2011 Porsche Cayenne S Review – First Drive

All-new Cayenne solves its predecessors flaws, maintaining a tight grasp on the luxury SUV crown

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Review – First Drive

Bringing out a new generation of an established vehicle is no guarantee of success. There are far too many areas where marketing departments, middle management and bean-counters hold sway to count on excellent product making it to market. Making do with “good enough” seems the more likely result. In some regards, the refreshed version of the original Porsche Cayenne fell into that trap, with updates that didn’t solve the car’s design, weight and fuel economy issues.

FAST FACTS

1. The all-new 2011 Cayenne makes 400-hp and 369 ft-lbs of torque in V8 S trim.

2. Fuel economy jumps considerably from last year’s 13/19-mpg rating to 16/22-mpg.

3. Pricing for the Cayenne S starts at $63,700.

4. Porsche also offers a 300-hp V6 Cayenne, 500-hp Cayenne Turbo and the new Cayenne S Hybrid.

NEW LOOK BOTH REFRESHING AND MUCH-NEEDED

Back to the drawing board for 2011, and more of those complaints have been dealt with. Especially visually – the Cayenne no longer looks like a surprised 911 sitting on a kitchen table. The whole package is sleeker and better proportioned. Even though it looks smaller and more compact, the ’11 is actually two inches longer, with most of that stretch dedicated to an increase in wheelbase.

Under the skin, the Cayenne S retains its all-independent suspension setup, with front double wishbones and a rear multi-link setup benefiting from steel springs and height-adjustable dampers. Those are the real key to Porsche’s goal of retaining the old one’s off-road prowess while improving on-road performance.

Thankfully, the engineers’ jobs must have been made significantly easier because they have nearly 400 lb. less weight to deal with. The bulk of that comes from ditching the heavy 4WD system shared with the original Volkswagen Touareg, while increased use of aluminum and other light-weight materials make up the balance. As a result, the S weighs a (relatively) svelte 4,553 lbs.

As a replacement, Porsche fitted an electronic clutch pack acting as a center differential, which apportions power to all four wheels, depending on conditions. Obviously, since it’s a Cayenne, the tuning is heavily geared towards on-pavement fun, while in-cabin switches and dials can prepare the vehicle for low-speed off-road grunt work. The new optional torque-vectoring rear differential does dual duty too – helping the outside wheel rear wheel turn better in the middle of a corner on the racetrack or street, and locking the rear axle completely for more muddy performance.

SLIGHT BUMP IN POWER, BUT BIG INCREASE IN FUEL ECONOMY

That performance comes from a familiar place – the 4.8-liter V8 with VarioCam Plus, dry-sump lubrication and direct fuel injection. Taken straight out of the Panamera S, the engine produces 400-hp at 6500 rpm and 369 ft-lbs of torque at 3500 rpm, which is up 15-hp from 2010. Combined with the new eight-speed automatic transmission, the Cayenne S happily runs from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds. Top speed is a fairly ridiculous 160 mph.

The immediate benefit to the crash diet and octo-geared transmission is a direct correlation to fuel economy: the S now returns 16/22-mpg (city/hwy) compared to 13/19-mpg from the previous generation. More power, less weight, less fuel? Sounds like a great combination.

CONDIFENT ON-ROAD HANDLING

On track, the Cayenne S tries to make that work. The standard 18-inch wheels come with 255/55/18 all-season Michelins, which do a decent job of balancing durability and grip when it’s messy with fair grip on tarmac. But there’s a lower threshold there compared to the optional summer rubber on 20-inch wheels.

The six-piston front calipers and four-piston rears squeeze large, 14- and 13-inch discs respectively, and pedal feel is very good. Steering feedback is decent, given the size, and the S is happy to get out of its own way. You’ll want to roll down the windows to hear the excellent songs coming from the tailpipes too – very vocal.

LUXURY ABOUNDS INSIDE WITH CARRYOVER FROM PANAMERA

Put the windows back up, and you’re treated to another of Porsche’s increasingly impressive interiors. Shapes and themes can be spotted from the Panamera sedan, including the wide, angled center console, and one gauge segment that houses a multi-function display. You’ll spot the familiar angled grab handles too, which now sprout from the doors as well.

The standard eight-way front power seats do the job just fine, but dig into the options list and you can find 18-way sport seats with adjustable bolsters. That also installs sport-style seats in second row too, giving better support for your passengers. Either way, the rear bench slides over six inches to better accommodate tall passengers, or bulkier items in the cargo area. With the seats up, there’s a maximum of 24 cubic feet of space, but that increases to 63 cu.-ft. when you fold them down.

The standard 10-speaker sound system is decent, but there are optional BOSE and Burmester packages with more wattage and speaker count, depending on how deep your wallet is. You will save a few bucks on the new Cayenne thanks to Porsche’s new generosity – things like a power moonroof, Servotronic power steering, floor mats, Bluetooth connectivity and a universal audio in (Aux/USB/iPod) are now standard on the S.

As befits a high-performance German vehicle, the options list is long and plentiful. But, Porsche has responded to previous criticism by packaging together popular features to save a few bucks. The ’11 Cayenne S starts at $63,700, which is about $3,000 more expensive than the 2010, but the additional features, performance and fuel savings will balance that out in the end.

THE VERDICT

Look at other V8-powered performance SUVs in the segment, and the Porsche stands out as the most expensive. Between the Audi Q7 4.2 quattro, BMW X5 xDrive50i, Mercedes-Benz ML550 4MATIC and Range Rover Sport HSE, only the aging Audi breaks the $60K mark for base prices. None offer the outright performance of the Cayenne, and its flexibility in delivering off-road thrills too.

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