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When it was introduced nearly a decade ago, the Cayenne luxury SUV was seen as sacrilege by longtime fans of Porsche sports cars; but the model fulfilled its purpose, bringing high-end luxury shoppers—even families—into the Porsche fold. And, importantly, it's made Porsche financially sound and able to build cars like the all-new 2012 911.
The Porsche Cayenne continues into 2012 with no significant changes. Last year, the best-selling Cayenne received a complete redesign, becoming a bit lighter and better-performing while retaining just a bit of off-road ability. Especially for a Porsche, the Cayenne is hardly stunning from the outside, but there's only so much you can do with utility-vehicle design before cutting out some of the practicality in the process (the Infiniti FX is an example of that). It's become a little more svelte in appearance, with more curvaceous door panels and curvier-looking rear flanks to hint more overtly of the sports cars in the Porsche family. But more likely, you'll notice its low stance (the product of revamped front and rear styling and aero work). Significant interior changes introduced last year, some borrowed from the stylish new Panamera, make the Cayenne's cabin feel much more upscale. Overall, the instrument panel has a more sweeping, coupe-like feel and matte-metallic brightwork.
The 2012 Cayenne comes in four different flavors, to suit everyone from up-and-coming suburban families to wealthy enthusiasts who might on occasion take their Porsche SUV out for some track time. A 300-hp, 3.6-liter narrow-angle V-6 engine powers the base Cayenne, while the Cayenne S comes with a 400-hp, 4.8-liter V-8 and the Cayenne Turbo gets a 500-hp, 4.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-8. Each of the models come with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, but as you'd imagine there's quite a separation in performance.
Base Cayenne V-6 models take about 7.5 seconds to get to 60 mph and do respectably enough with passing, but they don't feel much quicker than many other luxury crossover models. Either of the V-8 models deliver rapid performance that will feel more appropriate for those who've driven Porsche sports cars (Turbos can go up to 172 mph). Altogether, handling and roadholding is superb, and the lighter structure and lower center of mass (while still keeping some trail ability) help give this latest generation of the Cayenne a more nimble feel.
And for those who are into the idea of green performance, there's the Cayenne Hybrid, pairing a 333-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6—through a clutch pack—with a 47-hp (34 kW) electric motor system. In each case, power is delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Altogether, the Hybrid will top 20 mpg, yet achieve 0-60 in 6.1 seconds and a maximum 150 mph. While performance for the V-8 models is especially impressive, V-6 models still take more than 7 seconds to 60 mph. But thanks to a weight-loss regimen across the entire line, the Cayenne feels significantly nimbler than before.
With a five-passenger interior, the Ceyenne is a little smaller inside—both in terms of passenger space and cargo room—than you might expect from a vehicle with such heft and exterior dimensions. But seats are supportive and comfortable for those in front, and interior appointments get progressively more lavish with each trim. We strongly recommend the Porsche Adaptive Suspension Management (PASM) air-suspension system, along with the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), as they improve both ride and handling over the base setup.
In addition to the performance-oriented systems that make it a more responsive, capable handling vehicle compared to most other SUVs, as well as a competitive, full roster of airbags, Porsche offers several high-tech safety systems, including a dynamic light system, Lane Change Assistant, and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Prices for the 2012 Porsche Cayenne cover a vast range, from under $50,000 for the base Cayenne V-6 up to the $150,000 mark, or even higher, for the Cayenne Turbo S. Both in terms of traditional luxury appointments and modern connectivity, tech, and comfort features, the base Cayenne really isn't missing anything. A good Bluetooth interface is at last standard across the line, while the standard sound system includes an iPod and USB interface. And with the nav system, you can display smaller maps—not just the next turn instruction—directly within the instrument panel. You can easily drop $20k on options, as they include not only items like a panoramic roof, a heated windshield, and a high-end Burmester surround-sound system, but also special wheels and various custom paint, trim, and upholstery upgrades.
- Athletic driving feel
- Plush, sporty interior
- Nimble handling for such a hefty vehicle
- A Hybrid model that's good for the track
- Plenty of room to customize
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- Not especially space-efficient
- Tight second row, no third row
- Base V-6 model barely worthy of the badge