At last, a sport/utility vehicle that drives like a sports car
If you've avoided stepping up to an SUV because you don't want to sacrifice the performance and handling of a smaller car, then the Cayenne GTS is for you. In so many sport/utility vehicle reviews, I've described their handling as "comfortable," "manageable," or "stoutly." At last I've found a family hauler that handles like a Porsche, because, well, it IS a Porsche.
The Cayenne is the only four-door, five-seat model in the Porsche stable (until the Panamera is revealed later this year) and it has proven to be the most popular body style in their lineup, amounting to nearly half of all Porsches sold in the United States. Performance fans purchased more than 11,000 Cayennes last year, and nearly 3000 of them were the exceptional GTS model. The five percent who choose the six-speed manual transmission are rewarded with delicious shifts, amazing control of the powerband, and Porsche's Drive-Off Assistant, which automatically applies the brakes when the vehicle is sitting on an incline for a safer takeoff as the driver releases the clutch. The majority who choose the Tiptronic will also enjoy a dynamic driving experience, as well as slightly improved fuel economy - and as fuel prices fluctuate by several dollars a gallon, some may sincerely appreciate those additional miles per tank.
The newest addition to the Cayenne sport/utility family, the GTS is powered by a 4.8-liter V-8 engine; thanks to an enlarged air intake, it boasts more than 400 horsepower and provides an amazingly sporty driving experience unlike any other SUV. Of course, that performance comes with the sacrifice of fuel economy: it's EPA rated to provide 11 mpg city and 17 mpg highway (manual) or 13/18 with the Tiptronic. Because I love a true sportscar driving experience -- and because Porsche offered it -- I enthusiastically tested the six-speed manual-transmission version.
Porsche promises 0-60mph acceleration of 5.7 seconds (manual) or 6.1 seconds (Tiptronic), 0-100 in about 15 seconds, and a top speed of more than 155 mph; though we recommend such spirited driving wait until AFTER you've left the little ones at daycare. Porsche's Traction Management all-wheel-drive system combines with Porsche Stability Management and Dynamic Chassis Control (a $3500 option) to provide maximum traction, stability, handling, and ride comfort regardless of weather or surface conditions. Steering feels tight and solid, and a variety of suspension choices allow the driver to tune the right height and feel from soft to firm. Select the Sport button on the center console, and the exhaust note changes into a luxurious audible growl intended to let every within earshot share your performance thrill. Additionally, the Cayenne can haul a good-sized load thanks to a towing capacity of 7700 pounds and standard hitch prep (the hitch itself is an additional $630 option).
Cayenne hasn't yet been crash-tested by Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) or The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but its ample collection of standard safety features -- such as stability management, accident avoidance, and rollover detection systems -- combine with a plethora of advanced airbags (including dual front advanced airbags, front-seat thorax airbags, and roof-mounted curtain bags), to promise passengers a safe ride. Sharply rotate the steering wheel, and smart side lights illuminate the roadway in the direction you are turning.
Inside, my test vehicle was equipped with a delicious sueded Alcantara leather interior (a $3170 option) and featured sumptuous bolstered leather seats to help keep passengers secure during spirited driving. The comfy back seat provides plenty of legroom, though three passengers wider than young teens will likely rub more than elbows; there's just enough room back there to center-mount a carseat and squeeze in two more pre-teens. Two outboard anchors and three tethers combine with the 60/40-split rear seat to allow a variety of seating and storage options. Cargo area behind the second row is just over 19 cubic feet; fold the second row flat to open up more than 62 cubic feet of storage.
Porsche has packed the Cayenne with plenty of convenience features: The power back hatch lowers at the touch of a button, and its lift height can be programmed to ensure it won't bump against the garage door on the way up. Side mirrors fold in at the turn a knob to enable parking in tight spaces, and turn downwards on reverse to view the curb when parallel parking. Its air-conditioned glovebox will refrigerate cold items on long drives, and a speed minder can be set to remind drivers when they have exceeded any indicated speed limit - an excellent feature for those who might enjoy the sporty throttle a little bit TOO much! Memory buttons link to personalized keyfobs to set seating, mirror, and comfort settings for up to three drivers when they insert the key. Finally, a passenger compartment monitoring system will honk to alert the driver if sensors in the engine, rear, doors, or passenger-compartment alarms are triggered by an animal or passenger left inside. And if all that isn't enough, the Cayenne's minor services (oil change, etc.) are required at 12,000 miles or one year, and major services are on 36,000/three-year cycles. Parking assist, rearview cameras, and rear-seat entertainment packages are optional.
All in all, the Cayenne GTS offers an indulgently luxurious family-car experience, while also providing the superlative performance of a Porsche. No other sport/utility vehicle can make that claim.
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