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The 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS Coupe.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Porsche, it has long been said, rewrote the laws of physics. How else has the 911, with its famously all-wrong rear-engined layout, evolved into the paragon of lithe and balanced athleticism it is today? (Little-known fact: On very early 911s, Porsche compensated for the tail-heavy weight distribution by bolting lumps of cast iron behind the front bumpers.)

Arguably, Porsche similarly middle-fingered the laws of the universe when it created GTS versions of the Cayenne SUV. There have always been Cayenne Turbos that were wickedly quick in a straight line, but enough horsepower under the hood can do that. The GTS, however, was designed to be the Cayenne most at home on racetracks – the kind with corners. And that’s a challenge, because an SUV’s lofty centre of gravity is as much a handling no-no as is a centre of gravity as rearwards as a 911′s.

Seemingly Porsche made it work, because the GTS variant has rejoined the Cayenne lineup in its third generation. The latest Cayennes first came to Canada two years ago in base (335 horsepower), S (434 hp) and Turbo (541 hp) guises and were later joined by the alternative coupe body style, as well as plug-in E-Hybrid (455 hp) and Turbo S E-Hybrid (670 hp) models.

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It's arguably the prettiest SUV coupe on the market.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Like all its siblings, the GTS is founded on the lightweight MLBevo platform also shared by corporate cousins the Audi A7, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus and Volkswagen Touareg. That makes the GTS about as new as new ever gets these days, including a powertrain upgrade from the previous 3.6-litre turbo V6 to a 4.0-litre turbo V8. Maximum outputs of 453 horsepower and 457 lb.-ft. of torque are respectively 13 and 14 more than before, though well down on the Turbo’s more highly boosted version of the same V8.

At one time the GTS’s credibility as a driver’s car was supported by an available manual gearbox, but the 2021 edition doesn’t even meet gearheads halfway with a PDK automatically shifted manual gearbox like on most Porsches. Here, the eight-speed transmission is a conventional torque-converter unit.

Of course, the chassis gets buffed to meet the track-and-field mandate. The active dampers have their own unique settings, the standard air springs drop the ride height by 30 millimetres, and Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (effectively a form of indirect rear-wheel steering) is standard.

Standard wheels are 21 inches, but the test sample rode on 22-inchers that are part of the $10,110 Lightweight Sport package that also includes a carbon-fibre roof (no, you can’t have it with a sunroof), a sports exhaust system and sundry cosmetic frills that add nothing to the GTS’s track talents.

The sports exhaust system features dual centre tailpipes.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Other options that do belong on the track included the $4,090 Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (essentially, active roll-stabilization) and $1,840 active rear-wheel steering; surprisingly, Porsche omitted from the test sample the available $10,350 ceramic composite brakes.

Even so, with countless other cosmetic, convenience, comfort and driver-assist options thrown on – many of them inexplicably expensive ($780 for a smartphone compartment?) – the test GTS arrived at the checkout counter with an extra $54,000 tacked onto its $126,500 base price.

But hey, it’s a Porsche. Even the base vehicle is brilliant. And nobody is forcing anyone to buy the frills. That said, anyone evaluating the GTS’s road moves needs to bear in mind that the test sample was gilded with every chassis-enhancing goody in the catalogue.

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The test vehicle came loaded with an array of tech and drive-assist features.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The first shocker is that despite all the computer technologies invisibly optimizing the driver’s commands, the GTS feels, well, natural. It has precisely the honest, analog, direct mechanical feel – including a muscular heft to the steering at higher speeds – so often missing from today’s computerized vehicles.

The next revelation is how civil the ride is, at least when the drive mode is left in Comfort. And yet – unlike in some vehicles with variable suspension settings – there’s nothing loose or floaty about Comfort.

Even in its gentlest drive mode, the Cayenne GTS handles admirably.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

You don’t need Sport Plus mode, above-legal speeds and a private track to enjoy “expressive” driving. Any 90-degree suburban street corner reveals uncanny agility. No lurch, no lean, no scrubbing tires. Just flick the wheel and there you are, going the other way. Even more astonishing, the GTS does this without hiding its big ’n’ tall build. It’s as if it mimics the moves of, say, a mid-engined sports car – but from two feet higher off the ground.

Laws of physics, indeed. Who needs ʼem?

Looks

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the coupe body being only 20 mm lower than the regular SUV, this is arguably the prettiest SUV coupe. The GTS’s 30-mm ride-height drop helps, too.

Interior

Configurable digital displays flank a huge analog tachometer in the gauge cluster.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The coupe’s roofline naturally cuts into rear headroom, though no more than in other similar vehicles; overall passenger room is competitive with the opposition. Up front, the basics are spot-on for the driver – lots of at-the-wheel adjustability, great visibility and an opulent centre-dash 12.3-inch main screen. In the gauge cluster, a huge analog tachometer, with digital speedometer inset, is flanked by configurable digital displays. The plethora of screen-based functions and display options inevitably involves a steep learning curve, and the use of touch-sensitive switches on the centre tunnel is something other automakers have tried and abandoned.

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Performance

The GTS isn’t the quickest Cayenne, but it’s quick enough – zero to 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds, Porsche claims. Still, the similarly priced BMW X6 M and Mercedes AMG GLE 63 S claim times below four seconds. The GTS displays noticeable turbo lag on a hard launch, but you won’t notice any in routine driving, and the eight-speed ZF is a flawless partner. The most visceral side of the GTS, however, is the Hallelujah Chorus from its V8, especially when amplified by the sports exhaust.

Technology

It may be the most driver-focused Cayenne, but all infotainment distractions and assisted-drive (AD) mod-cons are available. Virtually none of the latter, however, are standard; typical of luxury brands, you’ll pay a lot extra to get features, such as lane-keep assist or adaptive cruise control, that are standard on a $30,000 Hyundai.

Cargo

The coupe's cargo volume is understandably smaller than the standard Cayenne's.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Cayennes usually have a useful 3,500-kg tow rating, but forget towing anything if you opt for the sport exhaust with its centre-exit tailpipes. The seats-up/down cargo volumes of 640 /1540 litres are (as you’d expect) smaller than the standard Cayenne’s but comparable with a BMW X6. The Mercedes GLE Coupe, however, can swallow more cubes.

Tech specs

The GTS is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

  • Base price: $126,500; as tested, $180,495
  • Engines: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
  • Drive: Full-time all-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy: TBA
  • Alternatives: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Jaguar F-Pace, Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S, Range Rover Sport, Volvo XC90

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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