Porsche purists may have hated the Cayenne from the moment of its inception, but the success of the truck has allowed the continued production of cars that enthusiasts yearn for. In fact, in one of the supreme ironies of the auto industry recently, the profitability of the VW Touareg–based SUV was a reason that Porsche was able to attempt a hostile takeover of Volkswagen last year.
Even though that bid failed and Porsche has become part of the VW Group, the new bosses certainly recognize the importance of the Cayenne to Porsche’s bottom line. That’s why we recently found ourselves in the Middle East, evaluating prototypes of the second-gen version of the Cayenne. The vehicle is the product of a revised platform that is shared with the next VW Touareg and Audi Q7. The new Cayenne is 1.8 inches longer overall and rides on a wheelbase stretched 1.6 inches, making for a roomier rear seat that now slides fore and aft by 6.3 inches. There are 24 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, up from 19; with the rear seats folded, the Cayenne will accept 63 cubic feet of stuff, about the same as before.
One of the main criticisms of the previous Cayenne was its blob-like shape, which looked a bit like an eroded brick. For Cayenne No. 2, chief designer Michael Mauer and his team devised more subtle air intakes underneath the front bumper and a more sculpted hood that has cut-lines like the iconic 911’s. The liftgate slopes more now, giving a lighter appearance at the back. While they were at it, the Porsche designers put together an interior that’s similar to the spectacular Panamera’s.
Another point of contention was the porkiness of this Porsche—as much as 5600 pounds in some trims. To get mass under control, the Cayenne now has a heavy dose of aluminum parts: hood, doors, and front fenders, as well as suspension pieces. According to Rolf Frech, director of complete vehicle engineering and quality management, “Trim level for trim level, a new Cayenne is nearly 440 pounds lighter than the old one.” A Cayenne S now weighs 4553 pounds, according to Porsche, some 400 pounds less than the claimed weight of the current Cayenne. However, the last Cayenne S we tested weighed 5351 pounds, which would suggest a still hefty two and a half tons for the new model.
This lower weight is the big reason that the next Cayenne, which goes on sale later this year as a 2011 model, offers better gas mileage than the current vehicle. The current Cayenne already has a range of direct-injection engines, which basically carry over but are updated to the latest-generation, slightly more powerful units from the Panamera. The naturally aspirated 4.8-liter V-8 will make 400 horsepower, a gain of 15, and the Turbo holds at 500. The entry-level 3.6-liter V-6 model will make a less sexy 300 horsepower. A start-stop feature will be standard on all Cayenne gasoline engines.
The hybrid version, which mates a supercharged 333-hp, 3.0-liter Audi V-6 engine with a 52-hp electric motor, most likely will go on sale here in early 2011. This vehicle will, Porsche claims, achieve 29 mpg on the combined European cycle (that’s more like a 25-mpg EPA combined number), which is better than many a mid-size luxury sedan. We’ve driven this powertrain, and it’s remarkably good.
During this first access to the new Cayenne, we focused more on the Turbo (can you blame us?). As with all the other gasoline engines, power is transmitted via a completely new eight-speed automatic transmission sourced from Aisin that shifts quickly and very smoothly. First and second gears are short, giving fast acceleration off the line. The Turbo has a claimed 0-to-62-mph time of 4.6 seconds. (The S needs 5.9 seconds, and Porsche is traditionally conservative with its performance claims.)
At the other end, the seventh and eighth ratios are long in order to save fuel. Porsche went with a conventional torque-converter automatic because of fears that a dual-clutch gearbox would overheat from the Turbo’s massive 516 pound-feet of torque and wouldn’t be as robust for rock crawling at very low speed. Yes, Porsche still persists with the quaint notion that an SUV ought to be off-road capable (the company does sell a lot of them in the Middle East).
After a couple of hours on what seemed like a never-ending straight road through the Arabian Desert, the quietness of the engine and the lack of tire noise made it difficult to stay awake. Luckily, we left the paved road and turned toward a huge dune area that rose 200 feet and featured very soft and deep sand. Frech and his engineers come here to calibrate the torque distribution of the new Cayenne’s all-wheel-drive system under extreme traction conditions. Under normal road conditions, about 90 percent of the engine’s torque goes to the rear wheels. As soon as the wheel sensors identify a rotational difference between the front and the rear wheels, the system sends more torque to the front—close to 100 percent, if need be.
For off-roading, just move a switch in the center console to the “mountain” symbol. The air suspension automatically raises the Cayenne’s body, and the center differential locks. A rear-diff lock is engaged if the car is fitted with the off-road equipment that’s standard on the Turbo and optional on the others. At full throttle, the Cayenne Turbo jumped to about 50 mph seemingly instantly. In the five seconds after it reached the foot of a dune, the Cayenne dug its tires into the sand and lost some speed but resolutely kept going, with 5000 rpm steady on the tach. At 30 mph, we easily swept to the top of the dune. “You would not do this with its predecessor,” Frech explained. “Only the new Cayenne can apportion the engine’s power over this kind of terrain.”
After plenty of time exploring the Cayenne’s limits in an environment that pretty much none of its American owners will ever encounter—unless they go bounding off into the Mojave on an impulse—we ventured back onto pavement. Corners were hard to find, but we discovered some high-speed bends and dips in the road. The steering is accurate, and stability in fast corners is amazing for a truck.
Although the new Cayenne is still a heavy SUV, the weight reduction and improved electronic chassis systems have made it much more impressive dynamically. It also looks a lot less bulky and ridiculous than it used to. We can’t say that Porsche has coached a lineman into a wide receiver, but this nose tackle now has the mobility of a linebacker.