New & Used Porsche Cayenne: In Depth
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The Porsche Cayenne is a luxury SUV with a strong focus on performance. It takes the standard SUV formula and adds in a lot of the driving character of Porsche's sports cars. Because of this, the Cayenne can be considered the most versatile Porsche ever, able to hold its own both on- and off-road.
Today's lineup includes the Cayenne Diesel, Cayenne S, Cayenne Turbo, and Cayenne S E-Hybrid models. An early start to the 2016 model year brings a base V-6 Cayenne to that roster along with an updated Turbo S and another GTS model.
With such a varied lineup, the Porsche SUV is a rival for a broad cross-section of SUVs and crossovers, from the likes of the Audi Q7 to the Infiniti QX70, from the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class to the BMW X5, or perhaps even to the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. The Cayenne was recently joined in the Porsche lineup by a smaller crossover, the Macan. The two are likely to make up the bulk of the sports-car maker's sales, especially in the U.S. market, which is one of Porsche's largest.
Even though Porsche purists initially scoffed at the idea of an SUV wearing the brand's sacred crest, the Cayenne has overwhelmingly changed hearts and minds. It's been warmly received and gets most of the credit for keeping the brand afloat during a disastrous flirtation for control of Volkswagen.
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 components as well as 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, the 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 base 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, slotted between the S and Turbo, and got a 405-horsepower version of the V-8 along with a six-speed manual transmission, larger wheels, and a retuned suspension. The GTS also included a Sport setting that controls its exhaust note as well as suspension calibration.
Many Porsche enthusiasts were quite surprised to learn that the Cayenne has actual off-road ability. Versions from these early years could ford up to 19 inches of water and handle most of the moderately difficult trail demands.
The second-generation Cayenne arrived for 2011, wearing new sheetmetal in a similar shape, although with more obvious influence from the Panamera hatchback sedan. The interior also takes cues from that car, borrowing its spine of a center console, which houses buttons to control all of the vehicle's major functions, such as suspension and all-wheel drive. Trim quality and materials were also improved in this generation.
At the start of this generation, Porsche offered three Cayenne models. The base Cayenne came with an improved version of the VR6 making 300 hp; the Cayenne S used a 400-hp, 4.8-liter V-8; and the Turbo model slapped two turbochargers on that engine, for a total of 500 hp. Porsche added the first Cayenne Hybrid to the U.S. lineup for 2011; it was fitted with a 333-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 sourced from Audi and backed by an eight-speed automatic fitted with a 47-hp electric motor.
The 2013 Porsche Cayenne added the brand's first diesel engine, in the Cayenne Diesel; it came 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.
The Cayenne gets a significant refresh for the 2015 model year, including some advanced new powertrains. The new Cayenne S E Hybrid shares much of its internals with the Panamera S E Hybrid: A 10.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack can be charged via plug-in power or from the 333-horsepower, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine on the fly. A 95-hp electric motor provides all-electric drive mode and efficiency-boosting hybrid thrust, depending on the circumstances and charge level. Total combined system power for the Cayenne S E Hybrid is rated at 416 hp. Top speed in all-electric mode is 78 mph, and total electric-only driving of 18 to 30 miles is possible.
The Cayenne S also gets a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 engine as a replacement for its previous 4.8-liter V-8. With 420 horsepower, the Cayenne S now will hit 60 mph in about 5.2 seconds.
Porsche is beefing up the lineup in 2016, when the base Cayenne, Cayenne GTS, and Cayenne Turbo S return to the lineup. The base model once again uses a naturally aspirated Porsche 3.6-liter V-6, while the GTS switches from a naturally aspirated V-8 to an uprated version of the new twin-turbo V-6. The GTS continues as a Turbo lookalike, now aping the model it sits below more than ever inside and out. Porsche used the 2015 Detroit auto show to unveil an updated version of the Cayenne Turbo S for 2016—the engine now makes 570 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, thanks to new turbos that are now integrated into the exhaust manifold.
Styling changes are mild for the Cayenne, making it look just a bit more like its Macan sibling. Inside, a new multifunction sport steering wheel is standard across the range, with design and features drawn from the 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid supercar. The rear seats have been redesigned for improved comfort, and seat ventilation is now available as an option.
The 2015 Cayenne has a base price of $61,700 for the Cayenne Diesel; $74,100 for the Cayenne S; $76,400 for the Cayenne S E Hybrid; and $113,600 for the Cayenne Turbo. Porsche will charge $157,300 for the updated Cayenne Turbo S, which arrives in April. (All prices exclude the $995 destination fee.)