2010 Porsche Cayenne Expert Review:Autoblog
While charging along at 85 mph with a particularly poker-faced Porsche engineer riding shotgun, traffic begins to cluster on the horizon. Not willing to risk our seven-figure prototype, I gently roll off the accelerator, at which point a funny thing happens: Without warning, the tachometer needle dies, unceremoniously plunging to zero RPM. The supercharged, 3.0-liter V6 ahead of us has gone stone dead, yet our Porsche Cayenne continues to waft along unruffled. We are coasting along on the Autobahn, with only a modest bit of wind noise and tire roar as our soundtrack.
Just as quickly as it began to appear, Stuttgart's traffic thins, and after gliding along for perhaps 15 or 20 seconds -- losing remarkably little velocity -- I ease back onto the throttle, at which point the rev counter jumps back to life just as quickly as it had extinguished, and the Cayenne sashays back up to 95 mph before I slot in amongst slower traffic in the right lane. Beyond the tachometer's telltale drop and jump, there is exactly no indication that the engine momentarily packed it up just seconds before. My copilot, Dr. Michael Leiters, project manager for Porsche's Cayenne Hybrid, allows himself a brief smile.
Far from indicating a mechanical defect, we've just witnessed what our Deutsche companion refers to as "segeln" -- sailing -- a fuel saving maneuver that Porsche says other automakers have written off as impossible at roadway speeds without jolting disruptions. Yet beyond the tach needle's machinations, there has been no drama whatsoever: no untoward thwack in the back, no expensive-sounding noises, no head toss, no coffee spilled, just seamlessly reintroduced acceleration. The gas pedal simply called upon the engine again and the electric motor restarted it in a flawless, 300-millisecond passing of the power baton. Remarkable stuff.
Follow the jump for more.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.
Porsche Comes Through In The Clutch
Unlike any other gas-electric system currently on the market, our Cayenne S Hybrid tester has an additional mechanical clutch that decouples the engine entirely, temporarily removing it from the driveline equation. Doing so means the V6 is not a source of parasitic drag, and the modestly-sized 52-hp electric motor can nudge the Cayenne gently along as it does its inertial thing unencumbered. What is "modestly-sized," exactly? Porsche says the complete hybrid module – including the electric motor and the additional clutch – is just 5.8-inches long.
The German automaker figures this electronically-orchestrated party trick will save them a couple of percentage points when it comes to fuel consumption, but we reckon that the gains could be substantially greater under the right conditions – a drive route incorporating long downhill grades, say. If one lives in a mountainous area like Denver, Colorado, it's theoretically possible to start the Cayenne's ball rolling, and then coast all the way down to the base of a slope – a run that can sometimes last for many miles – without using a drop of fuel and without resorting to tactics like shifting into neutral to avoid engine braking.
In fact, using the brakes to slow one's descent will store energy in the nickel-metal hydride battery pack thanks to regenerative braking technology, so theoretically the entire descent could result in a net-energy gain. If you're particularly delicate with the throttle, this sub-cargo-floor mounted battery pack should allow for slow-speed electric-only running for up to 1.2 miles, but in practice we found this harder to do than with other gas-electric systems we've experienced.
Porsche's so-called "Hybrid Manager" is no small achievement – this bit of hardware supervises all major systems (engine, electric motor, transmission, battery, etc.), and reacts by issuing any of 20,000 data instructions, as compared to a traditional ECU that requires only 6,000 commands. Porsche notes that the 'sailing' capability can be activated at speeds of up to 86 mph (far faster than that of other hybrid systems), making it a viable energy-saving partner for both city and highway duties.
Unlike most hybrids, Porsche says the production hybrid Cayenne will eschew use of a continuously-variable transmission unit in favor of a more conventional eight-speed gearbox from Japanese supplier Aisin, albeit one with an electrically-driven oil pump. Why no CVT? Officials explain that while this Cayenne is a hybrid, it is first and foremost a Porsche, and CVTs generally fail to deliver the sort of driving enjoyment that a conventional Tiptronic can. Despite their many advancements over the past few years (including the institution of paddleshifters with artificially preset ratios to preserve the mental "shifting" experience), we agree wholeheartedly.
Our tester's powertrain suffers no "stretched rubberband" moments that are the hallmark of most CVTs, and it was all the better for it. Unusually, top speed is reached in sixth, with the seventh and eighth cogs reserved as fuel-savers. It's that top gear that allows the Cayenne to "sail" at 86 mph with the engine shut off and the electric motor coaxing it along. We inquired as to the viability of a dual-clutch transmission like the PDK, but were told that fitting one would be tremendously difficult, so for now, Tiptronic it is.
In nearly every other area of operation, our prototype parallel hybrid functions in an almost indistinguishable manner versus a traditional gasoline-powered Cayenne. The combustion engine has been borrowed from Audi, with a belt-driven Roots-type supercharger nestled between its directly injected cylinders. So equipped, the engine generates 333 hp and 324 pound-feet of torque. Unlike in other gas-only Audi applications, the air-conditioning compressor and electrohydraulic steering pump are powered by the battery pack. For its part, the electric motor adds up to 221 pound-feet of torque. Combined, Porsche figures the two power sources are good for 374 bhp and 405 lb-ft of torque at just 1,500 rpm.
As part of its energy-saving regimen, the hybrid will be the first Cayenne to utilize electrohydraulic power steering. Porsche says it consumes 93% less energy than its conventional hydraulic counterpart, and in our limited drive time, it managed to deliver good accuracy, although we wouldn't mind it if Porsche dialed in a skosh more weight at highway speeds.
By The Numbers
While final fuel economy testing has yet to be completed, Porsche expects the powertrain to deliver performance akin to that of the V8 Cayenne while sipping fuel like a four-cylinder. 0-62 mph checks in at a conservatively-estimated 6.8 seconds, and top speed is limited to 133 mph. Even towing capacity and off-road ability is said to be unchanged. What is different, however, is miles-per-gallon and C02 output -- the latter figure being of great importance to those living under the various Byzantine emissions-based tax structures that govern most European nations. Porsche's new hybrid drivetrain sips fuel to the tune of 8.9 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers (62 miles) traveled when measured on the New European Driving Cycle (around 26 mpg U.S.), equal to C02 emissions of less than 210 grams-per-kilometer. That's an improvement of more than 25% over the V6 Cayenne, and the production vehicle is expected to be ULEV II compliant when it comes to North America.
While other automakers have elected to play up their vehicle's hybrid credentials, it is likely that Porsche will choose a more restrained route when the Cayenne Hybrid reaches production. The massive hybrid decals that run along the bottom of the bodysides won't be a mandatory "feature" as they are on General Motors' GMT900 SUV hybrids, and Stuttgart has not yet determined how it will badge the vehicle. Inside, Porsche has also resisted going the "Greener Than Thou" route with lots of fancy fonts and gimmicky display graphics like wilting digital flower petals. No games. No "monkey cinema" as Dr. Leiters refers to it. Oh, there's a screen that can be summoned on the navigation system which details where energy is being routed and a small in-cluster indicator, but Porsche assumes that you'll ignore these after you get used to hybrid driving. In stereotypically Germanic fashion, this Cayenne is all business.
Why Not The Diesel?
Despite much purist hand-wringing upon its introduction, the Cayenne has been the linchpin in Porsche's product portfolio since going on sale in 2002, particularly in the States. And although officials aren't talking model-mix projections, this gas-electric model figures to be an especially important offering in hybrid-happy America. For the moment, Porsche says it has no plans to bring over its excellent new Cayenne diesel, a powertrain whose great slugs of torque and excellent highway fuel economy is perhaps better suited to typical U.S. driving patterns (hybrids are most effective when poking along in thick urban traffic, where slow-speed trundling from bottleneck-to-bottleneck can often be conducted purely on electric power, but fewer Americans live in and around major city centers compared to their European counterparts). Despite this, America's appetite for diesels is still dwarfed by that of Europe, and with inflated fuel prices (versus gasoline) and soot-spewing memories of diesels past, it is likely that Rudolph Diesel's combustion cocktail will remain second fiddle to hybrids for some time.
Pricing also figures to be something of a sticky wicket, as all of the requisite hybrid R&D and associated hardware figures to add something on the order of $15,000 per unit (Porsche will not disclose projected sales volumes). That's a premium far too great for customers to absorb – even with the possibility of tax breaks. In light of this cost barrier, we expect for the Cayenne hybrid to sticker for something well north of a conventional V8 S model, ($60,215), perhaps along the lines of $67-70k, albeit with additional standard equipment to soften the blow. Given that performance is similar to the V8 engine and that fuel economy and emissions are markedly superior, this figures to be a reasonable surcharge for affluent folks eager to play the "green card."
Porsche says that their hybrid system is "only about 90% of the way there," although at first blush, it's already so polished that we struggle to think where a 10% improvement could come from. If we have any reservations with this setup, it's a sin by omission -– a lack of noise. The inherently quiet nature of a parallel hybrid ignores the important aural performance link that Porsche has worked hard to establish with its vehicles and with the Cayenne in particular. Remember the commercial with the new owner revving his Cayenne Turbo in his driveway? How about the more recent and altogether fabulous Cayenne GTS "bloodlines" spot? While the 3.0-liter V6 in the Cayenne Hybrid S is a very good engine, it isn't terribly special sounding, and at points it makes no noise at all. What's more, we suspect that the consternation surrounding the pedestrian safety risks associated with silent-running hybrids and electrics will only grow when more vehicles reach elevated speeds.
While we could go on about other key aspects of this Cayenne – the handling, ride and interior -- our drive was limited in time and scope, meaning that beyond concentrating on the hybrid powertrain, we didn't have much time to assess the total driving experience. Not that this is a real problem, as it's all likely to change appreciably the time the Cayenne Hybrid comes to market.
How's that? Although officials would say little that wasn't non-committal, we know that the next-generation Cayenne is well along in development, and it is poised for release sometime after the Panamera launches, likely in 2010 as a 2011 model. As Porsche is smart enough not to bother with the expense of fitting and certifying a brand-new drivetrain for a vehicle that's about to go off the market, we can reasonably surmise that the hybrid hardware we sampled will arrive underneath new sheetmetal, bringing with it a different driving experience.
Making Sense Out Of A Topsy-Turvy World
If nothing else, our stint with the Cayenne Hybrid S served to reinforce that we live in interesting times. General Motors, once the world's largest automotive power, is on the brink of bankruptcy. Hyundai, a Korean company, are the orchestrators of this year's reigning North American Car of the Year – a rear-drive luxury sedan, no less. And we've just driven an electrified Porsche truck whose raison d'être is better fuel economy and lower emissions.
Say what you will about Porsche bringing the Cayenne to market in the first place, but having driven damn near every derivation of the vehicle ever sold in the States, this author can say it remains a startlingly omniscient piece of machinery capable of just about anything -– and now, a remarkably green performance. While the looks of the Cayenne and its button-crammed interior have yet to grow on us, its performance on the street and on Porsche's balance sheet has proven to be nothing to sneeze at. The model line's 250,000 unit sales history has given Porsche the development dollars to continue advancing enthusiast-oriented models like the 911 and Boxster, while allowing it to become one of the world's most profitable and powerful automakers. If Porsche has to add a little green to its otherwise blue blood to keep churning out 911 GT2s and Cayman S coupes, so be it – the Cayenne Hybrid S has a lot to recommend it.
Porsche sells no fewer than seven different Cayenne models in the U.S. All share the same unibody platform and permanent all-wheel drive system, but each is differentiated by its powerplant, brakes, suspension, and accessory list. Whether you are a blasé soccer mom or an exec hell-bent on embarrassing the dude in the sports car at the traffic light, if you're willing to write the check, Porsche has a Cayenne model with your name on it.
The selection is generous, but there is something missing from the mix. As of right now, all North American-bound models have an appetite for premium unleaded fuel. With the price of high-test wavering on the expensive side, Porsche has been diligently engineering hybrid and diesel-powered Cayenne models to significantly reduce pain at the pump.
While the automaker has announced the sale of Hybrid Cayenne next year, it's on the fence about offering the diesel model on this side of the Atlantic. Proudly showing off its latest wares, and teasing us with what we can't have, Porsche let us sample a Euro-spec Cayenne Diesel model... on our own turf.
Visually, you'd lose all bets trying to distinguish a gasoline-fed Cayenne from a diesel-burning model - they're virtually identical to each other. Furthermore, Porsche doesn't go out of its way to slap any special badges, cladding, or eco-friendly identifier on this model. In the flesh, the diesel variant is a carbon copy of its petrol-burning V6 sibling.
However, pop the hood and it's a different story. Nestled between the front wheels is a turbodiesel V6. Although Porsche doesn't try to conceal its origins, there's no shame in admitting the engine is a slightly re-tuned derivate of the excellent (and very clean-burning) VW-Audi Group powerplant shared with the Volkswagen Touareg TDI and Audi Q7 TDI.
Displacing 3.0-liters, the Cayenne's V6 utilizes a cast iron block and aluminum cylinder heads. The four-valve engine utilizes the latest in precision fuel transfer with common-rail fuel delivery and direct piezo-injection (at pressures approaching 29,000 psi). Forcing air into the engine is a single variable-vane turbocharger, mated to twin intercoolers. With a compression ratio of 16.8:1, and a 4,800 RPM redline, the engine is rated at 240 horsepower at 4,000 RPM. But we all know that's not what diesels are about. Driveshaft wrenching, pavement annihilating torque is where it's at, and on that front, the six-cylinder delivers. A maximum of 405 pound-feet is available from 2,000-2,250 rpm, with grunt being sent through an electronically-controlled six-speed automatic transmission before making its way to a permanent all-wheel drive system with a standard rear-biased torque split of 38:62 (front-to-rear).
The other mechanicals hidden beneath the sheet metal are typical Cayenne fare, including an independent sport-tuned front and rear suspension, generous six-piston monobloc front and four-piston monobloc rear brakes, and five different available wheel/tire combos (our test vehicle was wearing 19-inch wheels wrapped in 275/45R19 rubber). Ready to roll, the whole package tips the scales at a not-so-dainty 4,939 pounds.
While it is hardly a featherweight, Porsche says the 3.0-liter diesel is strong enough to accelerate the Cayenne to 62 mph in just 8.3 seconds with a top speed of 133 mph. Those numbers are off by a hair when compared to its 3.6-liter gasoline-fed sibling, but again, this isn't the true picture. While the most frugal gasoline-powered Cayenne V6 earns an U.S. EPA combined fuel economy rating of 16 MPG, the diesel Cayenne earned an overall 25 MPG rating (U.S. gallons) in the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) testing.
Porsche brought a few Euro-spec Cayenne Diesel models to the States for journalist testing, and after a brief technical introduction, we were handed the keys and encouraged to run them through their paces in the urban confines of Los Angeles. Although our time with the SUV was limited to less than an hour, we were able to drive the Cayenne through a mix of stop-and-go traffic on city streets and highways, and several miles along LA's famed twisty Mulholland Drive.
With a twist of the left-handed key, the 3.0-liter powerplant springs to life without hesitation and quickly settles down to an impressively well-muted idle. In addition to the unique exhaust tuning, Porsche engineers added a layer of laminated sound-deadening glass to the windscreen, and a unique fleece material to the standard chassis' insulation package. The attention to detail paid off; the automaker has done an excellent job masking the characteristic, and unique, diesel engine note from within the cabin (the engine note within BMW's diesel X5 is much more pronounced). A tuned set of ears in any of the seats won't be fooled, but most won't notice the rather unconventional Porsche powerplant under the hood.
Throttle to the carpet, the Cayenne Diesel pulls resolutely from the line with little perceptible turbo lag (again, quite the opposite of the X5 diesel, which tends to pause at throttle tip-in). Thanks to its abundant torque and a well-mated six-speed Tiptronic transmission, the SUV increases velocity comfortably up to highway speeds, with our butt-dyno registering a run to 60 mph in just under 8 seconds.
Despite carrying 150 pounds more mass than its six-cylinder gasoline model, the low-revving diesel never seems to break a sweat. That observation is supported by the Cayenne's towing rating for this segment: an impressive 7,700 pounds. The tach seldom climbs much over 2,500 RPM, but it doesn't need to -- at that speed your right in the thick of the torque band. To someone accustomed to driving the gasoline-powered Cayenne, where the engine eagerly climbs around the tach when the pedal is prodded (especially with the V6), the Diesel delivers a shove in the back immediately -- sometimes much earlier than the driver expects it.
All this talk about power usually equates to fuel burn rates rivaling a Lockheed SR-71. Bite your tongue; the Cayenne Diesel sips fuel like a Cessna 172. In real-world driving, the five-passenger SUV is about 25 percent more efficient than any other Cayenne model. Expect about 400 miles per tank in an average urban cycle, or load up with snacks on your next road trip as it will deliver a cruising range in excess of 500 miles. While it's arguably one of the slowest vehicles in Porsche's lineup, this five-passenger clean-burning SUV could also be the most fuel efficient - depending on who's behind the wheel (the Boxster and Cayman models each earn EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/29, but we'd hope their owners aren't hypermilers).
Although we enjoyed the Cayenne Diesel, don't visit your local Porsche dealer with expectations to test drive one yet. While this exact model has been on sale in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South Africa since earlier this year, none have been available anywhere in the North America. But that's about to change. With experts predicting eco-friendly diesel sales booming from 32,000 units in 2009 to about 250,000 in 2014, all automakers - including Porsche - will feel the need to join the movement and roll clean-diesels out on a global scale.
Forty-five minutes is hardly an extended test drive, but it was long enough to whet our appetite for this torque-laden, clean-burning, and impressively fuel-efficient SUV. Stand-alone, the diesel engine is a 3.0-liter turbocharged jewel. Dropped under the hood of one the best-handing performance-oriented SUVs available today, the Cayenne Diesel is a no-brainer for the North American market. Porsche just needs a little encouragement.
New Car Test Drive
More models broaden lineup.
When the Porsche Cayenne was launched five years ago enthusiasts cried blasphemy. Porsche should not build sport-utilities, they said, Porsche should build sports cars. But buyers won the vote. Cayenne had what they needed in a five-passenger SUV: more cargo space than a sedan, off-highway capability, and impressive towing capacity. They found the Cayenne technologically advanced and remarkably fast, as Porsches are supposed to be. So, buyers wondered, why all the hand wringing?
Cayenne's balance of style, performance, and sport-utility virtues were compelling, and it quickly became a success story for the small manufacturer of legendary sports cars. When Porsche launched Cayenne as a 2003 model, executives said they hoped to sell 20,000 of the SUVs a year. Clearly, these projections were conservative. In some years Porsche sold more than 50,000 Cayennes. More than 150,000 have been sold in the past four years. Following a redesign for 2008, sales have again increased, making the Cayenne a boon for Porsche's financial planning. Cayenne's ongoing success smoothes over wildly fluctuating sports car sales, which tend to follow the consumer confidence index. Cayenne's success is helping Porsche do what enthusiasts want: develop and build great sports cars and a new four-door sport sedan. Enough hand-wringing already.
For 2009, Porsche has returned the Turbo S version and announced the 2010 Transsyberia Cayenne that goes on sale in Spring of 2009; the Cayenne GTS formally debuted late in 2008. With major advancements made for the 2008 model year, the 2009 primarily adds more extreme examples.
Grabbing headlines is the 2009 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, boasting 550 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque from its twin-turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 and capable of propelling this SUV from 0-60 mph in just 4.7 seconds. It's the fastest Cayenne and most expensive, almost 2.8 times the price of a base Cayenne.
Although it isn't as fast as a Cayenne Turbo, the GTS is the most agile and lithe, with all the suspension tricks of the Turbos, huge tires and wheels, big brakes, and 300 pounds less weight to haul around. The GTS is the only Cayenne V8 offering a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.
We find any Porsche Cayenne enjoyable to drive, smooth, stable, and responsive. It inspires confidence and we felt comfortable driving it right to and beyond grip levels on a gravel road. It's easy to control and predictable and always behaves as expected.
The 2009 Porsche Cayenne lineup features five models: Cayenne ($44,600), Cayenne S ($59,400), Cayenne GTS ($70,900), Cayenne Turbo ($97,700), Cayenne Turbo S ($123,600). Also available will be the 2010 Cayenne S Transsyberia. All models come standard with full-time four-wheel drive (high and low range gearing). The Cayenne V6 and GTS come with a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic optional; all others are six-speed automatics.
Cayenne comes with a 3.6-liter V6 (290 hp, 273 pound-feet of torque). Leather seating with 12-way power adjustment comes standard, along with titanium-look interior trim; manually controlled climate control with charcoal and micro-particle cabin filtration; heated folding exterior mirrors; multi-function trip computer; 12-speaker stereo with CD; air conditioned glove compartment; cruise control; insulated laminated privacy glass; Homelink; immobilizer anti-theft alarm; and an electronically latching power tailgate.
Cayenne S gets a 4.8-liter V8 (385 hp and 369 lb-ft) and 18-inch wheels. Cayenne S adds automatic climate control with dual front-passenger settings and a 350-watt, 14-speaker Bose stereo.
Cayenne GTS spins the 4.8-liter V8 up to 405 hp and adds shorter gearing, lower-ride-height air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), big brakes, 21-inch wheels with 295/35 tires, power tilt/telescope wheel, sport seats front and rear with Alcantara inserts, more aggressive bodywork and light-tube front signal/marker lamps.
Cayenne Turbo features a twin-turbocharged version of the V8 (500 hp and 516 lb-ft). The Turbo comes standard with an adjustable air suspension with PASM, heated front and rear seats, and park-assist radar warning front and rear. It's equipped with Porsche Communications Management (PCM), a GPS navigation system with integrated telephone and audio controls, and headlights that turn with the steering wheel.
Cayenne Turbo S bumps power to 550 hp and 553 lb-ft and adds Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (active suspension), ceramic composite brakes, 21-inch wheels, and most luxury amenities.
Options are extensive with fewer available as the base price increases, but even Turbos offer plenty of them. In Porsche fashion you can order seatbelts and gauge faces in matching or complementary colors, sport seats and bodywork upgrades, leathers and interior finishes (aluminum, carbon, wood), choose from multiple steering wheels, add chassis controls and larger wheels, painted wheels and crest logos, get laminated side glass or four-zone climate control, plus more generic items like park warning sensors, a tow hitch and keyless open and start.
Porsche options can be pricey ($750 for XM radio) and unending. Even without using any exclusive factory customizing options, which are virtually limitless, it's none-too-difficult to add a third of the base price in options or run a $60,000 Cayenne S into six digits.
Safety features on all models include electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes with off-road capability, trailer stability control, and full-time four-wheel drive. Six airbags come standard: dual-stage front and side-impact airbags for front passengers, and curtain-style head protection airbags on both sides of the cabin. All five seating positions have three-point belts with pretensioners to instantly tighten them and limit stretching on impact. The front belts also have automatic force limiters, reducing potential for belt-related injuries.
With the 2008 restyle the designers wanted to lower the visual center of gravity of the Porsche Cayenne. The headlights were moved farther apart and feature new bi-xenon designs. The air intakes were re-shaped and a rear spoiler adorns the trailing edge of the roof. Wheels are available in 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-inch sizes with a variety of finishes and styles. Aerodynamics are better than the first-generation (2003-07) models. New taillights, a redesigned rear bumper cover, a new exhaust system, and a new diffuser setup brought changes to the rear for 2008. The outside mirrors mimic the shape of the tail lights.
Cayenne is easily identifiable as a Porsche with headlights and grille that resemble that of the 911 and Boxster. From the driver's seat, the valley between the headlights looks similar, only wider. The more powerful models have functional design cues indicating higher levels of performance. The GTS and Turbos are distinguished by larger grilles that increase the amount of air flowing through the coolers and the Turbos have strakes along the hood.
The Cayenne is not small, measuring nearly 189 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 112.4 inches. That's about the same length as the current BMW X5, X6 (191.1 inches), and Mercedes M-Class (188.5 inches). Cayenne is also similar to its German rivals in width and height.
In size, Cayenne most closely matches Volkswagen's Touareg, which is no surprise given the two vehicles were developed jointly. Engines and other Cayenne components are built by Porsche in Zuffenhausen, Germany, and mated to the Cayenne at an assembly plant in Leipzig. Cayenne, Touareg, and the Audi Q7 share basic structures, though the Audi is stretched for three-row passenger space. Engine and suspension tuning, styling and all the finish work were the separate responsibility of each manufacturer and in many cases only 15 percent of parts are common.
The Cayenne offers near optimal front/rear weight distribution of 52/48 percent, for outstanding handling balance in all circumstances; the weight in most SUVs is more heavily biased toward the front. At least as important, in Porsche's view, is the Cayenne's optimal aerodynamic balance. Aerodynamic downforce on the rear wheels increases with speed, delivering the high-speed stability that has become a Porsche trademark.
Anyone who has spent time in one of Porsche's sports cars will get a familiar feeling in the Cayenne driver's seat. The cabin cues are pure Porsche: the ignition switch to the left of the steering column, a tradition dating back to vintage Le Mans starts requiring drivers to run to their cars and simultaneously twist the key and engage the shifter; the shape and feel of the gear selector; the thick, grippy, steering wheel with the three-spoke hub; the contour of the seats; and the multi-ring gauge layout.
Cayenne's instrument cluster is tucked under a single, prominent arch, with two big gauges on either side of a central multifunction display, tachometer on the left, speedometer on the right, numbered oil temp, coolant temp, fuel and volts surrounding them and styled to look like a 911. The central display presents information on audio and trip functions, mechanical operations and ambient conditions. Cruise control and the switch for the wipers are located on stalks on either side of the steering column. The bulk of the switches, including audio and climate controls, are racked in the center of the dash above the center console. These are replaced with a CRT monitor on Cayennes equipped with Porsche Communications Management, with plenty of small white-on-black switches to amuse you. A dozen vents throughout the cabin distribute warm or cool air evenly. Big, wide outside mirrors offer good rearward visibility. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes to help ensure a proper driving position.
The Cayenne is not as richly appointed as a similarly priced Range Rover Sport, but it's not supposed to be. The emphasis here is sporting flair and German efficiency rather than traditional luxury. (We like both vehicles for different reasons.) We liked the contrasting stitching on the Porsche seats. The standard leather upholstery is high grade, while the standard metal trim has a brushed finish; on premium models what looks like aluminum is aluminum. The front seats stand out for their balance of support, comfort and adjustment range; the sport seats in the GTS yet a notch or two better because of the low-slip Alcantara centers and deeper side bolsters.
The navigation display screen is sizable and mostly out of sun glare. Called Porsche Communications Management, the navigation system comes with a 6.5-inch display and calculates routes and makes adjustments very quickly. It uses DVDs rather than CDs, allowing for maps for the entire United States on a single disk, rather than several that must be changed from region to region. An optional electronic logbook automatically records the mileage, journey length, date and time, starting point and destination address for every trip made. In addition, buyers can opt for a module that will help you find your way back to your starting point, even if the roads or trails aren't on the system's map. Voice recognition and off-road navigation are available options.
Cayenne transports five adults in reasonable comfort. The rear seat is well contoured, with excellent headroom and decent legroom, even when the front seats are well back in their travel range; by virtue of its heavily bolstered outboard seats the center of the GTS rear is best reserved for kids or their child safety seats. The rear floor angles up slightly toward the front creating a very mild footrest that eases leg fatigue. Seating for five is something we're not used to seeing in a Porsche, but don't expect the interior volume of a Lincoln Navigator and don't look for a third-row seat because it isn't available.
The rear cushions lift and the seatbacks fold forward in a 60/40 split, and includes a pass-though slot with a ski sack, allowing Cayenne to haul longer, narrow items inside without flattening or messing up the rear seat. Four D-rings and a cargo net keeps grocery bags and other items from sliding around during travel and a retractable shade-type cover opens and closes over the cargo hold. The cargo area is nicely finished in heavy carpet and the cover is mounted high to preserve maximum concealed storage.
Cargo capacity is nearly 62 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down, and nearly 19 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. The tailgate is two-stage, so either the glass or entire gate can be opened upward, and the electronic latch lets you simply lower the gate to the latch while the electric mechanism pulls it shut; the upgraded power hatch require just a button push. The dimensions of the tailgate opening and load floor allow Cayenne to haul small appliances such as a bar-size refrigerator or a large TV set. With a payload of 1600 pounds, the Cayenne can haul just about anything that'll fit inside without worrying too much about exceeding recommended weights.
In addition to a conventional moonroof you can also order a Panorama Roof comprising four glass panels, three of which slide open under electric power. The massive glass section can be opened either above the first row of seats, the second row, or both rows. A power sunblind is integrated into the roof.
The Porsche Cayenne is the rally car of big, heavy SUVs. It drives like a big sports car. Measured against other SUVs, it's hot. Measured against sports cars, it's quick and it's fast. Handling and stopping are impressive given its mass, but there's no denying that mass. And therefore, the Cayenne is no alternative to a Carrera: For true sports car performance, there is no substitute for the Porsche 911, except perhaps the Cayman. But among SUVs, the Cayenne hauls. It is the Porsche of its class.
The Porsche of SUVs is what those familiar with the brand probably expect from the Cayenne. One can hear silky mechanical whirring and if you pay close attention, you can feel most of the mechanical components working, each doing its own job, yet it all blends together in a smooth, synchronous whole. The Cayenne is fast, satisfying and, even in the things it does least efficiently, quite competent. It stops with more energy and precision that any SUV we can name.
The deep rumble of the exhaust is a reminder you're driving a Porsche, as is the engine notes of fine mechanisms. Even at idle, the burble of low-restriction mufflers, the cams and the suck of intake air remind us of the late, great Porsche 928, a V8-powered GT that swallowed chunks of pavement at an alarming rate. This is not your typical SUV, though it can perform the duties of one.
Off-road capabilities are considerable. Cayenne invokes images of the Paris-Dakar Porsche 959s. Bigger wheels equals smaller sidewalls and in the end the tires and low-lying bodywork will be the limiting factors; a standard Cayenne V6 is the best for real off-road use and nothing more than a smoothly graded dirt road or sandy beach should be attempted in a GTS or Turbo S.
We drove a Cayenne S hard on a gravel road, a 2.0-mile special stage at Continental Tire's Uvalde Proving Grounds west of San Antonio and were impressed with the predictable handling. Hurling the Cayenne deep into gravel corners well past grip limits was met by the system catching the car mid-corner, allowing us to accelerate hard out of the turn and shoot down another short straightaway and dive into the next turn. With so much technology helping us control the car we would have had to work at it to bite the ditch. In short, the Cayenne works phenomenally well on dirt and gravel roads and make its driver look like a hero.
We drove a Cayenne through a muddy off-road course in Spain. This was not a boulder-laden wilderness trail like the Rubicon, but included axle-deep mud and long, steep, low-grip grades. Up, down and across, the Cayenne performed flawlessly. In most cases the onboard electronics did the heavy lifting, and the driver had to simply, lightly, modulate the throttle or brake in low range. When introduced, Cayenne's back country performance impressed even the jaded, and it supported Porsche's assertion that it has more off-road capability than the BMW X5, X6, or Mercedes M-Class, which we've driven in similar conditions. Cayenne has a maximum ground clearance of 8.5 inches, or 10.6 inches with the optional air suspension. It can ford 19 inches of water, nearly 22 inches in the off-road mode with air suspension. The Advanced Off Road Package adds skid plates to protect the underbody and a locking rear differential. We drove a Turbo with these options on the desert sands of Dubai and were astounded by the vehicle's prowess in difficult conditions.
Cayenne's permanent all-wheel-drive system, with its variable-rate center differential managed by multiple clutch plates, is similar to that used on all-wheel-drive versions of the Porsche 911. Cayenne enhances this setup with a low-range set of gears along with a locking center differential for creeping over rugged terrain. The all-wheel-drive system can vary the amount of engine power distributed to the front and rear wheels, sending more or less power in one direction depending on available traction and other conditions. The Cayenne has a default power split of 38 percent front, 62 percent rear, but is said to be capable of 100 percent to either end; we'd be very careful with the gas pedal in such conditions. The nominal drive is biased much a bit more to the rear than most SUVs, more closely replicating the rear-wheel-drive characteristics of a sports car.
On the road, the Cayenne handles crisply, but it's no Carrera. Though lighter than the BMW X5 and X6, the lightest Cayenne tips the scales around 4,775 pounds, the S about 4,950 pounds and the Turbo about 5,200 pounds (and more than 5,700 pounds when fully optioned). All this weight rears its head in transient maneuvers. Cayenne performs lane-change maneuvers better than an SUV, but there's no getting around the physics of all that mass when pushed hard in tight cornering situations. That said, the Cayenne offers excellent grip in steady state corners, even slippery corners. Steady corners can be taken quite quickly. The fat Michelin sport tires on the GTS models will prove the value of larger seat bolsters due to the grip they offer.
Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control features active anti-roll bars that almost eliminate body roll (lean) in corners; PDCC cars can be identified by looking inside for the silver chassis controls behind the shifter. This system makes it easier to control the car when driving hard through corners, improving cornering stability, and the choices in ride softness let you cruise or hurry as wished; the Normal mode is almost as smooth as the Comfort mode and an excellent default position. Porsche Stability Management was upgraded for 2008 with pre-loading of the brake system when needed and a trailer stability control algorithm added to improve stability when towing.
The V6 in the standard Cayenne is a narrow-angle 3.6-liter V6 with a single cylinder head and uses Direct Fuel Injection. It produces 290 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 3000 rpm.
We found the V6 enjoyable to drive and welcomed the midrange increase. It's available with a six-speed manual transmission, which is equipped with a feature called Porsche Drive-Off Assistant that allows a driver to easily set the Cayenne in motion on steep grades; the system automatically maintains brake pressure when the brake pedal is released, then releases the brakes once the driver begins to let out the clutch pedal. The manual's shift action is sweet, agricultural by Porsche car standards but very good by truck standards. The V6 Cayenne delivers adequate acceleration performance. Porsche reports 0-60 mph times of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 141 mph. Its wide power band gets the Cayenne up to speed in convincing fashion, and the V6 is the lightest Cayenne.
The 4.8-liter V8 in the Cayenne S generates 385 hp at 6200 rpm and 369 pound-feet of torque at 3500. This engine produces 405 hp at 6500 rpm in the GTS by virtue of better breathing and increased engine speed. The V8s are pure Porsche with the latest technology and materials, including a dry-sump lubrication system that allows uninterrupted oiling at extreme angles of operation, either off road or at high lateral loads when cornering at speed on pavement.
We found the Cayenne S offers responsive performance. Porsche says it can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds. At any speed, the six-speed Tiptronic S automatic kicks down quickly with a jab at the gas pedal and the Cayenne S accelerates like a jumbo jet approaching rotation speed. We're not sure why anyone needs more get-up in a big SUV than the Cayenne S offers, but we're well beyond need here and it's not a bad place to be.
The Cayenne GTS has shorter gearing than the Cayenne S in addition to its 20-hp advantage, giving it quicker acceleration performance. Porsche says the GTS covers 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds with the manual transmission, 6.1 seconds with the six-speed automatic. A GTS with the manual is revving higher when cruising in top gear at normal highway speeds (70 mph is about 2800 rpm, typically 2000 rpm in the average SUV). Yet the manual allows the best control and flexibility. We found on some tight uphill hairpins the traction control intervened to eliminate some tire spin but choosing a gear higher and flooring the throttle made better progress; that would be hard to do with an automatic.
The Cayenne Turbo generates 500 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 516 pound-feet of torque between 2250 and 4500 rpm. The Turbo can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 4.9 seconds and from 0-100 mph in just over 12 seconds, which we experienced at the Uvalde Proving Grounds. The Turbo hit its top speed of 171 mph there.
The Turbo S proves the old adage that higher speeds require exponentially more money as the extra $26,000 above a regular Turbo adds 50 hp and about 40 lb-ft of torque to take 0.2 seconds off the 0-60 dash and top speed is up by 3 to 174 mph. Sure, it's a bragging rights thing in the limited U.S., but sending a postcard to the Hemi Challenger at a dragstrip is silly fun.
Brakes, traditionally a Porsche strong point, are appropriate for the brand. The Cayenne brakes feature six-piston fixed calipers on the front wheels and four-piston calipers at the rear. Vented brake discs measure 13.0 inches on all V6 Cayennes with calipers finished in black. The Cayenne S and GTS get even larger 13.8-inch front discs and silver-painted calipers. The Cayenne Turbo gets even larger discs, 14.5 inches in front and 14.1 inches at the rear with red calipers. ABS programming is adapted to four-wheel drive use by allowing some wheel lock to build a wedge in front of the tire and stop shorter, a great feature on gravel roads.
Composite ceramic brakes are on the Turbo S (and represent a significant part of the price increase). These excel at shedding heat and the discs will reportedly last the life of the car, but they are also lighter which helps improve steering response, handling, and ride due to lower unsprung weight.
On pavement, the Cayenne is smooth, fast, and big. It's not just acceleration or the top speed that impressed us, but the high speeds the Cayenne comfortably carries in most circumstances. The steering isn't as quick as that in a 911, but its weight and response have a familiar feel. The air suspension keeps it on the stiff side, though it can be manually softened if the driver chooses. It's impressively precise and responsive given its 2.5-ton mass. The Cayenne drives lighter than other big SUVs, including the X5, X6, and M-Class, and speed creep is a constant issue. Almost without realizing it, you can be traveling 120 mph on roads posted 65. Oops. And 80 mph feels like comfortable cruising, officer.
The towing capacity of the Cayenne is impressive. All models are rated to tow just over 7700 pounds. That's plenty to pull that vintage 356 around.
Fuel economy is not the strongest asset of the Porsche Cayenne due to its considerable weight and performance orientation. However, stepping up or down in horsepower does not drastically affect fuel economy nor does switching transmissions. The 2009 Cayenne is rated 14/20 mpg (manual or Tiptronic); Cayenne S rates 13/19 mpg; GTS 11/17 mpg with the manual, 13/18 with Tiptronic; Cayenne Turbo and Turbo S get 12/19 mpg. All call for 91 octane fuel. SUVs are not subject to the Gas Guzzler Tax.
By comparison, the Cayenne Turbo gets slightly better fuel economy than does the big-power Mercedes-Benz ML63 (11/15 mpg). Most competitors have similar ratings: BMW X5 and X6 six-cylinder (15/21 mpg) and V8 (12/18 mpg), Touareg V8 (13/18 mpg) and Mercedes ML350 six-cylinder gas (15/20 mpg). Only the Mercedes ML320 diesel (18/24 mpg) and upcoming and not-yet-tested BMW X5 diesel will offer Cayenne V8 torque and notably better mileage.
The Porsche Cayenne is the sportiest, best-performing SUV, a high-performance machine that will fit a family of five, haul a small washing machine, tow a large boat and get you through the woods when there's no road. It's a 5000-pound speed-sled that can handle rugged trails and it is exactly what you'd expect from the Porsche of SUVs. We think the GTS is the best value for enthusiasts, but the choices are widely varied. For most folks, the Cayenne S is probably the best choice.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Texas, with J.P. Vettraino reporting from Detroit, Greg Brown from Dubai, and G.R. Whale from Los Angeles.
Porsche Cayenne ($44,600); Cayenne S ($59,400); Cayenne GTS ($70,900); Cayenne Turbo ($97,700); Cayenne Turbo S ($123,600); 2010 Cayenne S Transsyberia.
Options As Tested
Special paint ($3,140); upgraded leather/Alcantara interior ($3,170); Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control ($3,510); bi-xenon headlights w/wash ($1,560); Porsche Communication Management (navigation, etc.)($3,070); moonroof ($1,190); Bose surround sound ($1,665); XM radio ($750); heated front seats and steering wheel ($560); trailer hitch ($630); light comfort pkg ($610); floor mats ($140).
Porsche Cayenne GTS ($70,900).
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