2009 Porsche Cayenne GTS: Excess refined

July 2, 2008, 12:02 AM UTC

As the first Porsche ever to be classified as a light truck, the Cayenne has been the subject of unending controversy ever since it was introduced in 2002. On the one hand, it has helped Porsche survive a slump in sports car sales and allowed it to remain – car for car – the most profitable auto company on the planet. So far this year, the Cayenne has accounted for a remarkable 42% of Porsche’s U.S. sales.

On the other hand, Cayenne owners display the least loyalty to the Porsche marque. So rather than being counted on to buy one Porsche after another, as 911 owners are, they are more likely to desert the brand when it’s time to buy a new car.

That hasn’t stopped Porsche from continuing to expand the Cayenne model line. To the six-cylinder base model, the V-8 -powered S and the over-the-top Turbo, now comes the GTS. After a weekend behind the wheel, including a late-night dash through the curves of the archaic Saw Mill River Parkway in Westchester, County, New York, I rate it as the best-balanced and most desirable Cayenne.

With its 405-hp engine and $70,195 base price, the GTS slots in above the S and below the Turbo in the price and power hierarchy. The exterior paint and interior fittings are executed to a high level – though no one would confuse a Porsche interior with a Range Rover – and the performance was breathtaking without feeling excessive. The Turbo that I drove several years ago seemed to be constantly straining to go faster than I wanted, whereas the GTS always seemed to be under my control. The enormous 21-inch wheels and tires stick to the road without being obtrusive, while the suspension and handling felt perfectly matched with each other, providing a comfortable ride without excessive leans or dips.

While nobody needs a two-and-a-half ton sport utility vehicle that gets to 100 mph in 15 seconds and gobbles a gallon of gas for every 13 miles it travels in town, it is possible to rationalize the purchase of a Cayenne. Think of it as the family man’s Porsche. There’s room inside for everyone, including the dog, unlike, say, a Cayman or Boxster.

The debate over what makes a true Porsche will begin anew next spring, when Porsche’s first four-door car, the Panamera, makes its debut at the Geneva motor show. And the long-term impact of the Cayenne on Porsche’s premium standing is still to be determined. What happens if Cayenne owners keep deserting the brand and nobody shows up to replace them? For now, though, Cayenne GTS owners should just thank their good fortune – and find plenty of open roads where they can continue to enjoy it.