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In a surprising about-turn, Porsche has equipped the latest Cayenne GTS not with a six-cylinder engine to mirror the unit offered in the previous generation, but has installed an evolution of the company’s lauded 4,0-litre, twin-turbo V8 under the vast bonnet. I drove the latest GTS in Coupé guise on the Western Cape’s flowing roads and, despite my reservations about performance SUVs – especially hunkered-down ones such as this – Porsche’s newest model proved hard to fault…

FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND

GTS options split Porsche’s ranges between the normal and S grades on one side, and the Turbos and GT2/3/4/Spyder variants on the other. From experience, a GTS usually strikes a fine balance between usability and incredible performance. The new Cayenne Coupé affixed with these three letters is no different. The highlight of the package is undoubtedly the V8 engine. Offering 338 kW (up 14 kW) between 6 000 and 6 500 r/min, and 620 Nm of torque from 1 800 to 4 500 r/min, the eight-pot is sufficiently brawny to overcome the Cayenne Coupé’s two-tonne-plus weight disadvantage, trimming 0.6 seconds from the previous model’s 0-100 km/h time for a headline figure of 4.5 seconds. That handsomely beats the rival Mercedes-AMG GLE53’s sprint time but lags the more powerful BMW X6 M50i’s punch (390 kW; 4.3 seconds).

Where the Cayenne GTS Coupé most crucially distinguishes itself from its predecessor – and the GLE53 – is in the richness of its performance. This is a beautifully cultured powertrain, with very little lag, a distinct lack of vibration filtering through to the cabin and a mellifluous warble that extends into a ridiculously appealing V8 howl at high revs, aided by the standard sports exhaust system. The eight-speed Tiptronic torque-converter transmission is flawless, executing shifts imperceptibly and leaving the torque to do the work unless the driver uses the full extent of the throttle pedal’s travel.

AND HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

Equally impressively. Look, it’s hardly surprising a Porsche SUV is the most dynamic vehicle in its class, offering as it does direct, feelsome steering, excellent body control thanks to a chassis 20 mm nearer the ground, and strong brakes. But what’s most impressive about its dynamic repertoire is how it melds exciting driving manners with a composed ride – firm yet beautifully controlled, despite the fitment of some serious wheels and tyres (21s are standard and a variety of 22-inch wheels are optional). You can, of course, specify the Cayenne GTS Coupé with a number of enhancing features, including Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, rear-axle steering, air suspension and ceramic brakes (R223 060 – oof!) , but these hardly seem necessary because the inherent balance in this chassis is exceptional. Refinement is terrific, too.

WHAT’S THE CABIN LIKE?

Sorry to be repetitive, but up to the lofty standards of the rest of the package. The materials, fit and finish are first-rate, and it’s an easy cabin to use (thankfully there’s none of the Panamera’s frustratingly complex electric adjustment of the direction of the air piped through the vents). I’m a big fan of Porsche’s infotainment system – although it’s pretty cheeky charging more than R30k for the optional Bose sound system when it should probably be standard at the price – and the crystal clear instrumentation array in the classic five-dial layout. Love the Alcantara trim, too.

Don’t buy the Cayenne GTS Coupé if you want maximum occupant and cargo space, though. While there’s sufficient headroom aft, it does feel a touch claustrophobic compared with the airier (and R90k cheaper) Cayenne GTS, and the boot is trimmed down from 770 to 625 litres, a not insignificant amount. Total utility capacity falls from 1 710 to 1 540 litres.

VERDICT

It’s refreshing driving a new car that’s gained cylinders instead of shedding them. In the Cayenne GTS Coupé, the V8 makes all the difference. It transforms what was already a clinically excellent driving experience to one simultaneously infused with soul and character. Whatever your opinion on big, heavy performance SUVs – or the Cayenne Coupé’s somewhat ungainly looks – what’s indisputable is how very, very good the new GTS is. Cayenne Turbo/X5 M/GLE63? No, thanks – here lies the sweep spot. I’d just get the normal Cayenne GTS and spend the difference on some appealing extras.

PRICING

All Porsche models come with a two-year/unlimited km warranty and three-year/100 000 km motorplan (which can be upgraded to five years for an additional R50k)

Porsche Cayenne GTS Coupé Tiptronic: R1 839 000

About the Author: Terence Steenkamp
Editor. Car lover. Traveller. Doggy dad. Pinot noir drinker.