Amid Austria's mountains, Steven McCombe finds that the stand-out feature of the second-generation Cayenne GTS is the acoustics of its impressive engine.
The sound of music from a Porsche Cayenne GTS on an Alpine trek
Austria; merely six hours after leaving the insufferable heat of a Dubai summer, I'm in the land of cows, Alpine mountains, yodellers, beautiful milkmaids and, now, Porsche Cayennes. I'm here on the banks of the tranquil Wöthersee, a 20km-long Alpine lake in the south of the country that is known as the Côte d'Azure of Austria, for the launch of the second-generation Cayenne GTS, an SUV that is all about speed and, surprisingly, sound.
And even though this is a German car with big ambitions in the Middle Eastern market, Wöthersee is the perfect setting for a launch, with archetypal Alpine mountains dropping dramatically into the warm azure waters of the lake.
It's a place chosen by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi for some of his infamous bunga bunga parties, such is the area's beauty, and the lakeside cafes and scenic pathways add to the charm of what is an upmarket holiday resort comprising old Germanic buildings with modern renovations.
It is also the setting where renowned classical composer Johannes Brahms perfected part of his Second Symphony in the 19th century, while Wolfgang Mozart is the most famous musical genius to hail from the country.
This latest GTS produces sound of a different nature to classical symphonies but the roar of the 4.8L V8 engine is no less alluring.
The car employs the use of a sound symposer system that comprises two acoustic channels to funnel the sound of the intake pulses into the cabin.
"The GTS has been designed to have an acoustic experience like a sports car," says Markus Schieritz, a Porsche product manager for SUVs. "This is due to the twin sound symposer that is activated when the car is put into sport mode."
Even before you get to sport mode, the growl from under the bonnet of what Porsche calls its most "emotional" SUV on ignition is enough to scare nearby wildlife but bring joy to the faces of the assembled motoring press.
A slight tickle of the accelerator has the engine bubbling away like a wicked witch's cauldron and leaves me with no doubt in my mind that this car is wicked, all right.
Starting out from the lakeside hotel in the postcard-like village of Portschach (don't ask me to pronounce it), I quickly realise that I should have spent a bit of time studying the centre console, as it's a mass of buttons and switches operating all manner of gadgetry.
It's undoubtedly difficult to work while driving and not exactly intuitive, but I forgive Porsche for this because it lavished the cabin with Alcantara and leather seats, giving the GTS the comfort and luxury that you would expect from a top German marque.
Of course, as is often the case with Porsche, much of the technology, such as a reversing camera, panoramic roof and cruise control are options, but the Bose sound system with USB connectivity, Alcantara interior elements and navigation system all come as standard.
The instrument cluster is also a bit odd, with the largest gauge being for rpm and the fuel gauge decreasing from left to right. And, for a car so big, the rearview mirror is tiny and sight is obscured with the back seat headrest, making manoeuvring disconcerting at times when you don't have a camera for reassurance.
Boot space and rear seat space is adequate though the centre console storage space is surprisingly small.
Once I get my bearings in the cabin, a brief motorway stint allows me to open the GTS up in sport mode and I'm immediately in love with the grumble and splutter from the V8. Everyone in the vicinity is aware of my presence as the GTS tears up the tarmac. Despite its 2,085kg weight, which is actually 160kg lighter than its predecessor, this thing can move. Its 20 extra horses over the first iteration give the V8 a total 420hp at 6,500rpm, and 515Nm of torque is available at 3,500rpm. It makes the GTS 0.8 seconds faster than before while still achieving a 23 per cent reduction in fuel consumption to a decent 10.7L/100km.
Any thoughts of thrashing the car more are put on hold until the test track outing later, as the female equivalent of Stephen Hawking living inside the GPS informs me of an imminent turn off the main road. Within minutes the GTS is ascending an archetypal Alpine mountainside higher and higher until I'm in the clouds.
Visibility is reduced to as little as 10 metres at points and the road narrows to the extent that hitting one of the many insane Austrian cyclists is a distinct possibility. How they managed to get up to heights of 2,000 metres without automotive assistance is beyond me.
Thankfully I manage to avoid a collision and drive far enough that the clouds make way to clear skies and a dry road, but the bends don't stop. I weave the GTS up and down, side to side through the beautiful countryside and quaint villages with such alluring names as Gmünd and Pisweg, and the car grips perfectly without fuss. At one point, Mrs Hawking gives me a bum steer, directing me off-road into the grounds of a logging factory, but it doesn't trouble the GTS and, after a bit of head-scratching, I see another Cayenne from the group and tag along.
Arriving in a place called Gurk, a stern-looking security guy directs me off-route, much to my and Mrs Hawking's confusion. An ambulance is up ahead and my first thought is that an accident has occurred, but those fears are allayed when I realise it's because a rally is taking place. I arrive and watch the rally drivers throwing their cars into a bend, knowing that I'll be doing the same thing on a track in the ever-so-slightly larger GTS once the road is reopened.
After two hours of enjoying Gurk's modest hospitality, I'm back on the road and arrive a short time later at the test track, where I find all the other journalists have already arrived before me as they had the intuition to find an alternative route.
Tail between legs, I shamefully wander in and sit myself down for some belated lunch. In the background is that glorious bellow again as journalists take their turn on the test track, pounding the SUV like it was a supercar. I step inside my GTS, engage sport mode and take off with a velocity that provokes elation and fear in equal measure.
It handles the bends impeccably and feels like it's glued to the tarmac, aside from a couple of skids as I enter turns with just a little too much throttle. Despite Porsche claiming the new GTS has faster gear changes, I do find a lag when in automatic, but there are paddle shifters to take charge of the eight-speed transmission yourself, so it's not too problematic.
The test drive presents the odd situation of an SUV being thrashed around a track as if it were a car half the size, but it proved to be more than capable of excelling at this task. In its press information booklet, Porsche refers to the GTS as a "fusion of two worlds" and a car that has an emphasis on having the "space, comfort and clear layout of an SUV" while still allowing for "the driving fun, dynamics and agility of a sports car". Porsche has certainly achieved its goals in this respect and it's a good combination of functionality and downright fun driving.
The GTS sits above the S and below the Turbo in the Cayenne family, but Porsche believes the GTS's engine acoustics will draw customers that would normally opt for one of the other variations. The first-generation GTS sold almost 16,000 units worldwide, giving it a 17 per cent share of total Cayenne sales, and I've no doubt this GTS will do even better, especially in the UAE, where speedy SUVs are popular. It has an appealing sleek design, too, black alloys and low-profile tyres that lend the GTS with some style in addition to the substance of the V8, but the greatest lure for buyers will be its speed, handling and that marvellously guttural and menacing engine noise; features I put to the test in the Austrian Alps around Lake Wöthersee last weekend. While Austria has a history of composing delightful symphonies, the GTS has a positive future in large part due to its rousing acoustic abilities.
The Porsche Cayenne GTS arrives in the UAE in August and prices start at Dh336,200.