2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo First Drive

2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo First Drive

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2011 Porsche Cayenne SUV

(4.8L V8 Twin-turbo 4x4 8-speed Automatic)

Less SUV, More Porsche

Remember the scandal about the introduction of the Porsche Cayenne and all those purists who fretted that the company had lost its soul? And yet since the vehicle's introduction in 2002, people haven't been able to get enough of the Cayenne sport-utility. It brought financial prosperity to the little company in Stuttgart just as Porsche management planned, and made it possible for us all to enjoy all those special-edition Porsche 911s since then.

Eight years later, Porsche chairman Michael Macht finds himself introducing the second-generation Cayenne to the world's motoring press in Germany this week. In a clear sign of the changing conditions blowing through the world's automotive industry, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne is lighter and smarter and greener, just like the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg with which it shares so many components. But — lucky for us — it's also more Porsche, too.

Once the purists get behind the wheel of the 500-horsepower 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo, they'll forget all about the snits they threw all those years ago.

The Sales Strategy
When it arrives in North America at the end of May, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne will be sold with a choice of three gasoline engines, all brought over from the previous-generation vehicle with minor changes. They include the 300-hp 3.6-liter V6 in the entry-level Cayenne, the naturally aspirated 400-hp 4.8-liter V8 in the Cayenne S and the 500-hp twin-turbo 4.8-liter V8 in the 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo.

Also available will be the 2011 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid with its Audi-engineered, supercharged 333-hp 3.0-liter V6 complemented by a 47-hp electric motor that draws energy from a lithium-ion battery mounted within the spare wheelwell in the floor of the trunk. As with the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid, Porsche puts the Cayenne Hybrid's combined reserves at 380 hp — or just 20-hp shy of the Cayenne S. European buyers also get the Cayenne Diesel with a 240-hp 3.0-liter V6 common-rail diesel, though it's not planned for the U.S.

The most surprising thing when you see the new Porsche in the metal for the first time is just how much smaller it appears next to its predecessor. The visual bulk of the first-generation model has been dramatically reduced through the adoption of a lower front end, greater tapering at the corners, broader shoulders, tauter surfacing, added contouring and, most significantly of all, a tailgate that tips steeply forward. Don't be fooled by the apparent reduction in size, though, because the official dimensions reveal it is actually slightly longer, wider and higher than before. It also rides on a longer wheelbase and the tracks have increased, all of which helps provide it with a more confident stance as well as better high-speed dynamics.

The 500-hp Strategy
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo is distinguished from other models in the lineup through a unique front end with larger air ducts and a subtle power dome in the top of the hood. It also has unique headlights, with four individual LEDs in the main unit serving as daytime running lights. The biggest departure in styling comes at the rear, which is now dominated by larger, LED-equipped horizontal taillights.

As with the second-generation Touareg (the bodies of both vehicles are made at the same plant in Bratislava, Slovakia, though the Cayenne is assembled at a Porsche plant in Leipzig, Germany), the Porsche Cayenne is now lighter by 408 pounds, a gesture toward increased efficiency and dynamic liveliness achieved by the simple expedient of doing away with the Cayenne's dual-range transfer case.

With 500 hp at 6,000 rpm, the Cayenne Turbo possesses the sort of power reserves to make some so-called supercars appear almost tame by comparison. All it takes to breech the sort of speed limits posted in North America is a slight brush of the throttle, even at low revs in high gears. Frankly, the new Porsche is astonishingly fast by any standard, let alone those of your typical luxury SUV. Factory figures suggest it will accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.7 seconds, 0.2 second quicker than before. In comparison, the Porsche 911 Carrera requires 4.9 seconds. Even more impressively, the Cayenne Turbo doesn't quit until it reaches 172 mph.

All Autobahn, No Dirt
Porsche suggested a driving route out of Stuttgart to us, and it was clear that the idea would be to demonstrate the Cayenne Turbo's staggering straight-line speed over one of Germany's broad six-lane autobahns with an extended stretch boasting an unrestricted speed limit. Who were we to say otherwise?

The Cayenne Turbo's performance is as smooth as it is forceful. Despite its tall statue and a less-than-slippery drag coefficient of 0.36, it feels right at home at 100 mph in the fast lane. Straight-line stability is clearly superior to the old model, aided by heavily revised steering that now provides greater clarity when the wheels are dead ahead and doesn't ask for continual corrections (another virtue of doing away with considerations for off-road dynamics).

For all of its immense performance, though, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo is remarkably civilized. The engine note is barely perceptible at speeds around town, only growing to a hard burble when you run it close to the 6,900-rpm rev limiter. Changes to the engine software have also improved the Cayenne's ability to crawl along in stop-start traffic; the throttle is less sensitive when you tip in the power, leading to a smoother departure away from traffic lights.

Meanwhile, the Cayenne Turbo's new eight-speed automatic gearbox (once again from Japanese maker Aisin) operates in a smooth and intuitive manner. Fiddly rocker switches on the steering wheel control the transmission, although proper shift paddles are now available as an option across the Cayenne range. Choose the latter; you won't be disappointed.

Light-Footed at Last
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo belies its increase in size by remaining poised and fluid when hustled quickly down a winding road. First impressions over smooth-surfaced mountain roads an hour or so south of Porsche's Zuffenhausen-based headquarters near Stuttgart reveal it to be a touch more agile and even more sure-footed than ever before, despite the incremental increases in its overall dimensions. It changes direction quickly and the all-wheel-drive system (calibrated to deliver a torque split of 40 percent front/60 percent rear) always ensures there is plenty of traction when you need it.

You can sense the lower center of gravity and reduced polar movement, both the result of Porsche's efforts to trim weight. The hydraulically controlled steering is incredibly responsive by SUV standards. As before, the top-of-the-line Cayenne Turbo also gets PDCC (Porsche dynamic chassis control) as an option, in which hydraulically actuated antiroll bars counteract roll in corners. Meanwhile, PTV (Porsche torque vectoring) Plus varies the distribution of power to the individual rear wheels and provides a locking differential effect, raising the already high levels of lateral adhesion to a point where you find yourself throwing the Cayenne into corners at speeds that you would never consider in most SUVs. The standard steel brakes, too, feel strong, while ceramic discs are an expensive and questionable option.

Citing internal studies that reveal less than 5 percent of current Cayenne owners ever head off-road, Porsche has decided not to make a big fuss about the ability of the new model away from the blacktop. When pressed, however, Porsche is quick to point out that the new model performs as well or even better in off-road conditions than its predecessor, although this is something we've yet to verify for ourselves.

A Machine for Living
In its second incarnation, the Cayenne's interior exudes much greater class and quality than its predecessor. The look of the cabin is highly reminiscent of that gracing the Porsche Panamera, alongside which it is assembled. The front seats are particularly good, boasting a broader backrest and improved support. The driving position? Spot on.

Further changes are concentrated out back where the previously fixed rear seat gains 6.3 inches of longitudinal adjustment and individual adjustable backrests. Despite the more heavily angled rear window, trunk capacity has actually increased, going up by 4.2 cubic feet to 23.7 cubic feet. Every 2011 Porsche Cayenne gets a folding rear seat, taking maximum luggage capacity to 62.9 cubic feet.

What Porsche has done with the 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo is provide an emphatic answer to those who questioned whether there was a future for high-powered luxury SUVs. By retaining its high levels of performance and road-holding while combining them with a sizable reduction in weight and big gains in fuel economy, the Cayenne Turbo proves you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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