Especially the “sport” part, which might just take some practice to get right.
When you first get into the 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS, you’ll grab the steering wheel, and hopefully you’re in one outfitted with RaceTex ultra suede. If you are, you’ll notice the steering wheel is covered in suede too, and this $470 option is a life changer (and totally worth it). You’ll never want to hold any other type of steering wheel ever again.
But if you’ve opted for the Sport Chrono package, a $1,130 upgrade on a $107,000 starting price, with more sport driving modes and driving mastery, your eye will quickly rest on a small dial on the lower right center of the steering wheel. This package offers drive mode selection on the steering wheel dial. And while you might see these newish dials in other performance cars, there’s something even more extra about this one: the sport response button in the center of the dial.
Whatever you do, don’t push that button.
At least not until you learn what that button is all about. And while I’m kidding, you can push the button to see what it does, I’m not kidding when I warn you to not panic, because you might; it’s a really dynamic response.
Sport Response: Sport Mode, or Rocket Mode?
The Porsche Cayenne GTS, with a V8 twin turbo 453 horsepower engine and a starting price of $107,000, has five different sport mode settings:
- Individual, which allows you to customize your sport settings;
- Sport mode, which delivers more power and torque faster, and stiffens the suspension and steering for faster response and speed;
- Sport + which turns off traction control in sport mode;
- Exhaust mode, which heightens the exhaust ‘note’ with its louder, more throaty sound and all the pops and crackles you get when the transmission downshifts.
- Drivers can use Tiptronic paddle shifters or manual shift mode
And then there’s Sport Response. This mode increases your power for 20 seconds. Pop the SR button and you’ll hear the engine maximize power by selecting the lowest gear for your speed (it will shift up if necessary, which is at a much higher engine speed than I would shift up!); a gauge pops up in the in the driver information screen that shows the sport response timer counting down that 20 seconds. And when the engine is really loud and the RPMs are at 6,000, those 20 seconds can seem like a lifetime.
I tried it out as I accelerated up to speed on the highway. The engine was in 3rd gear and, at the point that it seemed it should shift to 4th, the RPMs just kept building. And building. While yes, you don’t want to redline the engine which (in theory) could damage it, modern engines are built to save themselves; they won’t actually red line and cause damage. So while Sport Response mode can seem scary—that engine is loud—you can’t actually hurt the engine.
That first time was a bit unnerving. But once I got used to it I looked forward to hitting the SR button for a bit more of a kick. It’s just pure delight (and not an option you should skip on this car).
Performance in an SUV… And Yes, Bring the Kids Along!
The Porsche Cayenne was the first true performance SUV to hit the road, and it changed our lives forever. While some people were skeptical about whether or not an SUV could also be a sports car, others were convinced.
Including our neighbor, who bought a Cayenne the minute it was available and took us for a spin. I recall sitting in the back seat and feeling the thrill and loft that a sports car gives you, not something you’ll always feel in the back seat of a fast-moving, tight-handling SUV. Without good visibility and upright posture, the twists, turns and speed can leave rear seat passengers simply feeling nauseous.
But Porsche’s approach, with RaceTex mircosuede inserts on the rear seats (an option on our test model), will keep posteriors firmly planted in their seats; the panoramic sun roof keeps cabin feeling open and airy and seatbelts (red sport belts in our test model) keep passengers strapped in and not just one with the car, but also, safe.
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It was a bold move when Porsche added performance engine and driving dynamics to an SUV. Thankfully they didn’t listen to the people who said it couldn’t be done, who believed that the proportions and bulk of an SUV would naturally keep it from being a performance car. But, being Porsche and knowing they could do it, they built it and look what happened: Not only are performance SUVs the brand’s best sellers, SUVs are no longer all hulks on wheels, and now, every performance brand has an SUV.
All Wheel Drive: That Other Important Drive Mode
So here’s one of the most ironic things about performance cars today: All wheel drive makes them even more responsive and competitive, so AWD is fast becoming a standard feature.
But you knew that. Us SUV drivers have long cherished the power of AWD to keep us on time and on track, even on snowy, slushy, sleety, rainy days. This was a game changer; you can still get to the grocery store, the school and the gas station and have everyone home safely before the roads turn to ice.
The Porsche Cayenne has this aspect covered, too. Tap the Offroad option on the command center and you’ll see multiple drive mode options on the media screen. You can choose gravel, mud, sand and rocks and you can set the vehicle’s height. Set it higher when you need to clear things like the mounds of snow left by snow plows, or lower it for a sportier experience on twisty, hilly roads.
The Cayenne’s all wheel drive modes are only selectable through the touch screen, and you can access the sport drive modes here, too.
Of Course, This is a Luxury Car With All the Pampering Details
This may be the thing that attracts many shoppers to the Cayenne: its luxury touches and details. The front cabin in the Cayenne is designed to put everything at your finger tips, from the gear selector to the touch screen. The command console is angled so it’s easy to see and reach, even with your elbow on the arm rest. There is a textured metal horizontal dial for radio volume and a more standard-looking round dial to scroll through the touch screen selections. These two dials, while very different in look and feel, are next to each other and it took a minute to remember what each does; the dial for the media screen looked more like a radio control to me but turning it didn’t impact radio volume. But I quickly got use to the setup.
I also really liked all the touch-sensitive options on the command center: from selecting media, navigation, phone, climate or off road settings to popping on the heated seats and turning off traction control, everything is at your fingertips.
The GTS cabin feels even more luxe dressed in Race Tex ultra suede. Keep in mind that it’s a warm surface, so in hot climates consider this carefully; if you plan to drive this car the way it’s intended, Race Tex is a must. If you don’t, then you may want to opt for an interior with vented leather seats. Seats in our test model were not vented, and between the black color and bright sun, they were warm, but not a thigh burner.
From there, the Porsche includes top technology such as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (and it’s wireless–yay!), heated power front seats and a large media screen that puts all the necessary functions front and center. And, the Cayenne GTS includes a premium Bose Surround sound system standard, perfect for setting the soundtrack for your drive, family singalongs or just to calm the frustrations of rush hour.
In the arm rest console there is a wireless phone charger and two USB-C power outlets, the only ones in the front seat.
The Porsche Cayenne GTS has ambient lighting on the doors and in the footwells, and there’s insulated and noise-reducing glass to keep out wind and road noise. This refines the drive experience to nothing but net: the cabin mood is set by exhaust notes, the buffer of leather and suede and at night, low light that outlines the cabin. It’s all pretty sublime.
A Cargo Area To Accommodate All Your Needs
Porsche’s designers didn’t overlook this area, which often can be missed, especially in performance SUVs. The Cayenne GTS includes several cargo area features that even improve it. It starts with the motion activated lift gate; with your key in your pocket or purse, just swipe your foot under the bumper and the gate opens automatically. If you’re loading in heavy things or helping your dog into the cargo area, use the button on the inside wall to lower the height of the Cayenne up to 2 inches. This may not sound like a lot, but to your 11-year-old Terrier, it’s a great thing, and to your teen lugging suitcases, it means less chance of leaving scratches on the bumper.
Under the cargo floor there is a temporary spare tire, and covering the cargo area is a tonneau cover that retracts if you don’t need it. If you want to remove the cargo cover, Porsche has designed a clever latch to help retract the spring-loaded bar to remove it. I really loved this detail.
GTS: A New Cayenne Model for 2021
For 2021, Porsche added the GTS edition to the Cayenne family. It has a V8 engine and is the only Cayenne with V8 outside of the Turbo line; the rest the family carries turbocharged V6 engines. Porsche is known for its V6s, which are powerful and rewarding, however purists will love the V8 in the GTS. The look of the GTS is all modern Cayenne, with refined headlights and a rear light bar that spans the lift gate and features an embedded, 3D Porsche logo. This is a telltale sign that lets you know at a glance this is the newest generation of the Cayenne and what the magic awaits inside and under the hood.
What This Car Costs
- Porsche Cayenne base model with 335 horsepower, all wheel drive, wireless Apple CarPlay, 12.3” touch screen media system and navigation, $67,500
- Porsche Cayenne GTS with 453 horsepower V8 twin turbo engine, sport exhaust, adjustable and adaptable air suspension, Bose Surround premium sound system, adaptive headlights, Race Tex ultra suede ceiling headliner and sport seats, about $107,000
- Carmine Red paint, $3,150
- Race Tex ultra suede heated steering wheel, $470
- Rear axle steering, $2,970
- Dynamic chassis control, $3,590
- LED matrix headlights, $1,200
- Sport Chrono package, $1,130
- Wireless phone charger, $690
- Surround view camera, $1,200
- Adaptive sport seats, $420
- Insulated glass, $1,130
- Premium package with ambient lighting, smart key, lane change assist and heated front seats, $4030
- Cost of our test model, including $1,350 delivery, about $130,250
What We Loved
- That drive experience; it’s simply a thrill
- The suede steering wheel, which at $470 is a huge bargain
- Bose Surround premium sound
- A very smartly designed cargo area
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- The angled command center
- A really comfortable rear seat
- The panoramic sun roof
- That this is an SUV, which makes errands and busy days easier and more fun
What You Need to Know
- Premium fuel is required
- Fuel economy is not the point; EPA estimates fuel economy of 15 MPG city/19 highway; we averaged about 16 MPG
- The first year’s maintenance is included at no cost
- Some driver assist and safety features are extra, including head up display, adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring
- All USB ports are USB-C fast chargers
It’s nice to know that when you get to a place in life where you can indulge in a finely crafted and built car, you don’t have to make compromises when it comes to your babies— offspring or the four-legged fur type. And you can still indulge in all that the engineers at Porsche delight in, from taking on the best that your local roads have to offer to finally learning to drive on a performance track. And, you can bring all the babies along; they will love the ride, too.
Disclosure: Porsche provided the Cayenne GTS for this review; all opinions are my own.