The biggest knocks on the original Cayenne were, first and foremost, that it was an SUV, which many critics and Porsche aficionados claimed the renowned sports-car maker should have never built, and second, it was deficient in Porsche DNA. No question, the first-gen, of which Porsche has sold around 90,000 in the U.S. since it debuted in 2003, was — and still is — a capable SUV, whether on road or off. From the base V-6 all the way up to the twin-turbo V-8, the 2003-10 Cayenne stood near or at the top of its class in capability and, more notable, dynamics. Still, auto analysts, including us, as well as the Porsche faithful carped that Stuttgart’s SUV lacked, well, Porscheness — even though the Cayenne was a tall, heavy sport/ute, it should nonetheless come across more like a 911 or even the new Panamera, be it in feel or perception.
After driving three of the four U.S.-bound 2011 Cayenne models in and around the lovely confines of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama — including the highly entertaining and technical 2.4-mile road course — we’re pleased to report that Porsche’s second-generation sport/utility indeed possesses genuine Porscheness. Sure it’s still the tallest and heaviest vehicle in the lineup — depending on the model, height is down from 0.3 to 0.5 inch and weight is down around 400 pounds — but the sensations from behind the wheel, for the most part, now belie its SUV classification. The Cayennes feel – and are – quicker, more agile, and more thrilling to drive. Further, they’re more exciting to look at, thanks to remolded sheet metal draped over a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase. The hood now features a power dome similar to that on a Panamera and the rear shoulders are more pronounced, imparting a muscular, fast-forward stance. Don’t let the smooth, sporty lines fool you, though — the Cayenne remains a workhorse. Towing capacity maxes out at 5952 pounds for the V-6 and 7716 pounds for all other models.
The aforementioned weight drop comes from extensive use of aluminum in the doors, hood, and chassis as well as a new electronically controlled multi-plate-clutch all-wheel-drive system that, in conjunction with Porsche Traction Management (PTM) and a new Aisin eight-speed automatic, does without a reduction gearbox, saving 73 pounds. Moreover, the engines are lighter, as are the radiator, exhaust, parking brake (now electronic), electrical system, and wheels and tires. Even better, the Cayenne’s more feathery structure is 15-percent stiffer than before. This newfound weight loss contributes in part to a maximum 23-percent increase in European fuel-economy tests, according to Porsche. Other petrol-saving factors include enhanced engine and thermal management, and Automatic Start Stop (shuts off the engine when the vehicle is stopped) with the eight-speed, a technology that debuted in the Panamera.
The Panamera cues carry over inside, where the Cayenne bears a striking resemblance to Porsche’s four-door gran turismo. Not only does the Cayenne use the Panamera’s striking center console but also its small-diameter steering wheel. Plus, the Cayenne’s gauge cluster is more akin to those in the brand’s sports cars (center-positioned tachometer) and the seats are sportier and more supportive than those in the 2010 model. The big news, literally, lies in the rear seat and cargo hold, where the 2011 boasts over an inch of additional rear legroom (the back seat also slides fore and aft 6.3 inches and reclines) and 4.6 cubic feet of extra cargo room. For audiophiles, an available Bose and Burmester premium sound system produces lovely lows, mids, and highs, while safety junkies will appreciate such technologies as a dynamic Bi-Xenon light system, lane-change assist (aka, blind-spot monitor), and adaptive cruise control. Bluetooth phone capability and USB/iPod connectively are now standard across the board.
The base model — dubbed simply “Cayenne” — was the only variant we didn’t sample. (We’ll be driving the V-6 Cayenne in late June, so check back then for a First Drive impression.) The lightest (roughly 4400 pounds) and least expensive ($47,275 to start), the Cayenne will no doubt deliver a lot of bang for the buck, thanks to a 3.6-liter direct-injected 24-valve V-6 that pumps out 300 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque at 3000 — welcome spikes over the 2010’s 290 horsepower at 6200 and 273 pound-feet at 3000. Available transmissions include a six-speed manual as before (the only Cayenne to offer a manual) and the all-new eight-speed automatic, which replaces the previous six-speed. Porsche estimates 0-to-60 times of 7.1 seconds with the manual and 7.4 with the automatic. Fuel economy numbers aren’t available yet, but expect the 2010’s numbers of 14/20 to jump up to around 16/22. Standard-issue brakes are 13.8-inch front/13.0-inch rear discs with six-piston front/four-piston rear monobloc calipers.
Grip should be plentiful, what with standard 18-inch alloys, 255/55 tires, and a control-arm front/multilink rear suspension with steel springs. An air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) is available as an option, standard only on the top-tier Turbo. It’s worth noting, however, that PASM, which offers Comfort, Sport, and Normal damper settings, can be paired for the first time as a standalone option with the steel-spring suspension.
Per the first generation, a sole “S” at the end of the Cayenne badge once again signifies V-8 power, in this case a 4.8-liter DI 32-valve V-8 delivering 400 horses at 6500 rpm and 369 pound-feet at 3500 (last year’s 4.8L produced 385 horsepower at 6200 and the same torque output). The only tranny is the eight-speed, which we found delivered quick, seamless shifts on both the road and the track. Zero to 60, per Porsche’s estimation, takes just 5.6 seconds, with fuel economy coming in at roughly 15/20.
Our S tester was fitted with the new Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) Plus system. When hustling a Cayenne with PTV Plus through turns, the system routs more torque to the outside rear wheel while applying brake pressure to the inside rear wheel, thus helping rotate the back end. Upon turn-in, the S felt as if it were in the initial throws of oversteer, but the quick and calculated rotation was simply PTV Plus at work. Rather than lifting slightly off the throttle to bring the tail back in line, the proper — and counterintuitive — reaction is to stay on the gas, allowing the system to do its job. And boy does it. Through Barber’s tight turns and meandering high-speed esses, the Cayenne S with PTV Plus carried breakneck cornering speeds normally reserved for sports cars. Further, this technology arguably makes the new Cayenne the best rotating and most entertaining SUV around, at least in a track environment.
Compared to the standard Cayenne, the S gets nominally larger front brake discs (14.2 inches vs. 13.8), with stellar brake feel and performance, especially during hot laps. Steering feel from the speed-sensitive Servotronic rack proved light, linear, and responsive (and the literal feel of the tidy Panamera-sourced steering wheel delivers a lovely carlike impression). The S starts at $64,675, or $3000 more than the more meagerly equipped 2010.
Cayenne S Hybrid
Within the Cayenne range, the all-new S Hybrid, Porsche’s first production hybrid, is undoubtedly the most significant model. Utilizing the Audi S4’s 3.0-liter 333-horsepower 324-pound-foot supercharged V-6 plus a 47-horse 295-pound-foot electric motor (powered by a 288-volt Sanyo nickel metal-hydride battery), the $68,675 S Hybrid delivers a combined output of 380 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 427 pound-feet at 1000. Fuel economy should reside somewhere in the neighborhood of 22/25, impressive for a 4950-pound rig that can scoot from 0 to 60 in an estimated 6.1 seconds. Unlike the Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid, which uses a continuously variable automatic (CVT), the Cayenne S Hybrid routs power to its all-wheel-drive system via an eight-speed auto. Porsche opted for a “parallel” hybrid system – the engine and battery on one driveshaft – as well as the traditional automatic to avoid any CVT rubberband sensations and deliver more of that “classic Porsche feel.”
The hybrid system works as advertised. There is no real perception of the various drive modes – electric only, gas and electric, gas only, and “sailing” — shifting between one another. Only the colorful hybrid display and its informative flow chart give any indication of what’s going on underneath the vehicle floor.So what’s “sailing?” Porsche engineers coined the term for when the decoupling clutch located between the engine and electric motor disengages and the gas engine shuts, allowing the S Hybrid to coast, or “sail,” along sans engine or electric power. We found roads set at a slight to medium decline — ideal for building and carrying momentum — provided the best conditions for this maritime motoring, which can be enjoyed up to 97 mph. Sailing occurs virtually every off-throttle moment, except when battery power is too low, say, after the vehicle has sat overnight in frigid weather.
So what’s “sailing?” Porsche engineers coined the term for when the decoupling clutch located between the engine and electric motor disengages and the gas engine shuts, allowing the S Hybrid to coast, or “sail,” along sans engine or electric power. We found roads set at a slight to medium decline — ideal for building and carrying momentum — provided the best conditions for this maritime motoring, which can be enjoyed up to 97 mph. Sailing occurs virtually every off-throttle moment, except when battery power is too low, say, after the vehicle has sat overnight in frigid weather.
Driving in full-electric mode requires a light and steady throttle, and is most easily accomplished by engaging the console-mounted E-Plus power button, which optimizes the throttle map for traveling up to around 40 mph on battery juice alone. Cargo volume, down 3.2 cubic feet to 20.5, is slightly decreased due to the battery and other hybrid components situated under the rear floor. Otherwise the only compromise the Cayenne S Hybrid makes is efficiently balancing gas and electric power.
Put the words Porsche and Turbo together and the result tends to be one of blazing quickness. For the 2011 Cayenne Turbo, that phenomenon has not changed. Blessed with a 4.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 that shakes the earth with 500 horsepower and 516 pound-feet, the hottest of Cayennes fires from 0 to 60 in only 4.4 seconds yet delivers estimated fuel economy (14/20) equaling that of last year’s V-6. Grip from our tester’s available 295/35R21 Michelin Latitude Sport tires was immense, and stopping force, courtesy of optional Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes (PCCB), was laughable, as in the eye-popping deceleration left us all giddy. The new Cayenne Turbo somehow makes the idea of hot-lapping an SUV at a racetrack all day seem perfectly normal.
To demonstrate that the Cayenne is not just for track duty or nights on the town, Porsche supplied a second Turbo — one wearing 265/50R19 all-season tires — on-hand for off-road exploration. Flaunting a three-level off-road system that alters the height of the air suspension, locks the center and rear differentials as needed, and utilizes a fully variable Porsche Traction Management (PTM) system that can apportion up to 100 percent of torque to the front or rear axle, the Cayenne Turbo easily conquered a muddy course riddled with kitchen-sink divots, waist-deep pools, and black-diamond slopes. Further, thanks to the ultra-intuitive PTM, an eight-speed whose first gear is shorter than that of last year’s six-speed, and a sizeable 8.5 inches of ground clearance (8.7 in for all other models), the 2011’s lack of a reduction gear was not missed — at all.
At $105,775, the Turbo’s tab could fill a Louis Vuitton tote with Benjamins. And that bag doesn’t even include a trick-or-treat jaunt down Accessory Street, a trip that can easily add five figures. Still, given the Turbo’s breathtaking abilities on both the racetrack and the dirt track, it’s a price that will have 911 Turbo owners convincing themselves, “Maybe it’s time for me to move into an SUV.”
Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
3.6L/300-hp/295-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6, 4.8L/400-hp/369-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8, 3.0L/333-hp/324-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6 plus 47-hp/295-lb-ft electric motor, 4.8L/500-hp/516-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic
4400-4950 lb (mfr)
Length x width x height
190.8 x 76.3 x 67.0-67.4 in
4.4-7.4 sec (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ
14-22 / 20-25 mpg (est)
0.87-1.20 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S.