The Porsche Cayenne GTS Is the Goldilocks Choice of High-Performance SUVs

It may not be explosive, but the Cayenne GTS's V-8 gives it as much grunt as you'll ever really want.

2020 porsche cayenne gts carmine red
Will Sabel Courtney

What is it?

Porsche’s third-most-powerful — but arguably the sportiest — version of the larger of its two SUVs, tested here in more conventional two-box form (as opposed to the surprisingly good-looking Cayenne Coupe, one of the few “sport-utility coupes” that actually looks better than the more traditional version).

2020 porsche cayenne gts side view carmine red
Will Sabel Courtney

Is it new?

The GTS model is; it debuted only a few months ago back in June. The Cayenne itself dates back to late 2017; given Porsche’s clockwork-regular sequence of model updates, you can expect to see the midlife facelift version arrive next year.

2020 porsche cayenne gts carmine red
Will Sabel Courtney

What makes it special?

As Porschephiles know, the letters “GTS” signify something of a value play in the lineup — an amalgamation of performance upgrades to the S/4S models priced lower than the sum of all those options, with a few special bits like Alcantara seats and steering wheels tacked on for good measure. In the case of the Panamera and the Cayenne, however, it also means scoring a detuned version of the twin-turbo V8 found in the Turbo and Turbo S models. (Check out our previous story about the Cayenne GTS's launch for more details about what separates it from the rest of the pack.)

While Porsche could no doubt squeeze this sort of power from the twin-turbo 2.9-liter V6 found in the Cayenne S (after all, it makes 444 hp in the Audi RS5), going for a detuned V8 gives the Cayenne GTS a more delightful character than the S. While the S is indeed potent, it requires a willingness to cane it a little to exploit those ponies; the GTS’s power delivery feels much more effortless and in line with what you’d expect from an SUV, even a sporty one.

2020 porsche cayenne gts carmine red
Will Sabel Courtney

How does it drive?

The story's headline isn't an exaggeration; the Cayenne GTS really does feel like the Golidlocks-spec juuuuust right balance between price and performance for a fast SUV. It may not be Turbo fast, but it’s still breathtakingly quick; it certainly feels like it could knock out the 0-60 mph dash in less than four seconds with launch control, and romp from a rolling start to that in well under five. Better yet, it comes with almost all the performance goodies you probably want if you really wanna drive your SUV: active suspension makes the GTS ride 1.2 inches lower than a Cayenne S; eight-way-adjustable sport seats; swiveling LED headlamps (great for cutting up roads at night); and, of course, a sport exhaust system to make the most of the V8.

Presumably, this is the part where some of you might be saying, well, what makes the GTS better than the Cayenne Turbo? Well, I’d argue that while you might justifiably want the most potent version of a sport sedan (hey there, Panamera Turbo S) because you want to drive it hard and push it to its limits, far fewer people are doing that with SUVs. It’s not so much a matter of capability as it is of ride height and comfort; sedans sit almost as low as sports cars, and feel nearly as fun in the turns, but SUVs by nature will always feel more top-heavy and unsettled — and thus more unsettling — at the limit. Even if you have the chance to, you’re less likely to push an SUV to 10/10ths than a sedan.

And anyone who appreciates the dynamics of a good sports car or sport sedan is sure to find plenty to like here in the real world. The steering is heavy, but very direct and involving, especially for an SUV. It might grow a little tiresome over a long period, particularly if you’re used to light, effortless truck steering — but it makes for a very fun drive when you’re hustling this SUV the way it was meant to be driven.

The suspension does yeoman’s work in that realm, as well, serving up remarkable composure; the GTS always felt planted in the turns, yet simultaneously soaked up some of the worst surfaces found on New York’s battered streets. (And this was on optional 22-inch wheels, no less.)

porsche cayenne gts 2020 interior

What’s it like inside?

It’s largely a nice place to spend time, once you look past all the Alcantara. The sport seats are particularly grippy with the microsuede on top, which makes it hard to shimmy into a new position without bunching up your clothes; plus, the all-Alcantara-everything look is a bit too boy-racer for an SUV, even one as fast as this. (Thankfully, you can option it away.)

Those looking for maximum utility from their sporty SUV will probably want to look elsewhere (I hear the Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is quite nice). My six-foot-four frame found both front and rear seats a tad tight, though part of that was due to the fact that the driver’s seat didn’t go back very far; I could still occupy the second row with the front seat pushed all the way towards the rear. Still, I wouldn’t consider the dimensions a dealbreaker; most people of normal size, after all, will find it plenty roomy.

The infotainment system found in the Cayenne and Panamera remains one of the better ones, albeit one hamstrung by an annoying flaw: some controls, like the volume knob and tuner, are awkwardly placed and hard to access. (The new 911 doesn’t suffer from these issues, so I assume Porsche has learned its lesson.) Luckily, there are redundant steering wheel controls, so you’ll only need to fiddle with those oddly-placed switches if you’re in the passenger’s seat.

2020 porsche cayenne gts seats

What’s it cost?

The Cayenne GTS starts at $107,300, and unlike many Porsches, you don’t have to add much from there to get it just the way you’d like; $122,000 or so will get you everything you really need for a kickass GTS. No, that’s not cheap — but considering you’re scoring an SUV that will quell that long-standing regret you have over not buying a 911 before you had kids, it almost seems like a steal.

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