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.