Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 10, 2021
The GTS badge can be found on the back of many automobiles but in the case of Porsche and Maserati, GTS represents their mid-level trims that straddle that fine line between comfort and performance. These carefully brewed concoctions convey an image of daily usability over a thin veil of track-oriented table manners - a jack of all trades, if you will. In this company, status matters just as much as driving ability but with such rich motorsport pedigrees, these chariots from Stuttgart and Modena have nothing to worry about. And judging by the paint colours they showed up in, we’d say this is a bit of a red pill or blue pill dilemma.
In the Carmine Red corner is the 2021 Porsche Cayenne Coupe GTS, a sleeker, raked back coupe version of the popular Cayenne SUV. Porsche pretty much followed the BMW X5 and X6 recipe to the tee, and it should heavily appeal to those who value aesthetics over functionality. And it’s not a bad looking Porsche either, instantly identifiable by its four-corner headlights, 22-inch wheels, and extendable rear spoiler.
In the Blu Inchiostro corner lies the Maserati Levante GTS, Modena’s first stab at the modern SUV market. Named after a Mediterranean wind (not a Harry Potter magic spell) that changes from a breeze to a whirlwind in the blink of an eye, the Levante brings sexy Italian flair with sinful performance to match. It’s the type of SUV that likes to stand out from the monotonous crowd of BMW X6s and Mercedes GLEs.
The pair on this fight card share more than just the same three letters. Both cost well over $150,000, are propelled by hairy-chested, twin-turbocharged V8 engines with ZF-supplied 8-speed automatics and rear-biased AWD systems, wear 22-inch shoes and ride on air suspensions, utilize a left-side ignition switch, and aim to balance civility with track-time acumen. Sport SUV comparisons don’t get much better than this. So which is the better dancing partner and road trip companion? Let the GTS wars begin.
Porsche have been perfecting the GTS formula over the past decade and for the Cayenne Coupe, they dropped the ride height by 20 mm, added unique front and rear bumpers as well as a sports exhaust with optional center-exit tailpipes, and equipped larger brakes that wrap around new 21-inch wheels. A 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 replaces the outgoing V6, delivering 453 hp and 457 lb-ft through an 8-speed automatic, and there’s clearly a depth and breadth to an eight cylinder’s vocals that an engine with fewer combustion events just cannot replicate.
Our Cayenne GTS Coupe was spec’d out with lap times in mind, and was appropriately equipped with an adaptive air suspension, active roll stabilisation with active electromechanical anti-roll bars (PDCC), torque vectoring, rear-wheel steering that enhances both low-speed maneuverability and high-speed stability, 22-inch wheels, a louder exhaust with less sound deadening in the trunk area, and a carbon fibre roof that lowers the center of gravity.
When it comes to acceleration, the Cayenne Coupe GTS will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds, three-tenths behind the more powerful Levante GTS, but it genuinely does not feel slower. Of course, we know the true potential of this engine. It’s the same unit as the Cayenne Turbo but with less boost, and can also be found in the 600+ hp Audi RS 6 Avant and Lamborghini Urus. But 450 horses for a mid-size SUV is really all you ever need. Those two turbos turn down the volume but seriously crank up the power. As a result, low-end torque is potent, the powerband is wide, and it is effortless to get up to speed.
The Cayenne’s cornering abilities are unflappable and more established than the Levante’s, slicing through apexes flat, fast, and with scalpel-like precision. The steering is a peach: nicely weighted, perfectly judged, and full of feedback as the road texture flows through your fingertips. You won’t have to worry about painting a guardrail Carmine Red as you weave and follow the road’s cambers and undulations. With its army of performance-enhancing tech that the Maserati lacks, the Cayenne is simply more adept at shrinking its wheelbase down to a more compact footprint, and performs with the athleticism of a smaller vehicle.
The tradeoff however is with ride quality. Despite an adaptive air suspension, the ride is stiff, you feel the tire rumbles and road vibrations more, and it’s just not as plush or as grounded as the Levante. Porsche’s surefooted traction should make the sacrifice worth it for some but if you frequent long distance road trips, it’s the Maserati you want.
Straddling the medium between the Levante S and Trofeo, and like the Cayenne, the Levante GTS seeks the Goldilocks middle ground. Of note, Maserati will actually be ditching the GTS moniker entirely for the 2022 model year, replacing it with a GT, Modena, and Trofeo naming structure instead. Nevertheless, under the hood of the GTS is 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 that dishes out an impressive 550 hp and 538 lb-ft, significantly more than the Cayenne. Even with less displacement, the Maserati’s V8 gains the upper hand with its roots stemming from Ferrari. In fact, this V8 starts its life with Ferrari architecture and is finished off and assembled by Ferrari themselves in Maranello.
The Levante’s sheetmetal has been updated for 2021 with subtle bodywork changes and new LED tail lights. In addition, the instrument cluster and infotainment system are brand new and boast crispier graphics and faster processing speeds than before. Our test vehicle is wearing Blu Inchiostro paint, which isn’t part of the normal Levante colour palette, but part of Maserati’s Fuorisiere personalization program that allows buyers to individually spec their vehicle with whatever paints, liveries, leathers, and materials their hearts desire. Though our Levante is a bit shy of imagination, this paint lists for a cool $21,600. The hue changes significantly depending on the lighting conditions: bold blue in daylight, deep radiant purple under moonlight. Still, it would have been fun to see Maserati showcase something more creative or competition-inspired that draws from their racing legacy.
The Levante’s beauty is more than skip deep. The chassis has been stiffened for the GTS, resulting in improved on-road handling and impressive body control for such a heavy SUV. But the textural feedback relayed to the steering wheel is lacking compared to the laser-guided Porsche, and the Maserati doesn’t provide the same kind of road feel or well-tempered capabilities around corners despite weighing 70 kg less. It lacks polish when pushing towards its grip limits, but tries to make up for its performance deficits with explosive straight line acceleration, soaring from 0-100 km/h at the same speed as a 992-generation Porsche 911 Carrera.
The ride quality is firm but deliberate, and it absorbs and isolates occupants from low-speed impacts better than the Porsche. The Maserati houses a thicker layer of daily usability and everyday comfort, all without diluting its dynamic acuity. But one area where the Maserati has the unquestionable advantage is in the acoustics.
Maserati soundtracks have always separated and distinguished their vehicles from the rest of the pack. This scintillating V8 is the Levante’s gravity, emitting a rich audio signature that assaults the senses. The engine is choked up by two turbochargers if you can believe it or not, yet it resonates with a sonorous note that would put many naturally aspirated mills to shame. While the Porsche occupies the lower octaves, the Maserati hits the upper pitches and revs higher, harmonically wailing up to the limiter in an Italian ballad.
The Cayenne’s vocals aren’t bad either. Now, the entrance fee may be lower than the Maserati’s but we all know that Porsche nickels and dimes everything from 4-zone climate control to ambient lighting, ensuring the final price sails past anything reasonable. But one option we highly recommend is the Lightweight Sport Package ($9,890), mainly for the upgraded exhaust. It uses new mufflers for a howling repertoire that only an eight cylinder war drum could produce, and it replaces the dual exhaust pipes on each side with a center-exit exhaust, a racy design that is generally reserved for sports cars like Porsche’s own 911 GT3 or the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ.
You can also forget about towing anything except for a thunderstorm, because it sure sounds like one with the V8 revving up to its 6,800 rpm limiter. The deep-timbred and burbly tones ring on the same frequencies as the 4.0-litre AMG and 4.4-litre BMW M engines, so it’s not a terribly unique or distinctive voice, but you don’t have to work hard for the Porsche to emit some satisfying noises.
The interior of the Porsche is a class above the Italian’s, and it’s not just the knurled switchgear that feels more sophisticated, but it’s the electronics, the digital interface, the logistical layout of the dashboard, and the cabin packaging. The steering wheel is wrapped in Alcantara with a dedicated driving mode dial budding out of its lower spoke, and there are grab handles bordering the center console as well, showing just how serious the GTS takes its job. The expansive widescreen is a welcome front to connectivity with comparably crisp graphics to Maserati’s updated display, though not having a dedicated rotary dial does make things tricky when distracted by the road. The screen doesn’t vibrate to confirm each selection either like the Audi Q8, leaving more ambiguity on the table, and the abundance of glass-like surfaces means fingerprints will constantly mar the appearance of cleanliness.
Still, it feels like Porsche took their time, paid meticulous attention to the care and design of the ergonomics, and made sure everything was clean and well-resolved. But blank buttons at this price point are unacceptable, made worse by the fact that you can actually read the text underneath the glass and discover what options you didn’t tick off - they’re just not illuminated. As if the $156,420 as-tested price wasn’t enough.
By contrast, the Levante feels much larger from the inside with more storage options, larger cup holders, and a massive center armrest cubby that can swallow everything from small bags to my SLR camera. There is admittedly less visual garnish and first-rate appointments, and while many of your relatives will be quick to point out that the switchgear is the same as the Dodge Charger they rented last summer, the functionality and ergonomics that go behind them are undeniable. No cause for concern unless five-star craftsmanship is of top priority.
Be that as it may, there are many key elements that elevate the cabin’s premium image, like the chunky metal column-mounted paddle shifters that offer such an engaging noise and heart-warming thunk when pulled, that it’s tough to go back to the Porsche slim and short-travel paddles. And like the Cayenne, we have to praise Maserati for retaining analog gauges in a modern age. The updated fonts and new backface appear expensive, sitting pretty in the instrument cluster like a Rolex or Omega showpiece and compliments the rest of the leather-laden interior. The new touchscreen is a much-needed upgrade that fixes what was admittedly one of the weakest links in the Maserati lineup. The screen definition is now crispy like an OLED smartphone with no detectable lag between inputs and a clean interface.
The Maserati’s 12-way seats are compromised by a stiff bottom cushion, non-movable headrest, and a limited range of adjustment compared to the Porsche’s adaptive 18-way seats, but the seating position is spot-on. Both SUVs have flat and wide window sills to comfortably rest your arms on like in the full-size Range Rover and eerily enough, rear head- and legroom, and trunk shape and volume between the Cayenne Coupe and Levante are pretty much neck and neck.
Not even storied brands with rich motorsport heritage are immune to preposterous oxymoronic SUVs, but here we have it. GTS served two ways by Porsche and Maserati. They demand extraordinarily high entrance fees, are remarkably satisfying to drive, and offer a breadth of capability matched by their intelligent drivetrains and theatrical acoustics. Makes it all the more difficult to choose a winner.
The logical part of our brain tells us that the Porsche Cayenne Coupe GTS is the more sound decision, the one that will be easier to live with thanks to a proven reliability track record and a more upscale interior that blows Maserati’s trident out of the water. The Porsche hits all the right notes, providing a sharper and more involving drive that favours engagement over road compliance. The suspension could use a softer setting for daily road use but when it drives as well as this, I don’t think many will mind. And those that do could just swing for the milder Cayenne S instead.
The emotional side of our brain pushes us towards the Maserati. Our amygdala seems to go into overdrive every time we hit the ignition button. The V8 is dramatic and yes, the cabin parts bin is questionable but we don’t mind the pooling of resources, especially when all the money went into making the exhaust sound the way it does. The Levante feels heavier and more civilized than the Porsche when the road turns sinuous, but its sledgehammer of torque lights up our synapses with every prod of the throttle. And while the steed from Modena lacks the dynamic acuity and cabin craftsmanship of the Stuttgart fighter, it’s the one we kept thinking about long after the engines went to sleep.
Model: 2021 Porsche Cayenne Coupe GTS
Paint Type: Carmine Red
Base Price: $126,500
Price as Tested: $156,420
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,939 / 1,995 / 1,656
Curb weight (kg): 2,237
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 453 hp @ 6,000 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 457 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 14.2
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.2 / 12.4 / 14.0
Tires: 285/40 ZR22 front; 315/30 ZR22 rear; Pirelli P Zero
Model: 2021 Maserati Levante GTS
Paint Type: Blu Inchiostro (Fuoriserie Corse)
Base Price: $146,690
Price as Tested: $183,790
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,020 / 1,981 / 1,698
Curb weight (kg): 2,170
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 550 hp @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 538 lb-ft @ 2,500 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 16.6
Tires: 265/35R20 front; 295/40R20 rear; Continental SportContact 6