The 2008 Porsche Cayenne celebrates the success of the controversial four-wheel-drive sport-utility from that little sports car company in Germany. It's hard to believe now, but five years ago the world wasn't sure if a Porsche SUV would be a good thing.
As it turned out, the Porsche Cayenne has been a good thing for a lot of people. Worldwide sales of the Cayenne are running at double the rate of 20,000 units per year that Porsche originally forecasted. North American Porsche dealers have cashed in, too, as the Cayenne has helped them sell 60-percent more Porsches in 2006 than they did in 2002, the year preceding the Cayenne's introduction.
Porsche calls the 2008 Porsche Cayenne the second generation of its high-performance SUV, although the new vehicle doesn't look much different to us aside from a revised front end and squintier headlights.
But it's another story entirely when you mash the throttle to the floor.
Porsche went right to the point with the new Cayenne, going straight from the current 2006 model to the new 2008 version and skipping 2007 entirely.
Porsche engineers also went right to the point when they developed a range of new engines for the 2008 Cayenne. They enlarged displacement and switched to direct fuel injection. The charge-cooling effect of direct fuel injection permits a higher compression ratio without the risk of detonation, which significantly improves horsepower and torque.
The Cayenne's base V6 engine has been derided as too weak to sit beneath a Porsche hood, yet now we think it's a worthy entry-level offering. The angle between the V6's cylinder banks shrinks from 15 degrees to 10.6 degrees, while displacement grows from 3.2 liters to 3.6 liters. The V6 now pumps out 290 horsepower and 283 pound-feet of torque, some 43 hp and 54 lb-ft more than last year. Porsche claims 0-60-mph acceleration drops from about 9.5 seconds to the low 8-second bracket.
The normally aspirated V8 in the Cayenne S receives a similar treatment. Displacement increases from 4.5 liters to 4.8 liters and the compression ratio increases to a mind-boggling 12.5:1. A dry-sump lubrication system improves efficiency, while Porsche's VarioCam Plus variable timing extends the power band. Together these changes give the Cayenne S's 4.8-liter V8 some 385 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, a significant improvement over the 340 hp and 310 lb-ft ratings for the previous V8.
Atop the range sits the Cayenne Turbo. Apart from the two turbochargers (one per bank) and a compression ratio of only 10.5:1, the list of improvements to this 4.8-liter V8 is similar to that of the Cayenne S. With an output of 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, the 2008 Turbo nearly achieves the output of the 2006 Turbo S (which has been removed from the 2008 lineup). We expect the Cayenne Turbo to accelerate to 60 mph in about 5 seconds.
Thrift for the swift
As a further bonus, the new engines achieve better fuel-economy relative to the engines they replace. But it's hard to tell by looking at a 2008 Cayenne's window sticker. Starting with 2008 models, the EPA has changed its testing methodology.
For example, the 2008 Cayenne V6's official EPA rating of 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway looks 1 mpg worse than 2006 Cayenne EPA figures. But on an apples-to-apples basis, the more powerful 2008 Cayennes actually perform 1-2 mpg better than their 2006 counterparts.
As before, the six-speed Tiptronic S is the only transmission paired with the V8. A Cayenne V6 can still be had with either a six-speed manual or the Tiptronic automatic. The Cayenne's full-time four-wheel-drive system, complete with 2.7:1 low-range gearing, is carried over entirely.
The Tiptronic has two modes. In the Normal position, the transmission is calibrated for fuel economy, including 2nd-gear starts. Engaging Sport mode produces 1st-gear launches, more aggressive throttle pedal action and high-rpm upshifts. During our test-driving in southern Spain, we found the effects to be quite dramatic, especially for the Cayenne V6.
Improve your cornering attitude
The Cayenne's basic suspension carries over, albeit with a few detail tweaks. Porsche's height-adjustable air suspension and PASM adaptive damping are standard for the Turbo, while it's a $2,990 option package for the Cayenne or Cayenne S.
The big news for the Cayenne chassis is Stuttgart's all-new active stabilizer bar system known as Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC).
PDCC is not simply a new name for last year's Advanced Off-Road Technology Package, a system that decoupled the stabilizer bars when the transfer case was in low range. PDCC can still do this, but this new system continuously adjusts the influence of both stabilizer bars to suit any driving condition.
In corners, both bars firm up to limit body roll, holding it to virtually zero degrees in most situations. When the Cayenne is driven aggressively, the rear bar firms up more than the front one, improving the sport-ute's turn-in and reducing understeer. To forestall a loss of control in panic situations when the rear end loses grip, the front bar stiffens fully while the rear one decouples, helping to stabilize the vehicle.
PDCC pays dividends in the Cayenne's ride quality, too. On lumpy lanes, computer logic decides when to soften one or both bars to help the wheels respond to the pavement without tossing the passengers around. The computer can even generate forces in the suspension to neutralize external disturbances. The character of the PDCC's response is tied into the PASM's adaptive damping, which has three modes.
We were frankly amazed at the ability of PDCC and PASM to cope with the narrow, bumpy mountain roads of Andalucía. All three Cayenne variants went through the corners without a hint of body roll, while generating impressive grip. Yet it's also clear that the new suspension produces a far more serene ride than the current Cayenne generation can deliver. The $3,510 cost of PDCC is money well spent.
The more things change...
In keeping with Porsche tradition, the exterior changes for 2008 Cayennes are subtle and functional. It looks a little stouter thanks to a deep chin spoiler, reshaped hood, resculpted front fenders and new headlights. Other changes include a longer rear roof spoiler and reshaped taillights. All told, the drag coefficient drops from 0.39 Cd to 0.35 Cd.
Cayenne V6 models come standard with 17-inch wheels and 235/65R17 tires, while the V8s come with 18-inch wheels and 255/55R18 tires. A lengthy options list includes 19-, 20- and even 21-inch wheel-and-tire packages.
Because there are no significant changes to the Cayenne's body shell, everything looks the same inside and the interior controls are in all the familiar places. The only significant additions are a new power-operated tailgate and a tire-pressure monitoring system, both of which are standard on all Cayennes bound for the U.S.
More bang, a few more bucks
Once it hits dealerships March 3, the 2008 Cayenne V6 will start at $44,295, just $1,280 more than before — and making it still the lowest-priced Porsche you can buy. The price of a Cayenne S changes least, rising just $780 to $58,015. The step up to the Turbo is a big one, as it goes for $94,595. Still, the Cayenne Turbo's 500 hp gives it performance that's on par with the current $112,415 Cayenne Turbo S.
It's possible to question whether the 2008 Porsche Cayenne really represents a second-generation leap or just a technology transfusion, but it's clear that all three models are significantly better than before, at a modest increase in price. And when you equip the Cayenne with the all-new Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, you really can have it all, both stellar handling and good ride comfort.
Having it all is what this Porsche is all about. The Cayenne has made it possible to utter "Porsche" and "family" in sentences other than, "I have a family, so I can't own a Porsche."
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.