Porsche SUVs Feel at Home in Beautiful Yet Harsh Locales

In a world where just about everything feels oversold, once in a while you find something really special that truly lives up to its hype.

The Cabot Trail is something really special.

Spanning 186 miles of the northern coast of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, it’s fully deserving of its reputation as one of the most iconic drives on the planet. Few things are as good for a driver’s soul as dancing over a ribbon of black asphalt through undulating hills while taking in seaside vistas so vast and unspoiled that you’re sometimes left wondering exactly where the ocean ends and the sky begins.

Porsche’s Cayenne and Macan SUVs were the vehicles put to the test for this drive, and they just might be the ideal cars for the job. No, they don’t approach the 911s of the world if you’re wringing them out head to head on a racetrack, but the Cabot Trail is a different animal. The brutal winters are very hard on roads on the East Coast of Canada, and while some sections are well-maintained, others are extremely rough – enough so that a car with a too-low ride height could potentially head home with some damage.

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The Cayenne and Macan both capably transition out of those dicey portions and into the smooth and twisty bits, where you can set either car down with the air suspension, crank the gearbox up with sport or sport plus mode, and leave with some of your very best driving memories. 

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Porsche Macan Turbo with Performance Package

The highlight of our fleet on this drive was the 2017 Porsche Macan Turbo equipped with the new Performance Package. Now occupying the top spot in the Macan lineup, its twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6 puts out 40 hp more than the standard Macan Turbo for a total of 440 hp, and 36 lb-ft more torque, making a total of 442 lb-ft. This gives the Macan Turbo with Performance Package a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds (zero to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds) and a top speed of 169 mph (272 km/h).

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The package includes 1.18-inch larger front brake discs with red six-piston calipers, a 0.39-inch lower sport chassis, air suspension, a sport exhaust (and more noise when you hit the make-it-sing button), and Porsche’s Sport Chrono Package with its included Sport Plus drive and suspension mode as standard. This is alongside other standard features carried over from the Macan Turbo such as a 14-speaker Bose surround sound audio system, 18-way power-adjustable sport seats, navigation, rain-sensing wipers, a power liftgate, and front and rear parking cameras, among others.

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In practice, this gives the Macan Turbo with Performance Package an ideal drive feel for great roads like the Cabot Trail. On the best sections, I enabled the Sport Plus drive mode and the most responsive setting on the air suspension. Steering turned razor-sharp, the seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox shifted faster and held onto lower gears for dear life, and the increased torque made a noticeable difference in acceleration. On rougher spots, I turned everything off and cruised over the potholed roads so smoothly that they hardly disturbed my coffee. It delivered an admirable mix of performance and practicality, all in a gorgeous red leather interior with enough room to bring family along for the ride. (Although only just – this is one area where the Cayenne stands out.)

Pricing starts at $87,700 ($99,000 in Canada).

Porsche Cayenne GTS

Though the Macan ingratiated itself on the twistiest roads through its steadiness thanks to its tauter wheelbase and lower center of gravity, the Cayenne still holds its own very well as a performance SUV despite the second generation’s advancing age.

The GTS model is the Cayenne’s mid-level trim and comes with the same twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 as the Macan Turbo with Performance Package. Here, it’s rated at 440 hp and 442.5 lb-ft of torque and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

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While this one is already 0.79 inches lower than other Cayenne models, crank the suspension down and the drivetrain up with Sport Plus (the latter being added through the optional Sport Chrono Package) and the Cayenne’s overall performance approaches that of the top-tier Macan – its sheer size and weight are the only factors that make it seem to lag a touch more, but those are differences that can’t be helped.

Where the Cayenne shines is on long highway stretches. A Macan’s front-row and rear-row passengers will scrap over space, but in the Cayenne, everyone has the leg room they need. Plus, the comfort drive mode on the Cayenne’s air suspension is aided by its higher ride height and floats cloud-like over rougher surfaces. For more everyday-oriented drivers, this might be a better fit.

Pricing for the Cayenne GTS starts at $98,600 ($111,300 in Canada).

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Downsides

If sheer performance is your key motivator, you can’t go wrong with Porsche’s SUVs. But if the broader in-car experience matters to you, these vehicles share two common traits to consider before pulling the trigger.

While the infotainment system in today’s Cayenne and Macan is much better than in the past, it still has some imperfections. The radio functionality is awkward: if you like to flip between stations often, then you need to change screens entirely to tune one click at a time – and that screen doesn’t show the song name, so you’ll have to go back again if Name That Tune isn’t your forte. Plus, the navigation system is below average at tracking the car’s progress in some more remote areas.

The center console remains Porsche’s button-heavy design in these models. It’s so difficult at times to find the button you need that if you don’t have a passenger to help then you might have to wait for a stoplight. A daily driver would get used to key button locations after a while, but the much-improved design in the new Panamera is bound to make its way into the Cayenne and Macan eventually, which for some buyers might be significant enough to be worth the wait.

Cars for Every Purpose

As long as there are great roads in the world, from the Cabot Trail to scenic back-country tracks and everywhere in between, there will be people who understand and appreciate the love of the drive. Those with a sky-high sense of adventure and the budget and taste to match will enjoy either of these SUVs, both of which leave you prepared to head in any direction that moves you.