The V-8 Cayenne sprouts a six-speed stick and actually ups the fun factor.
Just a blink back, the 21st century arrived, and a lot of people were wondering if someone had slipped a little acid into Porsche’s breakfast cereal. Excuse me? Who, exactly, is willing to pay a lot of money for a Porsche sport-utility vehicle?
The laughter has died way down. The Cayenne SUV is now Porsche’s bestselling vehicle, accounting for about a third of all sales: exactly 10,061 of a total 29,140 Porsches sold in the U.S. through October 2007. Porsche says it’s making all the Cayennes it can, 180 a day.
The Fourth in a Bestselling Lineup
When the fish are biting, you want to take advantage, and that’s why Porsche has been churning out new variations of the Cayenne. There are now four of them. The base Cayenne, with a 290-hp V-6, goes for $44,295. Sporting an updated 385-hp V-8, the Cayenne S starts at $58,795. The monster Cayenne Turbo, with a 500-hp twin-turbo V-8, checks in at an eye-crossing $94,595. That left one slot for a fourth model, the $70,195, 405-hp GTS you see here, which goes on sale in February.
Like all Porsches, the Cayennes have long options lists intended to give the automaker the greatest per-car profit. Mission accomplished. It’s ridiculous. What car company sells fewer than 100,000 vehicles per year worldwide and makes a pretax profit of $8.5 billion (helped along by a $759 million reevaluation of its 22-percent stake in Volkswagen)?
That’s Right, a Proper Manual Transmission in a 405-hp SUV
Move in closer. What really makes this newest Cayenne particularly interesting is that Porsche has seen fit to arm the 5300-pound truck with a six-speed manual gearbox—something apparently no other V-8–powered sport-ute maker thinks is a wise idea. So in early November, we arrived in southern Portugal to see if a two-and-a-half-ton truck and a six-speed manual make sense.
The first thing that makes the manual an entertaining idea is that there are 405 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque on one end of it. That’s a 20-hp premium over the output in the same-size V-8 in the step-down Cayenne S. Imagine the wrinkled brows and clucking tongues of all those Porsche engineers: That’s a horsepower-to-weight ratio of about 13 pounds per, compared with the crushingly fast Turbo’s rate of 11.3 per horsepower. The only thing that materializes to us as competition is a supercharged Range Rover, which boasts an even 400 horsepower and a $93,600 sticker, or if you have a sense of humor, a 393-hp Hummer H2 that is stuck lugging around almost 17 pounds per horsie.
Get This: It’s Actually a Hoot to Drive
In addition to the horsepower boost, the GTS gets huge footprints (21-inch wheels and tires are standard), permanent all-wheel drive, and all sorts of anti-roll chassis voodoo and stability control—it’s there to keep this truck from behaving like a big goofy, slobbering truck. And that’s just what it does. At that point, the only thing missing is some high-school kid’s idea of very loud pipes. That, and a 4.1:1 axle ratio. Funny you should ask: The GTS has both.
When you climb aboard, the Cayenne’s seat and layout tell you you’re not occupying someone’s dining-room chair. There are various damper settings to choose from, with the car hunkering down and tightening up in three stages. Push the sport button, and amusingly, the clearly hot-dog rap of the dual exhausts gets louder—majorly loud—causing a kind of giggling frenzy in the cabin as if you’d been transported back to your last cafeteria food fight. They are about the rudest bad-boy pipes we can recall in years, if you don’t count a Viper’s ridiculous yowling.
Team that exhaust note with this truck’s volatile current of evenly delivered power—it just surges all over the power band—on some mostly empty roller-coaster countryside that shows no sign of uniformed authorities in the weeds, and the effect is exhilarating and hypnotizing, and it makes your cheeks tingle. It’s as if you should be wearing a big orange hat with the word “FUN” on the front. It’s not an idle claim when Porsche boasts that this is unlike any other SUV. It is. Given a little time, we could probably identify a handful of prominent sports cars this brute would blow by.
With the shorter rear end, first gear gets gobbled up quickly during tire-yelping starts, but the moment the clublike shifter clicks crisply into second, the thrust is superbly impressive. But the force always comes on in a controlled, fluid manner, so there’s no squirrelly behavior.
The Cayenne GTS is easy to drive, and easy to slip gracefully into three-digit speeds without those little hairs on the back of your neck standing up. Porsche says the GTS will get to 60 mph a couple 10ths quicker than the S model (in the high fives), but that’s not why you’ll be slobbering all over yourself. It’s up in the middle ranges, where second gear starts and third ends. That’s where the excitement is. Roll the windows down, and let it go. Claimed top speed is 157 mph.
It’s hardly a monumental declaration to say this is one of the best-handling, most-rip-roaring SUVs we’ve driven, and the six-speed’s smoothness means you’ll never find yourself in the awkward position of kangarooing clumsily down the road. The clutch is not at all a workout for your left calf muscle, with takeup as simple as it is in a Honda, shockingly simple, in fact. The real effort is in controlling the driver.
One would presume that money is not an issue for someone who buys a Cayenne of this accomplished rank, nor is gluttonous fuel economy. Indeed, Porsche did not get in the position of being able to write a check for the Volkswagen works by passing out discount vouchers for 911s. The base price of the Cayenne GTS is $70,195 when it goes on sale in the U.S. in February, and, as noted, the options list is absolutely lascivious. The GTS is also available with a six-speed automatic, but be sure to check out the manual.