Sweden in winter is an ideal place and time to experience Porsche's take on the maximum SUV, the new 2016 Cayenne Turbo S. This 570hp monster easily has the specs to go toe to toe against BMW's best. But its $157,300 starting price means it also exists in rarer air. Porsche has brought along a new Cayenne sibling as well. The 440hp GTS puts its emphasis on sportiness rather than the kitchen-sink mentality of the Turbo S and starts at $95,500. Both can post Nürburgring lap times in the 8-minute range (the Turbo S just cracks that mark), yet they are also capable of carrying the kids to school with a trunk full of groceries. And both arrive in the United States this April.
It's evident the designers in Stuttgart have kept this update evolutionary, which is typical for the marque. A few key differences set these '16 models apart from their predecessors. Porsche claims to have emphasized vehicle width more with this generation; I'm inclined to say the company did a good job. Prominent horizontal accents and updated light clusters make the face stand out over the previous car. Although I've never been a huge fan of the Cayenne design, the new look (in my view) is better than before. The performance-oriented tweaks of these two trims, the GTS in particular, help considerably.
Before getting into what it's like to drive Porsche's new chest-thumpers, it's necessary to describe the surroundings of the test venue. It's February in Skellefteå, a little less than 500 miles north of Stockholm. I'm standing on what I think is an old airfield runway. There's snow. A lot of snow. It's surreal up here—dense forests of pine as far as the eye can see, each tree frosted with a painting-perfect coat.
The "runway" is a thick sheet of ice topped with a light layer of snow. On either side are 3- to 4-foot snowbanks. Maybe those banks are a welcome addition, because the least powerful of these SUVs still has two-score more than 400 hp. And the Turbo S... well, even if this is the world's most advanced all-wheel-drive system—and even if its stability systems sport more letters than Neil deGrasse Tyson's business card—loosening all four wheels' grip on the ice is laughably easy. Granted, the cars are shod with Michelin's awesome Pilot Alpin tires, so if there's grip to be found, they'll find it. But there isn't much out here. Certainly not enough to allow an earnest test of two vehicles and more than 1,000 hp. Still, I'm able to get a feel for them before long.
The airfield is divided into various test areas: slalom, traction circle, and the like. Even a sort of track to round things off. All these events are held under the supervisory eye of Porsche, minus one. The 230-foot skidpad is an open invitation to switch off the traction control, and it's way more fun than it looks. Getting the big Turbo S to go sideways is an utterly effortless affair. Because of how little traction there is, the entire drifting thing happens at around 10 mph (though the spinning wheels will send the speedometer as high as 50 mph) and can easily be held indefinitely.
Unsurprisingly, both models pass their icy tests with aplomb, offering remarkable traction and utter comfort behind the wheel, but the winter weather keeps a damper on really stretching things out. That V-8 is capable of rocketing the Turbo S to indecent speeds in no time flat. The V-6 in the GTS only slightly less so. These surprisingly responsive turbocharged engines are perhaps excessive for 99 percent of typical usage. To the untrained hand, that just translates into dangerous for conditions like these. We've long since passed the practical high-power threshold and it's really now a race to the top.
As the day goes on, I keep wanting to like the Cayenne GTS more. I assumed I would. It has the letters "GTS" on it, right? That's the Porsche that Porsche geeks are supposed to like, the one with soul or some other such nonsense. It has cool equipment like red-stitched Alcantara interior surfaces and ever-so-sporting matte black exterior accents. But the Turbo S is too over the top to ignore. It can easily be spec'd up to more than $200,000, which is just plain excessive. Or is it? Either way, I want the Turbo S. If you're going to have a Porsche SUV, it may as well be the fastest. And if you're going to have the fastest, it might as well have all the bells and whistles. It's the whole package that impresses.
So I grab a Turbo S, leave the testing facility, and head for public roads. This involves a lot of lesser-used back routes, which still have a good coating of snow. It might sound counterintuitive, but that's a good thing. All-wheel drive and stability control notwithstanding, snow still offers a heck of a lot more traction than ice, and those are the only road surface options available here. A few curious pokes at the throttle reveal there is indeed a ridiculous amount of power under the hood, but these roads aren't the place to explore that any further.
The ride is otherwise comfortable and confident, ensconced in impeccable cabin design and build quality. As the flagship model, it's decked out with Garnet Red leather interior and every convenience feature a luxury buyer could possibly want. It's cozy in here. My heated seat is on and the climate control holds a steady 69.8 degrees F (21 degrees C) while winter howls mercilessly outside. The Turbo S could do this all day long. I still don't get the point of an absurdly powerful SUV in the mall parking lot, but after spending time with these new Cayennes in an environment that actually suits them, I can't deny the appeal. I can't think of a more effective way to haul ass in such conditions. The Turbo S is king of the road by virtually any measure. If the idea of the absolute alpha SUV appeals to you, look no further. The bar's just been raised.