Everyone's got a tell. A tick, a nod, a wink, a sideways glance — if someone's looking closely, there's no way to hide your true nature. The 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel is very good at hiding its oil-burning nature, but it, too, has a tell.
The exhaust pipes don't give it away, nor does the body. Even the wheels, 21s on our test vehicle, keep the secret. It's not even when you fire up the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 — which starts with a decidedly non-diesel quickness — that you get wise to the unusual powertrain underhood.
But then you grab the shift lever and shift into Drive. It's then, when the eight-speed automatic hooks up to the smoothly idling engine that the diesel creeps in. Not through the firewall or the floor or the exhaust, but a subtle vibration through the shift lever is the only giveaway that this Cayenne is something different. Something special.
Sharing Is Caring
Let go of the shift lever, put both hands on the immaculately trimmed Porsche wheel and you would probably never know that this engine works any differently from any other Cayenne offering. And that's because this 3.0-liter V6 is a tried-and-true luxury offering initially developed for Audi and Volkswagen.
"We couldn't have done this without the merger," a Porsche engineer tells us over dinner, referring to Volkswagen's takeover of Porsche which is still navigating various lawsuits. Porsche could certainly have built a common-rail diesel V6 with a variable turbo on its own that would match the fuel economy, horsepower and torque that the VW-built unit provides, but certifying it for the strict diesel emission regulations in the U.S. would have been a financial stumbling block. Thankfully, the work has already been done and this power plant is Tier 2 Bin 5 certified — and VW/Audi is all too happy to share the wealth and spread the cost.
When sitting between the strut towers of the 5,508-pound Audi Q7, the 3.0-liter V6 now makes a respectable 225 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, which is good for a 0-60 sprint of about 8.5 seconds. It's a decent number, but Porsche doesn't do decent.
Lightness + Power
Way back in 2011, Porsche redesigned the Cayenne. By making extensive use of aluminum and trimming the fat wherever it could, the current-gen Cayenne is some 400 pounds lighter than the SUV it replaced. In diesel guise, the Cayenne weighs in at 4,795 pounds — more than 700 pounds lighter than the Q7 TDI and the Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec and 400 pounds lighter than the BMW X5 diesel.
But simply having fewer pounds wasn't enough, Porsche made some software tweaks to the engine to produce 240 hp at 3,500 rpm and 406 lb-ft of torque starting at 1,750 rpm.
With power running through an eight-speed automatic (the only transmission available), the 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel will hit 60 in 7.2 seconds (Porsche estimates), while the EPA says this Cayenne should deliver 19 city/29 highway mpg and 23 mpg combined. After some seat time, we think both sets of numbers can be beat...though not necessarily at the same time.
Drives Like a Porsche, Not a Porsche Tractor
Twist the key and the engine fires up immediately with no telltale diesel pause or clatter. Porsche's "preglow" system is responsible for this smoothness, as the plugs get to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit in under 2 seconds and the engine settles into a low idle a fraction of a second thereafter. From there on out, everything is routinely Cayenne.
Steering is unchanged from the gas-burning Cayennes and offers the same lighter-than-expected, more-precise-than-necessary feel that helps define Porsche. And while Porsche's Torque Vectoring Plus is not available on the diesel, our tester was fitted with the self-leveling air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) that "offers continuous adjustment of individual damping forces based on current road conditions and driving style."
Perhaps we'd miss this feature on a tight, twisting road in Malibu, but on the epic mile-long sweepers of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula and a brief, 8-minute/8-mile sojourn down a two-lane dirt road, we never once missed the inability to select our own damper settings.
On the road and in the dirt, the oil-burning V6 is a natural match for the Cayenne. Keeping the shifter in Drive, the Cayenne Diesel rides wave after wave of torque with the effortlessness of an Aleut kayaker on the open sea. Unlike the Aleut, however, you don't have to wait for the next wave of torque. The eight-speed automatic shifts with the quickness and precision you'd expect from a Porsche box, and the diesel V6 responds with uncommon rev-ability.
Move the shifter into Manual mode and you'll have to pick between watching the tach like a hawk or banging off the rev limiter. Neither of which is made any easier by Porsche's shifter lever orientation (forward for upshifts) nor its awkward steering wheel buttons.
The High Cost of Low Consumption
The 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel is priced at $56,725, $3,900 more than the base Cayenne V6 with the optional Tiptronic transmission. Even at Cayenne prices, this is not an insignificant amount of money. In traditional Porsche fashion, though, that's only a rough starting point. The vehicle we tested was loaded with the Premium Package Plus, 21-inch Cayenne Sport Edition wheels (painted black), Burmester surround-sound stereo, two-tone leather, 18-way adaptive sport seats and a few sub-$1,000 niceties that cranked the as-tested price to $98,146.
Some will be drawn to the diesel for its 7,716-pound towing capacity. Others will want the diesel for its bladder-bursting 765-mile projected range. Most buyers, though, will gravitate to the diesel for the fuel economy gains even though it will take seven years to pay off the premium over the gas-burning V6.
Even with this slow payoff, Porsche expects the diesel to account for 10 percent of all Cayenne sales. Year two, Porsche expects between 15 and 20 percent of Cayenne sales to be oil burners. Many of these sales they say will be conquests from Audi and VW TDI drivers hooked on oil, but ready for something better.
The Best Cayenne Yet
The Porsche Cayenne is available in some of the most wonderfully preposterous configurations of any SUV. The GTS packs a 420-hp V8 with a performance exhaust that will ruin children's expectations of sports cars. The S pumps out 400 hp and is considered, for the class, "normal." And then there's the Turbo: 500 hp, 5,100 pounds, zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds and a $120,000-plus sticker price. It. Is. Awesome.
Compared to the 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel, though, these are all toys, status symbols, showpieces for the country club and PTA parking lot.
Porsche's first diesel in the U.S. was a small farm tractor which, when new, was its best-selling vehicle. And with an EPA estimate of nearly 30 mpg, class-obliterating driving dynamics, Porsche-spec amenities and trucker-mocking range, the 2013 Cayenne Diesel is likely to follow that trend.
A diesel Porsche SUV is the last thing Porsche purists ever wanted, but they complained about water-cooled 911s, too, and look how that decision turned out.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.