September 29, 2023

3R Trail

Feel the difference

Road-Testing The Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT

Bauhaus design, meticulous and cohesive engineering, and human factors a company can only master after decades of racing, that’s always the case with a Porsche. Cayenne Turbo GT may not be a sports car, but this 650-horsepower Super-SUV embodies the Porsche ethos as well as any other vehicle the company produces.

A limited number of performance SUVs from Germany and Italy are worthy of a cross-shop, but only one Super-SUV is readily available that can match Turbo GT’s decathlete skills, its combination of supercar performance with practical Daddywagen utility and docile long-distance touring. Four-door SUV architecture or not, Turbo GT merits the Gran Turismo model designation.

Turbo GT’s engine is the highest evolution of the Porsche/VW Group corporate 4-liter twin-turbo V8. Power flows to an 8-speed conventional but highly intelligent automatic transmission and ultimately through a 4-wheel drive system. For the geeks in the audience, power for the front wheels is picked up by a clutch aft the transmission and shot forward. Porsche calls it PTO, for Power Take-Off.

Turbo GT has Porsche Torque Vectoring + (PTV+) to distribute power left and right to the wheel’s best able to put it down, which is basically the latest evolution of business as usual in such vehicles. A few rounding errors and calibration differences notwithstanding, this is essentially the same engine I experienced recently in a VW Group cousin, the Lamborghini Urus Performante, and it is as good as any 4-liter turbo V8 offered. Porsche and Lamborghini PR flaks will both object to the above statement, but for all intents and purposes, they’re kinda the same power mill.

Sprinting to 60 or 100 mph, Turbo GT will leave must performance SUVs trailing in its wake by a half-second or more, and it can smoke the doorhandles off sports cars built only a few years ago. In the default “Normal” calibration, the engine is unobtrusive, the suspension compliant. “Sport” became my preferred setting, idle rising slightly with a hint of aggression, and the vehicle jumping, pouncing whenever the throttle pedal is tickled. Sport+ brings vicious supercar performance, perfect for those times you’re angry with the world or just need speed to clear the mind. Turbo GT can be absolutely savage.

Turbo GT employs the shorter 114-inch wheelbase afforded by the third-generation Cayenne “engineering toolkit,” and also the sleek coupé roofline, resulting in a vehicle that looks more like a tall, chunky sports sedan than an SUV. It has the purposeful air of a wild boar on the charge: taut flanks, thick neck, powerful haunches, tusks swinging.

Aero on Turbo GT is subtly tucked away, not overt, but interesting. Note in photos that the front splitter juts out, attached through arms. It smooths the airflow heading to the shaped bellypans, which feed to the rear diffuser. That’s all real aero and settles the car down at high speeds.

Also note the slits ahead of the front wheel arch, which helps create negative pressure on the face of the front tire, keeping the nose planted at high speeds. And yes, the carbon-fiber roof does save about 46 pounds, which helps with stability, lowering center of gravity.

Driver’s seat adjusted for my 6-foot+ height, there’s enough rear-seat leg and foot room for adults of median height to sit comfortably during an hour-long cross-town journey. The sweeping coupé roofline slightly impacts the trailing upper corner of the rear door frame, so taller passengers will need to perform a neck-and-shoulder tuck for smooth entrance. Roofline sweeping in tight, children find the rear compartment as cozy as a pillow fort.

Cayenne’s new 2024 dash and center console adhere to current Porsche design principles, but also answer to a higher standard, Bauhaus, for a man-machine interface that is both logical and elegant.

A flat glass gauge panel presents three digitally rendered round “dials” that change with calibration settings. The entire driver display can cycle through numerous variations, offering all sorts of useful information, from tire pressure to cornering g-forces when on the move, to the navigation map and more. I didn’t try counting the possible variations; it’s worth investing 20-30 minutes in pre-flight, cycling the display, and learning the function of switchgear. Secondary information is sprinkled across the panel.

Due to the crisp, sharp digital graphics, there is no binnacle, no shroud over the gauges to shield them from bright sunshine. I will miss the word “binnacle.” The dash does not have an unbroken arc of flatscreen. There are multiple panels, but they integrate visually and work to the highest order.

Digital or not, thanks to Bauhaus philosophy, this dash panel will be considered handsome 50 years from now. Unlike many mainstream cars that are dedicated followers of fast fashion, Porsches don’t look gimmicky at age 30 or 40. One can easily imagine a 1950s or ‘60s Porsche dash panel morphing before your very eyes.

Sightlines are impeccable. No matter the considerable size of an SUV architecture, and the excellent measures of interior room for driver and front passenger, you feel…inserted behind the wheel, you merge with the vehicle, and at speed the entire vehicle shrinks. Exceptional man-machine interface. It’s downright cyborg.

The knurled drive selector mounted on the central dash behind the right side of the steering wheel is a mechanical-electrical touchpoint that moves with Sig-Sauer precision. It’s also key to this much more efficient driver’s cockpit. Press up for reverse, down to go forward. Above it, a shiny button to engage Park.

The shifter design comes from the battery-electric Taycan but is inspired by similar controls dating to early dash-mounted pushbutton or lever-controlled automatic gearboxes in both American and European cars of the 1950s and ‘60s. Corvairs, Renault Dauphines, Plymouths and others had pushbutton transmission controls, but Porsche has reinvented. By relocating forward-reverse to the dash panel, the wide expanse of center console becomes a toggle-pad to control many comfort and convenience functions like HVAC and audio. No more clunky shift lever the size of a boxing glove.

One can choose calibration with the center touchscreen, but simply rotating the calibration wheel on the lower right quadrant of the steering wheel is far more efficient and direct. Many of us still prefer an analog interface, even if it connects to electronics. Best of all, the calibration wheel includes the “push-to-pass” function: press the red button and calibration steps up a layer for 20 seconds, providing sharper response.

About the two-chamber air suspension. This is new, and also has damping function on both compression (absorbing the bump) and rebound (pushing the tire back down onto the pavement). The air springs react to road irregularities much quicker. This set-up also allows a far greater difference between the plush Normal setting, then Sport and Sport+. Switch back and forth while driving over a rough section and the advantages of this design are obvious.

Most SUVs look like breadvans, like middle-aged widebodies. It’s hard to tell one from another when approaching in traffic unless spotting the company badge. Not so the Cayenne Turbo GT with coupé roofline, which has a unique presence. Porsche’s body-width LED taillights are also a graphic signature.

If you find one, buy it. Turbo GTs do not languish on dealer lots waiting for “cash on the hood.” The annual production is less even than the other ultra-high-performance Cayenne, the e-Hybrid Turbo. Turbo GT is special in all regards, and exclusive.

We all want to own a warehouse full of cars, some broadly capable for everyday duty, others offering one-dimensional high-performance. Who doesn’t dream about owning a restomod luxury off-roader? But if you need a back seat, daily practicality, you hunger for speed and brainwave connection, and you can only have one vehicle to satisfy so many desires, Cayenne Turbo GT is one of the very best choices.