yellow calipers) is optional. Standard wheels are 20-inch aluminum alloys, shod with 275/45R20 performance-compound tires on all four corners (all of the vehicles in our photographs were wearing optional 21-inch wheels).

With a curb weight of 4,597 pounds, Porsche says the new Cayenne GTS will sprint to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds with a top speed of 162 mph (the first-generation Cayenne GTS tipped the scales at 4,949 pounds, took 6.5 seconds to hit 60 mph, and would top out at 155 mph).

To present its latest Cayenne variant, Porsche mapped out a very challenging drive through Austria's southern countryside that included everything from sustained high speed autobahns (with a general speed limit of about 81 mph – but we cruised above that flowing with the local traffic) to climbing more than 6,000 feet and dodging cows grazing freely in the Alps. To prevent sensory oversaturation from the stunning Alpine scenery, Porsche graciously broke up the street drive with an hour of track time at lunch.

During our morning briefing, it was explained that the console-mounted Sport mode button needed to be activated in order to extract the most performance from the engine and transmission. It was also the key to opening up the exhaust system – a necessity to unleash the full voraciousness of the GTS.

With that in mind, and Sport mode activated, it took no more than six minutes (a mere 30 seconds after breaking free from the traffic and congestion in Krumpendorf) to realize that the Cayenne GTS is something special. Right foot planted to the floor, the engine roared to life like a grizzly waking from hibernation. But it wasn't just the noise that melted our enthusiast core – we've heard some pretty good V8s in our days – instead, it was the percussion of the exhaust and the insanely visceral crackle and pop when we abruptly lifted off the throttle that turned us to spineless jelly. Jiminy Jillickers Batman, a sport utility vehicle simply can't sound this good!

After spending the next ten minutes playing with the accelerator pedal, just like children, in an effort to replicate the boom, pop and cackle, we settled down to figure out what the GTS is really all about.

On the open autobahn at a steady-state cruise just below 100 mph, the GTS feels like every other Cayenne – no surprise there. Stability isn't questioned and the cabin is largely quiet. It will run at triple-digit speeds until its 26.4-gallon fuel tank runs dry (EPA estimates are 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway).

But as we left the high-speed portion of our drive, heavy rain began to fall. What had become a sedate high-speed cruise had turned into a very wet charge up into the Alps. With the wipers at near full-tilt, we negotiated corner after corner and climbed higher and higher (the rain was a mixed blessing, as its inconvenience also keep the road free of sight-seeing tourists). Torque-transferring grip, a tall seating position and four fat contact patches eased our workload as the GTS clawed up the mountain and came down the other side.

Arriving at the testing ground of the Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club (ÖAMTC) in St. Veit an der Glan, an unexpectedly short and tight course better suited for a subcompact than a two-ton SUV, we ran lead-follow laps behind a Porsche instructor. The rain abated by the time we finished eating but the circuit was still very wet and slippery. Nevertheless, the exercise unfolded to be both entertaining and educational. All-wheel-drive traction, impressive grip from the GTS' Michelin tires and Porsche's sophisticated torque distributing systems made it a fun game of chase. Acceleration wasn't an issue as grip seemed unaffected. Cornering was a bit more of a challenge, as we had to gingerly modulate throttle or the back end would come around (stability control would eventually reel in the enjoyable oversteer). Braking also required some extra distance, as ABS was too easy to actuate with a late stab of the left pedal (our European models would rapidly blink their taillamps to alert following vehicles that they were under extremely hard braking – the U.S. DOT won't allow that useful system in the States).

Back at the hotel, we contemplated Porsche's statement that its GTS is the "sportiest SUV on the market."

Without even looking up its performance numbers, we can tell you that the Cayenne Turbo is quicker. Mash its throttle and a rush of power, literally following a whoosh from under the hood, pushes all occupants back into their seats at nearly any speed. Its handling is impressive (quicker around a circuit than a GTS), but its exhaust is more distant and the turbocharged vehicle simply doesn't have the throttle response of its less powerful naturally aspirated sibling. The Turbo is a monster on the autobahn, an impossibly powerful beast that uses massive tires, huge brakes and brute force to drag itself around the track. We feel it is still the "sportiest" of the pack, but at a cost.

Many of us have become so obsessed with reading horsepower, torque and lateral grip metrics that we have forgotten how important the basics – engine response, exhaust note and handling dynamics – really are to the overall driving experience. As it does these meaningful things so well, those which leave a lasting impression, we are going to call the Cayenne GTS the "most engaging SUV on the market" – a much more honorable title to a true enthusiast.