When you think Porsche, you think 911. You should think SUVs.
2019 Porsche Cayenne First Drive
Not Your Typical SUV
Sure, the rear-engine 911 sports car has defined the brand's image for decades by continually redefining our expectations, but recently so too have the Cayenne and smaller Macan. In addition to their space and capability, these vehicles provide the driving experience one expects from a brand whose bread and butter comes from that genre-defining 911. Not to mention, there are far more Porsche owners by way of SUVs than by sports cars.
A Familiar Face
The Cayenne enters its third generation thoroughly redesigned, though it's hard to tell at first glance. It retains the same look and feel as last year, riding on an identical wheelbase with nominal changes to exterior dimensions. (The body is 2.5 inches longer, 0.5 inch narrower, and slightly lower.) The elongated grille and taillights help make it look wider, an effect aided by larger and wider wheels and tires that now come in staggered sizes.
Settling into the driver's seat reveals a modern take on the traditional Porsche dash layout. The Cayenne's instrument cluster sports a large and centrally located analog tach flanked by two multiconfigurable digital displays. A 12.3-inch touchscreen display dominates the center of the dash, and beneath it sits a glossy black surface that hosts an array of touch-sensitive controls.
The center console looks snazzy and works well, too. The display is snappy and generally easy to navigate, and the touch-sensitive controls beneath the screen give a little buzz to indicate when you've tapped them. It's a helpful bit of feedback, but that glossy black surface quickly attracts fingerprint oils and dust. You'll want to keep a microfiber cloth handy.
The headrests on the optional sport seats are integrated into the seatback, an overt nod to the seats in Porsche's sports cars. They feel supportive and comfortable, and boast heating and ventilation functions. The interior is spacious for front and rear occupants, with enough head-, legroom and shoulder room to stretch out even with the optional large sunroof.
Choose Your Weapon
The Cayenne will initially be available in three variants: the base Cayenne, Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo. Each is separated by roughly 100 horsepower, so aside from standard features and engines, it comes down to how fast you want to go in a straight line.
Both the base and S trims employ V6 engines, eight-speed automatic transmissions and standard all-wheel drive. The base Cayenne uses the same single-turbo 3.0-liter V6 found under the hood of the Panamera sedan. Porsche says the engine's 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque results in a 0-60-mph time of 5.9 seconds. The Cayenne S is upgraded with a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 rated at 434 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque that delivers 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
The V6 thrum from both engines lacks the aural excitement we expect from Porsche, but the sound isn't unpleasant. Both engines deliver sprightly and responsive acceleration around town, with the base 3.0-liter proving adequate for most drivers. But who wants merely adequate acceleration from a Porsche?
The S feels like the right amount of excess, but the Turbo falls on the wonderfully absurd side. Its name seems strange as each Cayenne variant has some form of turbocharging. In this case, Turbo means a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that makes 541 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque. When channeled through its eight-speed automatic, the Cayenne Turbo delivers a 0-60-mph time of 3.9 seconds. The engine's muted growl is more satisfying than those of the V6s, as is the onslaught of its power.
Smaller Through Technology
While the difference in acceleration between trims was palpable, the handling and general character of the three Cayennes we drove was remarkably similar. Each displayed the nimbleness of a much smaller and lighter vehicle, a sensation resulting from the full suite of Porsche performance features on each version we drove.
Rear-wheel steering is one such feature; it makes the Cayenne easier to park at low speeds and more stable at high speeds. There's also driver-adjustable and adaptive air springs that work in conjunction with an active anti-roll system to make the ride soft on straight highways but responsive and flat when you want to take corners quickly.
A torque-vectoring rear differential is yet another performance-enhancing feature that makes a noticeable difference. It selectively overdrives the outside rear wheel through turns to make the Cayenne more eager to rotate. This helped the Cayenne navigate the exceedingly narrow, unpainted roads we drove at speeds with a delicacy you'd expect from the smaller Macan.
Along with the standard air suspension, the Cayenne Turbo also comes with a few brake system tricks. It employs a feature called Porsche Surface Coated Brake that consists of tungsten carbide-coated cast iron rotors that Porsche says last longer and generate less brake dust than its traditional rotors. They're optional on lesser trims and cost far less than pricey carbon-ceramic brakes. We couldn't sense much of a difference from the brake pedal, but we're sure owners will appreciate not having to clean their wheels as frequently.
The Cayenne Turbo also wears an electronically controlled flaplike spoiler on top of the cargo liftgate that deploys automatically under certain situations, such as when you engage the Sport Plus drive mode. The spoiler moves to add stability when you've found a way to legally exceed 100 mph, and it can also help with braking by extending more upright. Porsche claims that the aero effect it creates under braking shortens stopping distances by 6.6 feet from 155 mph. We don't expect many U.S.-bound Cayennes to verify that claim, but the stability from the spoiler should help reduce the drama of a panic stop on the freeway.
All 2019 Cayennes come with Apple CarPlay standard, but Android Auto remains unsupported. According to Porsche, Google requests more info from vehicle control systems than Apple, and Porsche didn't want to hand it over. Porsche says even though 85 percent of its owners use iPhones, there's a possibility that it will support Android Auto in the future. Porsche's new Connect App looks to replicate many of the features from both systems, but with a deeper integration into the entertainment and navigation system.
We look forward to exploring that option further, not to mention spending a whole lot more time with the new Cayenne. Our experience with the brand's latest and largest SUV shows Porsche once again has delivered the driving experience that makes its vehicles stand out in their segments. Its performance also makes the starting prices that range from $66,750 to $125,650 seem justifiable. While we remain curious how models without the performance-enhancing options will feel, we're sure those looking for a combination of practicality, comfort and driving thrill from an SUV will find few alternatives better than the Cayenne.