New & Used Porsche Cayenne: In Depth
January 15, 2013 - Detroit, MI. 2014 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.Enlarge Photo
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The Porsche Cayenne is an SUV that still keeps the Porsche driving feel and dynamics. Although Porsche purists initially scoffed at the idea of a Porsche SUV, the Cayenne has been warmly received. It can also be credited with saving Porsche from a close bankruptcy in the 2000s from slow sports car sales.
A luxury SUV with a strong focus on performance, the Cayenne layers some of the driving character of Porsche's sports cars on top of the usual SUV recipe, with more passenger and cargo versatility than any other Porsche, and with some true off-road ability. Today's lineup includes the Cayenne, Cayenne Diesel, Cayenne S, Cayenne Turbo S, and Cayenne Hybrid models. With such a broad lineup, the Porsche SUV competes with a broad cross-section of SUVs and crossovers, from the likes of the Audi Q7 to the Infiniti FX, from the Mercedes-Benz M-Class to the BMW X5, or perhaps even to the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.
The Cayenne was first introduced in 2003, when its arrival raised eyebrows and elicited more than just a few protestations from longtime Porschephiles. Sharing core componentry, along with its hybrid unit-body/frame construction with the Volkswagen Touareg, the Cayenne entered the market essentially shaped like many of its rivals but with a sleek Porsche front end and distinctly Porsche wheels, taillights, and exhaust pipes. Initially, 340-horsepower, 4.5-liter V-8 Cayenne S and 450-hp turbocharged Turbo S were introduced, but following them in 2005 was a Cayenne V6 version, powered by a 'specially tuned,' 247-horsepower, 3.2-liter version of the long-running narrow-angle Volkswagen VR6 engine. Those worried about Porsche pedigree cried foul, as the engine had been installed on all sorts of products from the Volkswagen Golf to the Eurovan over the years—and the Cayenne took about nine seconds to get to 60 mph.
For 2008, after sitting out for the 2007 model year, the Cayenne got a serious facelift and some significant improvements. The base V-6 model was given a higher-output version of the 3.6-liter VR6, making 290 horsepower, and the Cayenne could now dash to 60 in around eight seconds (still slower than many V-6 minivans, however). Cayenne S versions have a 4.8-liter V-8 making 385 hp; and the Turbo S has a 500-hp version of the same engine. The V6 model comes with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed Tiptronic automatic, while the S and Turbo come only with the automatic. But a new GTS model, introduced for 2009, slots between the S and Turbo, and gets a 405-horsepower version of the V-8 along with a six-speed manual transmission, larger wheels, and a retuned suspension. The GTS also includes a Sport setting that controls its exhaust note as well as suspension calibration.
From behind the wheel of one of the V-8 versions of the Cayenne, you can forget you're piloting such a practical vehicle. These are perhaps the most fun-to-drive large utility vehicles at any price, with well-tuned steering feel and a secure but surprisingly nimble feeling, given the Cayenne's portly 5,000-pounds-plus weight. V-6 versions although fast once underway still tend to feel sluggish (for a performance vehicle) from a standing start.
Many Porsche enthusiasts were quite surprised to learn that the Cayenne boasted actual off-road ability. These versions can ford up to 19 inches of water and handle most of the moderately difficult trail demands you throw at it. The Cayenne's cabin is pitchy during off-roading, but the all-wheel drive system can send up to 100 percent of power to the front or rear wheels, and hydraulically adjustable stabilizer bars and a host of electronic systems helps keep allow a modest degree of articulation.
Throughout these first-gen versions, the Cayenne's interior is comfortable enough, but interior space is surprisingly limited and the instrument panel and interior trims remain stark and rather drab. There's no third row in the Cayenne, but the second row has plenty of space for three adults when needed, and it folds down for more cargo space--which is more limited than in some smaller, lighter crossovers.
For 2011, Porsche introduced a second-generation version of the Cayenne. The 2011 Cayenne had all-new sheetmetal and somewhat different proportions, but the look was only somewhat evolved on the outside. Inside, the new Cayenne was more radically different, picking up the instrument panel and center-console look of the Panamera fastback sedan, as well as much-improved materials and trims. The current Cayenne lineup consists of a base Cayenne, with a 300-hp version of the VR6; a Cayenne S, featuring a 400-hp, 4.8-liter V-8; and the Cayenne Turbo, with a 500-hp, 4.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-8. A Cayenne Hybrid model also joined the lineup in 2011, pairing a 333-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6--through a clutch pack--with a 47-hp electric motor system and through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
As we noted over drives of several Cayenne models, the loss of about 400 pounds across the lineup has had a positive effect on nearly all aspects of the driving experience, and Hybrid models are surprisingly quick and fuel efficient--and capable of getting to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. Ride quality is also improved, and the only consolation is that the old clunky dual-range gearbox has been replaced with a new electronic single-range setup. All Cayenne SUVs since 2011 have had Auto Start Stop, which turns the engine off momentarily at stoplights to save fuel.
The 2013 Porsche Cayenne lineup gets Porsche's first ever diesel engine, in the Cayenne Diesel; it comes with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic as standard equipment to go with its 240-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6. A new, 420-hp Cayenne GTS also joined the lineup, slotting between Cayenne S and Turbo models, and an analog timepiece was added to the dash. The top Cayenne Turbo S model, debuting as a 2014 model, was boosted to 550 hp, a 4.3-second 0-60 time, and a top speed of 175 mph.