Being both a pariah and a company savior has been hard on the Porsche Cayenne. If the Porsche ‘faithful’ could have burned it at the stake, they would have, but the thousands of them on the road means it served its purpose: to keep the parent company in the black. So, like it or not, the Cayenne is still the most successful – and perhaps most important – Porsche in recent history. Introduced in 2002, it was getting on in years and was due for an update.
|1. Under the hood a twin-turbo 4.8L V8 makes 500-hp and 516 ft-lbs of torque, enabling a 0-60 mph time of just 4.4 seconds.
2. Thanks to a new AWD system and other adjustments, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne weighs a solid 400-lbs less than the model it replaces.
3. In addition to the Turbo, Porsche offers the Cayenne as a 300-hp V6, a 400-hp V8 and hybrid model that delivers the fuel economy of the former with the performance of the latter.
4. The Cayenne Turbo is priced from $104,800.
ALL-NEW AWD HELPS SHED 400-LBS
Twinned with the Volkswagen Touareg, the Cayenne was surprisingly good off-road – although a fraction of its owners would ever explore that side of its personality. But that came with a price – namely extra weight in the form of bulky transfer cases and locking mechanical differentials. Built to withstand heavy abuse, it became a penalty everywhere else.
Porsche decided to find a more elegant solution, and has incorporated a version of the Panamera’s all-wheel-drive system underneath the new version. It’s smaller and lighter, but can still pass muster in the muck. They also have an optional torque-vectoring rear differential that’s designed to add extra performance on the road, but has a side-benefit of acting like a fully-locked diff when needed. Truly the best of both worlds. Together with some other fat-reducing efforts, the engineers were successfully able to pull 400 lbs out in the redesign, which is truly spectacular in this age of ever-inflating curb weights.
START-STOP SYSTEM HELPS MAKE 500-HP MORE EFFICIENT
Motivating the big beast is a twin-turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 that’s shared with the Panamera Turbo, producing 500-hp and 516 ft-lbs of torque. It’s mated to an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission (and not Porsche’s excellent PDK dual-clutch job) that sends power to all four wheels.
The transmission also includes a stop-start system, similar to a hybrid, that shuts the engine off at a full stop and restarts instantly when you take your foot off the brake. It’s claimed to help bring the Cayenne Turbo’s fuel economy ratings from just this side of disastrous to actually not bad. While hard numbers have not been released, Porsche promises a double-digit improvement.
SUPERIOR DRIVING DYNAMICS: A TRUE PORSCHE
With the 400-lb diet, the Turbo hits 60 mph from a dead stop in only 4.4 seconds, and won’t stop accelerating until it hits 172 mph. The examples we sampled at Barber Motorsport Park in Alabama were properly suited up with optional 21-inch wheels and summer-only sticky tires. While not as agile as the sports cars that made Porsche famous, the Cayenne Turbo doesn’t disappoint either.
‘Regular’ models can be hustled around quite easily, with the large six-piston front brakes covering optional carbon-ceramic discs. The ones with the torque-vectoring diff are even more eye opening in how the power transfers to the correct wheel under acceleration, cornering and braking, but the experience is definitely more artificial than those without the trick equipment. The Turbo can certainly be enjoyed without the extra expense.
NOTABLY BETTER LOOKING: INSIDE AND OUT
Aesthetically, perhaps the first Cayenne would have garnered fewer complaints had it been prettier. Trying to stretch the essence of 911 styling over a five-passenger SUV was not very successful, but Porsche’s design team has learned (a little, anyway) from their mistakes. The new Cayenne’s proportions are significantly improved, with larger lights, some cues taken from the Panamera sedan, restyled taillights, and a greater sense of motion.
In Turbo guise, it helps that the standard 19-inch wheels are larger than before too, but Porsche offers a raft of 20- and 21-inch styles to suit any taste and price tag.
Inside, the cabin could be confused with that of the Panamera, with its wide center console, three-spoke steering wheel, and eye-level navigation and information screen. It also uses the same five-gauge cluster in the dash, which includes the excellent switchable screen in the fourth pod that’s used to show navigation instructions, audio settings, and access the optional Sport Chrono Package’s lap-timer. The main details carried through from the last-gen are the large angled holy-sh!t-handles on the door and transmission tunnel, best used when stretching the big Porsche’s abilities either on- or off-road.
The rear seats are generous, the cargo area is surprisingly spacious too, and all Cayennes come with a standard programmable automatic rear hatch. Otherwise, the standard equipment is generous, but like all Porsches, the options list is phone book thick and very pricey.
One thing new for 2011 is that the company has decided to group several popular features into packages, which ends up saving the customer a decent amount of money. The Sport package, with the dynamic chassis control, the torque-vectoring diff and a three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles is $3,500, while the Premium Package Plus adds four-zone A/C, lane change assist, adaptive cruise control, a rear-view camera, roll-up rear screens and ventilated front seats for another $5,320. All that is added to the base price of $104,800, while it’s at least $1,100 to upgrade to 20-inch wheels. The sky’s the limit when you start clicking for cash.
But the Cayenne Turbo is much more resolved than the original, and certainly has the competition from BMW and Mercedes-Benz covered easily – although BMW’s X5 M does represent a serious performance competitor at a lower price point. With more power, performance and better fuel mileage, Porsche looks to be adding a more positive chapter to the Cayenne’s already lengthy history.