When Porsche first introduced the Cayenne V6 to us in 2004, we drove it across the frozen lakes near Rovaniemi, Finland, above the Arctic Circle. It was fun, but since we couldn't use full throttle, we didn't really come to grips with the V6's questions of performance and refinement.
Now the second-generation 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 is coming to us on a sunny day in Germany, and it's accompanied by an opportunity to drive the 2011 Porsche Panamera V6. This is a bold move for two reasons. First, the German autobahn will show up any performance deficiencies in the new Cayenne V6, and second, the contrast with the Panamera V6 should highlight any lingering issues about the new engine's refinement.
You see, while the Panamera V6 boasts Porsche's all-new 3.6-liter V6, the Cayenne continues with its VW-designed 3.6-liter V6. This is the legacy of a deal signed with VW to codevelop a sport-utility for both firms, which brought us the Cayenne and VW Touareg. But now detail improvements to the narrow-angle VW V6 have improved its power and reduced its vibrations, the Porsche engineers tell us.
This is important because the U.S.-specification 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 has a price of $46,700, dramatically cheaper than the $63,700 Cayenne S. As a result, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 is the most affordable portal into Porsche ownership, the way into the Porsche family for thousands of new customers in America.
For the 2008 Cayenne, Porsche swapped the original 247-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 for a 286-hp 3.6-liter version. Now this engine has been tweaked again for use in the second-generation Cayenne. New electronics contribute to an increase in output to 300 hp at 6,300 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm.
Though the EPA fuel mileage numbers are still being calculated for the 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6, Porsche tells us that the model is 20 percent more fuel-efficient on the European driving cycle. The improvement has a lot to do with a 400-pound weight reduction in the second-gen Cayenne thanks to a comprehensive reengineering of the body, lightweight doors and hood, plus the deletion of the dual-range transfer case for its all-wheel-drive system. Just as important, the SUV combines the Aisin-built eight-speed automatic transmission with an automatic stop/start system that stills the engine at stoplights.
Working with their VW counterparts, Porsche's engineers have also improved the V6 engine's refinement. The introduction of a forged steel crankshaft, for example, is designed to save weight and make for smoother operation. Cayenne owners will also no longer face the ignominy of having to open the hood to check the oil level — an electronic system has been introduced.
You only need open the hood of the 2011 Porsche Cayenne to understand how different this engine is from the new V6 in the Panamera. While the 90-degree Porsche V6 sits low under the hood of the Panamera, the 10.6-degree VW V6 (a development of the narrow-angle VR6 engine introduced by the Golf) is tall and narrow.
Though the power and torque outputs of these two engines are identical, their characters are quite different. First of all, the Cayenne's V6 doesn't have the voice of the Panamera V6, and then the SUV's engine grows coarse as you rev it toward redline, especially around 3,000 rpm when you feel a noticeable vibration in the steering wheel.
Porsche tells us the 2011 Cayenne V6 gets to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds and will reach a top speed of 143 mph. These figures are not exactly synonymous with the Stuttgart crest, but then Porsche has always been honest about the Cayenne V6's role in life. This is a mildly sporting SUV, not a 911 in a fat suit. Those who need a Cayenne to ferry kids, dogs and other familial clobber will find the V6's performance adequate for their needs. And its tow rating is a useful 7,716 pounds.
The new-generation Cayenne looks far smaller than it did before, though this is mostly due to styling magic, notably a lower nose and a forward-raked C-pillar. In reality the Cayenne is actually fractionally longer, wider and taller than before and rides on a wheelbase that's been stretched to 114.0 inches, 1.6 inches longer.
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 drives with a laid-back demeanor. You'd never describe it as sporting, but it's impressive by SUV standards. The steering deserves praise for its linearity, making it easy to place this 4,475-pound vehicle on the road. Body roll is well contained and the Cayenne can be hustled along with something approaching gusto, helped by an all-wheel-drive system that delivers 60 percent of its thrust to the rear wheels in normal conditions.
This Cayenne V6 comes with the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management system (PASM) that provides a supple ride even with the dampers at their most aggressive. As a result, even this V6-powered Cayenne becomes an excellent tool for distance driving. The eight-speed gearbox operates with impressive smoothness and shifts almost as quickly as the dual-clutch PDK automated manual in the Panamera. At the same time, it's hard to find any aspect of the Cayenne's performance that you'd describe as pure Porsche.
The Passenger Package
As you'd expect, the $46,700 price of the entry-level 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 doesn't include an interior laden with comfort and convenience goodies, yet the design and quality represents a quantum leap beyond the old model. The basic architecture echoes that of the Panamera and the cabin is a fine place to spend a day, even though the plethora of buttons can occasionally confuse you.
More living space has been carved out for adults, notably a rear bench seat that slides fore and aft by 6.3 inches to the benefit of passenger or parcel and also incorporates a backrest that can be adjusted to three different angles.
With the second-generation Cayenne, Porsche has gone to some lengths to make its SUV a more practical choice when it comes to energy consumption, even though the headlines hype the 500-hp Porsche Cayenne S Turbo. The $67,700 Cayenne S Hybrid is due in U.S. showrooms in fall 2010 along with the Cayenne V6. In addition, a Cayenne powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter Audi V6 diesel is available in Europe, while the Porsche engineers are developing a Cayenne with a supercharged 3.0-liter Audi V6 for the Chinese market that is effectively the Cayenne S Hybrid but without the electric motor.
It's probably best to think of the 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 as part of this movement toward fuel-efficiency, because it still lacks the performance and refinement you would associate with a Porsche. Of the 88,000 Cayennes that have been sold in the U.S. since Porsche's SUV was introduced here in March 2003, a total of 55,000 have been powered by the Porsche V8. And while there's a new day of environmental consciousness (not to mention renewed awareness of the price of gas), we suspect that far more buyers will be spending the extra $17,000 to step up to the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S with its V8 engine than will ultimately be content with the V6.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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