To say the Porsche Cayenne has been a success would be a massive understatement. Porsche's first SUV, which debuted 15 years ago amid cries of "heresy," has helped the brand immeasurably. For one, it brought a huge number of new buyers into the Porsche orbit, the sorts of people who admired the 911 from afar because they could never shoehorn one into their lifestyle. And with them came a vast infusion of cash that Porsche was able to reinvest in its core sports car products to make them that much more exciting and desirable. Instead of watering the brand down, the Cayenne — and the Macan that came later — have proven to be a potent corporate elixir.
Porsche pulled the wraps off the third-generation redesign of the Cayenne in a rooftop ceremony at its museum in Stuttgart, Germany, and it was abundantly clear that a good deal of that elixir has been drizzled directly onto this latest iteration of Porsche's flagship SUV. Available first in Europe, the North American version will see the light of day next summer as the 2019 Porsche Cayenne.
A Hotter-Looking Cayenne
The design team at Porsche has always been adept at modernizing its products without diverging much from the established template. Any new 911 still looks like a 911, and this fully redesigned Cayenne indeed looks unmistakably like a Cayenne. But this time a bit of the secret sauce from the brand's sportier products has been stirred into the mix.
Though it rides on the same 114-inch wheelbase as before, the 2019 Cayenne's body is 2.5 inches longer and its roof stands six-tenths of an inch lower. The combination allowed the designers to stretch the familiar shape into something sleeker and more fluid. The lower and wider look is further enhanced by a full-width front grille and a reflector element that connects the two taillights.
The Cayenne also manages a subtle whiff of 911 haunchiness because, even though the bodywork isn't technically wider, the chassis underneath brings with it a considerably more wide-set stance where the rubber meets the road. The effect is more pronounced at the rear, where for the first time a Cayenne's rear wheels are wider than its fronts — and by a full inch. Nineteen-inch wheels with 255/55R19 front and 275/50R19 rear tires are now standard, with 20- and 21-inch wheels available as options, the latter wearing massive 285/40ZR21 front and 315/35ZR21 rear rubber.
The 2019 Cayenne will launch with two models, the base Cayenne and the Cayenne S. A plug-in hybrid Cayenne S E-Hybrid will follow some months later, and a Porsche executive we spoke to said that Turbo and Turbo S models will come after that.
If emotion could be set aside, we could easily argue that the base model's 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine provides more thrust than a Cayenne buyer could ever need. It makes 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, which represents a 39-hp increase and a 37-lb-ft lift in torque over the outgoing base model's 3.6-liter V6. And the fact that it's now turbocharged means that those heading for the mountains will no longer notice an appreciable loss of oomph as the air thins.
What's more, the new Cayenne is a lighter machine despite bigger wheels and more standard equipment. With its aluminum skin and optimized body structure, the base model shed about 125 pounds of weight. Combine that with the extra grunt and the thoroughly reworked eight-speed Tiptronic S transmission and it's easy to understand why Porsche says the base Cayenne will now reach 60 mph in 5.8 seconds (5.6 seconds with the optional Sport Chrono Package in S+ mode), a feat that took a leisurely 7.4 seconds before.
Not enough for you? The Cayenne S is powered by a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 that makes 434 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. The S is 140 pounds lighter than its predecessor, and it's good for 4.9 seconds to 60 mph, with 4.6 seconds possible in S+ mode. Specs for the E-Hybrid, the Turbo and the Turbo S were not released, but they should closely mimic what's on offer in the Panamera lineup.
U.S. fuel economy ratings were not revealed, but European ones were released. To a certain extent, any attempt at conversion is an apples and oranges exercise, but we did some back-of-envelope math anyway and came up with a conservative guess of 21 mpg combined for the both of them, which represents an improvement of 1 mpg apiece — not too shabby considering the extra performance.
Under the skin, several foundational changes are worth noting. Chief among these is the move away from the 12-volt electrical system and starter battery we've known all our lives (unless, of course, you are experienced enough to remember 6-volt systems.) The new Cayenne instead uses a 48-volt system with a lithium-ion polymer battery. Such batteries are usually of lead-acid composition, but a 48-volt version would be extremely heavy. In this case, the new 48-volt lithium-ion polymer battery is 10 pounds lighter than last year's conventional 12-volt battery.
This change brings many benefits, the most obvious being added support for the ever-increasing network of onboard electrical systems. A 48-volt system also has the potential to make a fuel-saving stop-start system — which the new Cayenne has — much more immediate and seamless. It can make an electric power steering system more powerful yet easier to tune for delicate feel. And Porsche has used this change to improve the PDCC (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control) body roll control system, replacing last year's hydraulic active stabilizer bars with electronically adjustable ones.
Less directly related to the 48-volt system is a change to a three-chambered design in the air suspension system. Previously a simple single-chamber design, the new system promises a much wider range of difference between the Sport, Normal and Comfort settings. The new Cayenne can also be equipped with rear-axle steering, which both increases the performance envelope and decreases the U-turn radius. And while we're quite keen to try out the new Porsche carbon-ceramic brake (PCCB) option — which now comes with truly massive 10-piston brake calipers — we're especially intrigued by the more conventional optional brake system that slots in just below. These feature tungsten-carbide-coated rotors with a mirror finish that should have at least double the life while producing far less brake dust.
Advanced Cockpit Interior
Inside, the scene is dominated by a truly massive landscape-oriented 12.3-inch HD touchscreen audio and navigation interface that was first introduced in the Panamera. Dubbed the Porsche Advanced Cockpit, the other thing you notice is the relative lack of switchgear on the center console, which instead features touch-sensitive regions with haptic feedback hidden within a broad piano-black surface. An electronic toggle shifter sprouts from the center. If there's one aspect of the new Cayenne that has us sucking air through our teeth, this cabin environment may be it.
While we're not sure if the U.S. sales strategy matches that of Europe, standard tech includes an automatic emergency braking system with pedestrian prediction, and a sonar-based park assist system. Options include lane-keeping assistance, lane change assistance and a night-vision system. Further options include enhanced park assistance, a drowsy driver warning system, and Porsche InnoDrive (PID), a full-speed adaptive cruise control system that can talk to the navigation system to adjust speed based on curve radius and road gradient. At speeds up to 37 mph, PID also has traffic jam assist capability to prevent rear-end or side-to-side collisions if your mind wanders from the task at hand.
But Porsche was careful not to label this as any sort of semi-autonomous system akin to Tesla's Autopilot, and we can see why. We didn't get to drive the Cayenne, but we did drive an InnoDrive-equipped Panamera. Think of it as a better cruise control system, one that knows a little something about the road ahead because it's incorporating the road profile (and speed limit data) to a certain degree. This aspect only works if you are following a navigation route, and to our mind its best pairing will be with the plug-in hybrid model, where it can decide when to use gasoline and when to use electricity based on what it knows about the ups and downs of the road ahead.
About 9 Months Away
The 2019 Porsche Panamera isn't scheduled to reach our shores until June 2018 at the earliest. But Porsche assures us we will have a chance to drive and evaluate test samples before 2017 is over. And we still do not know how much it will cost or how fuel-efficient it will be in U.S. trim.
But all indications suggest the 2019 Porsche Cayenne will be the best Cayenne to date. As far as SUVs go, it's got the look and the performance to uphold the Porsche name and keep those development dollars pouring in.