At the tender age of 15, I got my first ride in a Porsche-a brand new 1988 911 Carrera. The sound of that air cooled flat six ruined me for life. And I swore I would own a Porsche. In college I owned a Porsche 944, which was a great car, handled wonderfully, and holds fond memories as it was the car I took my first drive with the woman I would eventually marry and raise a family. But the burning desire for a 911 never went away. And in June of 2002, my dream came true. To this day, whenever I fire up my 911 I still get a chill down my spine. But while all this was happening, Porsche, the brand I had coveted for years dropped a bomb on me. They were going to sell, of all things, an SUV.
Yes, I understood the stories from Porsche saying they needed to sell more cars to remain viable. That a car like the Cayenne could help fund development for their sports cars. But since the beginning, Porsche was nothing but sports cars. Driving my 911 was like being in a fraternity. When you saw an oncoming Porsche, you always waved. It was a recognition that we knew we were driving very special cars with a fantastic history and racing pedigree. When the Cayenne debuted, it marked a significant change in Porsche culture. Cayenne drivers do not wave. And I don’t wave either. They don’t care how incredible it was to see Steve McQueen pilot a 911S in the opening of the film ‘LeMans’. They don’t get it, nor do they care.
So, yes, it is safe to say I have been a cynic of the Cayenne from the start. Yet, all the reviews I have read generally praised the Cayenne. Well, the day finally came where I was to meet the Cayenne, and live with it for a full week. Is it a car to be worthy of the Porsche crest? Read on…
It never helped, in my opinion, that the first generation Cayenne was sort of awkward looking. It lacked the class of the Mercedes-Benz ML550. Nor did it look all that sporty either. In other words, I could not convey the design message Porsche was trying to sell. Thankfully, in 2011 the Cayenne was redesigned. The styling was sharper, more focused, tighter. New for 2013, the Cayenne GTS ups the ante with the Turbo front fascia, smoked head and tail lights, LED lighting, matte black quad exhaust tips, and a twin wing roof spoiler. Red brake calipers and a 3/4″ drop in ride height underscore that this is no ordinary Cayenne. Finished in white with gorgeous 21″ black painted alloys, this is the Cayenne designed for the Porsche enthusiast.
Slip onto the leather and Alcantara driver’s seat, look at the gauge cluster, and any Porsche driver will feel instantly at home. Porsches are meant to be driven fast, and as such, I appreciated the easy to read instrument panel. Yes, the center console is inundated with buttons, but I found it far easier and more intuitive that scrambling through menus on BMW’s iDrive. While the Cayenne is a full five seater SUV, from the driver’s seat, it does not feel that way. It is driver focused, cozy as a sports car but not at all confining. The quality of materials and level of fit and finish are beyond reproach. Porsche nailed the interior with painstaking attention to detail, and it shows. Simply outstanding.
Still, this is a Porsche, and what goes on in the engine room is what any Porsche fan wants to know. And there are several choices. You start with a V-6, which is all you will want or need while looking for a parking space at Neiman Marcus. Sadly, this is the only engine Porsche offers with a six-speed manual. Also available are diesel, hybrid, V-8, and V-8 turbo engines, all of which are mated to an eight-speed automatic. All Cayennes come with all-wheel drive. Our GTS was fitted with a 4.8L V-8 pumping out a healthy 420hp. Porsche claims 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds, with a top speed of 162 mph. That is remarkably fast for an SUV of this size and weight. Not to mention, it can tow up to 7,700 lbs.
For a weekend getaway, I drove my family to the gorgeous town of Newport, Rhode Island. I had only driven the Cayenne around town, and found it docile and very easy to drive. On the highway though, you can tell instantly this car was bred for the autobahn. Pedal to the floor on the entrance ramp the V-8 produces an intoxicating roar. Passing power is exceptional, and a thrill to boot, but with the Cayenne’s aggressive face, pounding down I-95 was like parting the Red Sea. At one point my wife asked why I was driving so slow. I looked at the speedometer. I was doing 80 mph. After spending time, and looking perfectly at home at the famous Newport mansions and a sunset cruise down Ocean Drive, it was time to point the GTS back home.
There was no question the Cayenne was incredible as a highway bomber, but on the curvy roads leading me to the historic Ocean House hotel in Watch Hill, Rhode Island for an exceptional dinner. The Cayenne GTS tackled the sinuous roads with aplomb, defying the size and weight of the car with sports car like reflexes. Truly amazing. As brutal the power of the GTS may be, it speaks volumes of the refinement Porsche built into this car as I raced home while my wife and son dozed off. I have said it before, but it is these moments when it is man and machine in perfect sync that make the mark of a truly remarkable vehicle.
But, this level of automotive excellence does come at a price. You can have a V-6 Cayenne for under $50,000USD, but to get a GTS, you are starting at $82,050. Typical with Porsche, there are a ton of options available. Counting on the Monroney of our test car, there were 26 options added on. Sure, the Cayenne is no stripper, but options like SiriusXM HD radio, thermal and noise insulated glass, panoramic sunroof, front and rear heated seats, navigation, rearview camera with park assist, lane change assist, adaptive cruise control, a Burmester surround sound audio system ($5,690!) and 21″ wheels, along with countless other options wracked up our test car’s as delivered price to a breathtaking $124,875. But that’s how it is with Porsche.
I have spent years loathing the Cayenne, but after a week with the GTS, I give in. It is simply brilliant. I understand Porsche’s business plan. Buyers of their sports cars may need an SUV, so why not build one yourself? Yes, wealthy folks will continue to buy the V-6 Cayenne in drove for bragging rights, but the GTS is the real deal. It is truly the SUV for the Porsche purist.