The first clue that the 2008 Porsche Cayenne GTS isn't like other SUVs is the shifter, which works the six gears in a manual transmission. Another clue comes when you get it in the twisties, and feel its utter lack of roll in hard cornering. The Cayenne GTS offers the most sports car-like handling of any SUV, even surpassing the BMW X5 in this regard. We've heard comments around the office that the Porsche badge shouldn't be this high off the ground, but purism aside, our friendly neighborhood Porsche rep tells us that the Cayenne sells, giving the company a stable bottom line with which it can work on better and better 911s. OK, we can accept that it's all for the greater good.
Although the transmission might be a little low-tech, the engine and suspension make up for it. The air suspension features all sorts of tricks to morph the Cayenne GTS from high-clearance, all-terrain vehicle to road-hugging canyon carver. Cabin tech is also present in the form of the Porsche Communication Management system, an all-in-one navigation, stereo, and phone unit--only, the phone part doesn't work in the U.S. Fortunately, this version of the system is on its way out, soon to be replaced by a whole new system featuring better controls and Bluetooth.
Test the tech: Ride quality
Behind the shifter on our 2008 Porsche Cayenne GTS is a bank of controls for the suspension almost as confusing as the acronyms they control. This car came with PASM, or Porsche Active Suspension Management, and PDCC, which stands for Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control. A rocker switch on the left moves the car from on- to off-road driving modes, with different levels of differential lock. A big button, labeled Sport, sharpens the throttle response, while three buttons to the right of that let you choose Comfort, Normal, and Sport modes for the suspension. Another rocker switch beyond those changes the ride height of the Cayenne GTS through three different modes.
To test out these different suspension settings, we found a section of rough pavement in San Francisco, approximately 100 yards long, and drove over it five times at 30 mph, each time with the suspension on a different setting. For our first run, we wanted to establish a baseline, so we put the suspension into Normal mode and called the ride quality zero. For a rougher ride from the other settings we subtracted numbers, and we added numbers for a smoother ride. In Normal mode, the Cayenne GTS wasn't floating over the rough bits, transmitting jolts from washboard surfaces and potholes.
Getting back to the start, we pushed the Comfort button and prepared for an easy ride. But our editors couldn't feel much difference between Comfort and Normal. Jolts were still transmitted to the cabin, from the repetitive bumps of the washboard section to the harder jolts of the potholes. The Cayenne GTS gained no points for this setting. Putting it in Sport mode, we repeated the course, this time finding a noticeably harsher ride. The jolts were delivered with more force, as this setting also keeps the Cayenne GTS flat in hard cornering. Editor Wayne Cunningham gave it a -3 for ride quality, while Antuan Goodwin wrote down a -2.
But, we weren't done yet. The Cayenne GTS has three ride heights controlled by another switch. The highest level, which Porsche specifies for special terrain, can only be used below 19 mph, but the second highest level can be used at greater speed, and is for light off-roading. We put it in this mode and ran the car over our course. We felt better damping than with the Comfort mode, as there was more travel in the suspension, letting it absorb more of the jolts. Both editors awarded the ride quality with a +2.
This air suspension can also lower the car, with the lowest setting dubbed Loading Level by Porsche, as it's designed for easily getting cargo into the car. Like the highest setting, you can't drive over 19 mph down this low. The second-lowest setting is for sport driving, so we used this to take our final run over the road. Our editors noticed an even rougher ride than with the Sport setting alone. The imperfections of the road delivered a particularly jarring ride, and our editors gave the ride comfort a -5 and a -4, respectively.
Although a very expensive SUV with fine materials in the cabin, the Cayenne GTS doesn't deliver the comfortable ride of a luxury car, not even with the adjustable suspension. However, it really does hunker down, with the air suspension and controls bringing noticeable changes to the sports settings.
In the cabin
The cabin of the 2008 Porsche Cayenne GTS is fitted with an Alcantara roof and pillar liner, and leather and suede seats. Our vegetarian photographer said of the seats that it is as if you can feel both the outside and inside of the animals they come from; but, there isn't a cloth option for the PETA crowd. Porsche throws some silver-colored trim, panels, and switchgear around the cabin, which unfortunately has a cheap, plastic feeling.
But, cabin tech is what we are here to talk about, and this Cayenne GTS came fitted with the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) option. As mentioned above, the PCM encompasses navigation, stereo, and a phone system. The interface for this system isn't particularly intuitive, and it adds a lot of black plastic buttons to the cabin. A lot of the system is controlled by a simple black knob that lets you select from context-sensitive menus. Spelling street and city names with this knob can be tedious, and there is no voice-command option. Porsche is in the middle of transitioning from PCM 2.0 to 3.0, with the new system offering hard drive-based navigation and other, more modern, electronics.