SKELLEFTEA, Sweden—It’s tough to really push a vehicle when you’re on sheet ice. Step just a touch too hard on the throttle and everything breaks away, sliding into a snow bank.
So what exactly are we doing near Sweden’s Arctic Circle putting the throttle down on Porsche’s latest two Cayennes?
The GTS and the Turbo S are the final versions released of the mid-sized SUV’s new third generation. The GTS is supposed to be the “sportiest” of the Cayennes, with an air suspension that sits everything 20 mm lower than all the others. The previous generation had a naturally-aspirated V8 under the hood but this new model has a 3.6L turbocharged V6 that’s good for 440 hp, and which consumes 0.9L/100 km less gas than before.
It’s one of seven different Cayenne models, intended to cater to absolutely everyone who could possibly want to drive a sporty, premium SUV. This is, after all, the best seller in Porsche’s entire lineup and the German company doesn’t want to lose a sale to BMW or Mercedes for lack of choice.
And let’s not confuse the Cayenne with a practical SUV. Yes, it’s very off-road capable, and yes, it’s got room for five and then some space for the dog behind, but this is just a more practical and spacious sportscar with aggressive styling. It’s still a Porsche. Don’t let its barn-door aerodynamics and two-tonne weight get in the way of your macho driving.
The least expensive model, just called ”Cayenne”, begins at $67,400 with 300 hp, and then there are three others that come in under six figures: the 420 hp Cayenne S, the diesel and the plug-in hybrid. The GTS starts at $108,200, and then the Turbo and the Turbo S take your wallet to a whole new level of excess, topping out at $178,100.
At that price, there aren’t a lot of options left to buy for the Turbo S, though you could elect for the “sound symposer” button that adds extra roar to the 570 hp biturbo V8. That’s 20 more horsepower than it used to be and 50 more than the regular Turbo. If we were on dry asphalt and very good at driving, it would help us launch the SUV from zero-to-100 km/h in its claimed 4.1 seconds.
That’s quicker than the GTS, which takes an extra second to hit the same speed, despite weighing 115 kg less. The lighter SUV’s extra agility isn’t enough to counter the Turbo S’s brute force in the long run, either: the big Cayenne reportedly lapped the Nurburgring in 7 minutes, 59 seconds, while the GTS came in 14 seconds behind that.
It was probably more enjoyable in the GTS, though, with a lighter touch on the wheel and a little more confidence around the corners.
Here, on the ice, both models are challenged by the lack of traction. The winter Michelins are very sticky and the Porsche Stability Management is working overtime, but the nanny systems just conspire to bring everything down to an equal level of control. Turn off the PSM and the contrast is instant as the SUV whips itself into another snowbank.
Since the Turbo S already comes with most everything as standard for those wealthy people who don’t want to choose, it includes Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus, which is a $1,700 option on the GTS. Its drivetrain has variable-drive torque distribution at the permanently-powered rear axle, and an electronically controlled rear differential lock.
It also has Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control as standard (a $4,010 option on the GTS), to keep everything nice and flat around corners, and huge ceramic composite brakes to slow everything down quickly (a $10,090 option on lesser Cayennes). These are flashy yellow calipers inside the 21-inch wheels that measure 420 mm at the front and 370 mm at the rear.
It can start getting very confusing very quickly with all these options and variables, which is one reason why Porsche offers the Turbo S to buyers who just can’t be hacked to decide which boxes to tick. It helps justify a price premium of almost $50,000 above the Turbo, which slams itself up to 100 km/h in just an extra 0.4 seconds.
So the question is not really if you should buy a Turbo S – you will if you have lots of money and want to impress people, and if you want to purchase one with just a dismissive wave of the hand.
The question is really where in the lineup you should find the ideal combination of everything for a more sensibly priced and well-kitted Cayenne.
The base GTS is almost $25,000 more than the base Cayenne S. It offers only 20 horsepower more, and an extra 36 lbs.-ft. of torque, but it does come standard with that air suspension that lowers everything an extra 20 mm – it’s an option in Europe, where the standard is a steel suspension that’s 24 mm lower. It also has 20-inch wheels over the 19-inch versions on the cheaper model, and the 18-inch wheels of the cheapest Cayenne.
Add to that some slightly wider sills and more aggressive wheel-arch mouldings, some different colour combinations for the (very comfortable) interior and a subtle Turbo styling treatment for the front end (larger air intakes and distinctive headlamps) and you can see why the buying choices become so tricky.
Maybe it’s best to just pore over the options, accept you don’t really need as much power as the salesperson says you do, and then buy what you can afford.
Keep some money left over for gas, though. The GTS returns a claimed 13.2 L/100 km in the city and 8.3 L/100 km on the highway, using the European NEDC rating. The Turbo S consumes a claimed 15.9 L City, 8.9 L Highway. That’s Premium fuel for both, and that’s thirsty.
Then go for a drive on some nice snowy roads to appreciate the impressive handling and power of whichever Cayenne you’ve purchased. Just don’t turn off the traction control.