Incredible performance on-road and off, comfortable seats and ride, mostly meticulous fit and finish.
Missing some key luxury features, too-light steering and brakes, a few cheap plastic trim pieces.
Why does Porsche build a 5,500-pound SUV that can leap to 60 mph in 5 seconds and hit a top speed of 174 mph? Well, because it can. And because it knows that there are people who will gladly pay the big bucks to own such an extraordinary vehicle. While the 2009 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S may seem somewhat over the top (not to mention rather pricey) it is also a striking example of how this legendary carmaker can bend the laws of physics almost to the breaking point.
After digesting the above numbers, try to wrap your head around the fact that the Cayenne Turbo S can also whip through the slalom quicker than a Jaguar XFR sport sedan. And that it's also very capable off-road, as we discovered in the sand dunes of Dubai. The Cayenne Turbo S may be built like a Great Dane, but it moves like a Border Collie.
When it's not putting the hurt on high-brow sport sedans or rugged terrain, the Cayenne Turbo S makes for a docile daily driver. In spite of its imposing performance, it's just as happy sauntering down to Neiman Marcus as it is showing you a good time on your favorite back road. At a starting price of $125,000, the Turbo S is the top dog in the Cayenne kennel. Its 25 percent price premium over the Cayenne Turbo gets you 50 more horsepower, larger tires and some eye candy such as carbon-fiber cabin accents and unique exhaust outlets.
All things considered, the 2009 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is an incredible vehicle that's essentially a class of one. Which brings us to one last question: How can Porsche charge nearly $1,500 extra for satellite radio and Bluetooth on this $125,000 Cayenne when both are standard on an $18,000 Ford Focus SES? Because it can.
Behind the Turbo S's massive grille lies a twin-turbocharged V8 that spins out 550 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. All that thrust gets to all four tires by way of a six-speed automatic with three modes: Normal Drive, Sport and manual-shift (via the shifter itself or buttons on the steering wheel).
At the track, the Turbo S ripped to 60 in just 5 seconds flat and hustled through the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds. It also wiggled through the slalom at 66.2 mph -- faster than the BMW 550i, Chevy Camaro SS and Jaguar XFR.
Our tester had the optional ($8,840!) Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), which feature exotic composite rotors that resist fade much better and are far lighter than standard metal rotors. These incredible stoppers hauled the Cayenne down from 60 mph in just 111 feet -- that's sports car territory. During a rapid mountain descent, they were as strong at the end of the run as they were at the start.
Once you get used to the heft of this SUV, its crisp turn-in, flat cornering attitude and effortless thrust from all speeds make it feel much smaller. On a deserted, serpentine road, the Cayenne Turbo S is every bit the thrill machine you'd assume something with both "Porsche" and "Turbo" in its name would be. With the tranny in Sport mode, there's always a tidal wave of power underfoot, ready to shoot the S off corner apexes like one of its sports car siblings.
While the Cayenne is overwhelmingly capable, it may run counter to certain automotive enthusiast tastes. The laser-precise steering may be too light for those who'd prefer more muscular weighting. The brakes drew similar complaints from some who would prefer a firmer pedal. While we're logging complaints, a more aggressive exhaust note would be nice, too, as the low refined growl just doesn't seem vocal enough.
Although the looks and specs might lead you to believe that it's strictly a high-performance pavement burner, the Cayenne Turbo S comes fully equipped for off-road use as well. There's low-range gearing, a locking center differential, a height-adjustable suspension system and hill descent control. Whether venturing to a cabin in the woods or those sand dunes in Dubai, the Turbo S can conquer nearly any sort of terrain. Given our average fuel mileage of 11.7 mpg (against the EPA's combined estimate of 14 mpg), the Cayenne Turbo S would be right at home in Dubai.
Firm, well-bolstered sport seats are found not just up front, but in back as well. Four passengers should be very comfortable as support, headroom and legroom are all more than ample. A fifth passenger will need to be thin to fit between the dedicated outboard rear seats.
A few shorter drivers thought the seat bottom was a bit long and would've liked a shorter cushion (with an adjustable thigh support for taller folks). That said, a power tilt-telescoping wheel and the seat's many power adjustments (including four-way lumbar) allowed everyone to get comfy behind the wheel.
Even though this was the top performance version of the Cayenne, the ride was supple, thanks to the three-mode adjustable suspension. We found that Normal provided the best combination of agile handling and a well-cushioned ride. Yet even in Sport mode, it wasn't too stiff and still took broken pavement and freeway expansion joints in stride. The cabin was also fairly quiet at speed, no mean feat for such a bulky vehicle with big tires.
Though there's a lot going on in the Cayenne's center stack, most of the various buttons and switches are intuitive. Porsche's vastly improved multifunction display screen uses both hard buttons and touchscreen operation, which work well together, and it features a much appreciated "back" button.
On the other hand, the seat heaters' rotating switches are nearly flush-mounted (making them somewhat slippery to spin with bare hands, let alone gloved ones in winter time), and there's no dedicated "off" button for the climate control (you must toggle down the fan speed to shut it off).
A couple of luxury features were notably absent, namely keyless ignition and a back-up camera, though in fairness the Cayenne does have front and rear park assist. You can get a USB/iPod connector, which allows you to operate the iPod through the steering-wheel controls, but you'll have to pay an extra $440 for it.
The Cayenne Turbo S proved to be practical as well as entertaining. The cargo hold easily accommodated our golf clubs and suitcase, and a rear-facing baby seat could be installed in back without undue back strain, thanks to the tallish cabin. Behind the rear seats you have 19 cubic feet (about the same as a large car's trunk) for your antiquing finds. If that's not enough, flipping down the 60/40-split rear seat yields 63 cubes. No trailering slouch, the Cayenne Turbo S can also tow up to 7,716 pounds.
Design/Fit and Finish
As you move up in the Cayenne line, the front end styling gets more aggressive, with grille openings enlarged to provide more cooling for the increasingly powerful engines. The Cayenne Turbo's facial resemblance to a 911 Turbo is purely intentional, and to our eyes works great. Overall, the styling is gimmick-free, smooth and attractive, if a bit restrained for such a powerhouse.
The cabin is likewise somewhat somber, though classy with handsomely stitched leather that covers not only the seats, but much of the dash, center console and door armrests, too. Everything you see and touch is of high quality, and the interior is sprinkled with real carbon-fiber trim accents.
Given the Turbo S's price point, the few disappointing exceptions include metallic-painted plastic (rather than real metal) accents and controls on the center console, the unlined door pockets and the cheap plastic sunglasses holder (that we'd criticize in a Kia). Otherwise, the Turbo S is hard to fault, as panel fitments -- inside and out -- are even and tight as a drum.
Who should consider this vehicle
If you're one of the few well-heeled enthusiasts looking for a four-seat sports car that can also carry 63 cubic feet of stuff and tackle off-road terrain better left to dromedaries, the 2009 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S has your name written all over it. Of course, practically speaking, it's a dubious purchase.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 puts up similarly shocking acceleration numbers for about a third of the Porsche's price. Of course, it doesn't handle as sharply, nor stop as quickly. And yes, there's the Benz ML63 AMG and the upcoming BMW X5 M and X6 M. However, they're essentially geared for on-road use. The Range Rover Sport Supercharged offers a fair amount of on- and off-road prowess, though it's still not up to the incredible level of this overachieving Cayenne.