Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, CanadianDriver.com
If I had to come up with the ultimate definition of a “hard sell,” I’m guessing it was the day that someone stood before the bigwigs at Porsche and suggested they build an SUV. Of course you know the rest of the story: the Cayenne skyrocketed to success and still remains the company’s best-selling model in Canada.
For 2011, the Cayenne morphs into a new generation, with sexier styling (especially at the rump), new grille, more interior space, and of most interest to drivers, a substantial drop in weight. Wait for it – this would make Jenny Craig’s jaw drop. Rather than the 20 or so kilos that would normally send automakers crowing about their weight loss, the S shaves off a startling 180 kilograms, the Turbo 185, thanks to a new all-wheel drive system and considerable use of lighter-weight materials. It translates into much more lively handling, as you’d expect, along with better fuel economy. Between the styling and the weight, it both looks and drives smaller than its predecessor even though the new one is slightly larger. I test-drove two of the 2011 variants, the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo, which were alike enough in their styling and interior appointments that I’ve combined them here into a single story. Buyers can choose from four Cayenne models overall: the 3.6-litre V6 Cayenne; 4.8-litre V8 Cayenne S; Cayenne S Hybrid with supercharged 3.0-litre V6 and electric motor; and the Cayenne Turbo, with twin-turbocharged 4.8-litre V8.
Earlier this year, Porsche announced that favourable exchange rates would allow price reductions in both the vehicles and in their options. My Cayenne S originally started at $76,000 and was optioned to $110,720, but is now $72,700 and $101,790. The Turbo initially started at $123,900 and was outfitted to $140,210, and is now $118,700 and $132,370. (The V6 Cayenne now starts at $55,300, while the Hybrid begins at $77,500.) Of course, it’s easy to take all models much higher, as Porsche is extremely fond of offering a mind-boggling assortment of packages and stand-alone options, and often at prices that are just as breathtaking.
The secret to the Cayenne’s smashing sales success lies in two factors. First, it’s an SUV for those who want the Porsche badge and cachet enough to pay for it, but need something larger than a sports car. Secondly, it’s just a really nice vehicle. And if you argue that its niceness shouldn’t be enough to get buyers into an expensive Cayenne when some less-costly other SUVs work just as well, then go back and see factor number one.
Both the S and Turbo use a 4.8-litre V8, fortified with twin puffers in the Turbo. In the S it meters out 400 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, which peaks at a respectable 3,500 r.p.m. In the Turbo, it’s 500 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque, hitting its torque crest at a mere 2,250 r.p.m. Both are hooked to an eight-speed automatic that replaces the six-cog version that was used in 2010. It was super-smooth on the Turbo, but on the S, shifts could be a harsh when driving at low speeds with the system set into Normal. They smoothed out when put into Sport mode. The manual mode paddles are sinewy metal slivers that tuck in alongside the steering wheel’s rim, although they’re redundant push-pull rather than my preference, upshift on one and downshift on the other. A manual transmission is available only on the V6.
For all its power on paper, the naturally-aspirated V8 feels more like a healthy V6 when it’s driven moderately, and only really displays its animal nature when the system is toggled into Sport mode. The forced-air engine, on the other hand, is a tiger whenever your foot’s near the long pedal. There’s no turbo lag, just pure power anywhere along the throttle, matched with a delightful growl from the four exhaust tips out the back. That said, the regular V8 had a smoother tip-in and was far easier to modulate when making one’s way through downtown traffic. Fuel mileage is vastly improved from the 2010 models as well, helped along by a start-stop function that works similarly to that of a hybrid: stop at a light with your foot on the brake and the transmission in Drive, and the engine shuts off for extra fuel savings and zero emissions. It’s a great system for crowded city streets, when it makes little sense to burn fuel while you’re sitting, and can be deactivated at the touch of a button if green’s not your colour that day.
The S is officially rated at 13.4 L/100 km (21 mpg Imp) in the city and 8.8 (32) on the highway, while I averaged 14.2 (20) in combined driving. During a week with the Turbo, I found that the official figures of 14.3 (20) in the city and 9.3 (30) on the highway boiled down to 15.7 (18) in my real-world travels. There’s no doubt that my higher-than-official figures might have had something to do with a heavier-than-average right foot, of course. As expected, premium fuel goes into the tank.
Handling is improved both by the massive weight loss and, optional on both of my testers, a torque vectoring system that helps glue the Cayenne into curves by giving a little extra oomph to the outside rear wheel and lightly braking the inside one. Even with its slim-down, the Cayenne still weighs more than 2,000 kilograms. Still, it doesn’t feel like it, even when taking hard corners. It’s tight and responsive, yet easy to manoeuvre in more confined spaces, such as underground parking lots. The Cayenne S also included an optional self-levelling and height-adjustable air suspension, which can be raised to get over nasty ruts when necessary and which hunkers down at higher speeds for improved stability. Although it’s highly unlikely you’ll see any on the local 4×4 off-road club’s outings, the Cayenne is well-equipped for off-road ability (at least, when it’s shod with the right tires), with locking centre and rear differentials via an easy-to-use switch on the console, and hill descent control for easing down steep grades.
The Cayenne’s new interior borrows heavily from the Panamera, including a centre console so stuffed with buttons and toggles that you might initially feel like you’ve stepped into a small airplane. Still, it’s gorgeous, especially in the Turbo’s black interior. It takes a while to get used to all of the controls, although they are grouped intelligently, with the most commonly used ones closest at hand. Porsche traditionally puts the ignition key on the left – no pushbutton start here, and I wish other manufacturers would get over their silly fascination with the keyless variety – which moves the headlamp switch down further on the dash, where I occasionally knocked it with my knee getting into the vehicle, inadvertently turning the lights on or off.
The seats are ridiculously comfortable. The Turbo’s were bolstered, which gave more support during spirited driving; the Cayenne S’s seats were flatter, which made them more convenient during a day of running errands. The handles on either side of the centre console are mimicked by the ones on the door. But the door handles are too close to the hinge, which doesn’t provide enough leverage on windy days where there’s a risk of a breeze catching the door and knocking it into the car in the next spot. A hand-hold further back on the armrest would be a welcome addition, giving driver or passenger the opportunity to better control that big piece of sheet metal.
The dual-zone climate control truly is dual-zone, allowing me to set my side not only to my preferred temperature but also to the “Auto” set-and-forget function, while my husband, who hates the automatic setting, could play with the mode and fan settings to his heart’s content, with it all staying over on the passenger side. Many other functions will largely depend on how many boxes were checked on the order sheet, and the Cayenne can seem strangely lacking when they aren’t: my S didn’t have the optional auto-dimming mirror, relying on the perfectly functional but pedestrian system of clicking the day-night tab on the back. Resist the urge to tell Porsche owners that your Hyundai has some of their missing features for just a little more than what they paid in tax; they can, after all, be in the next county by the time your car downshifts, which is really the point, after all.
When you come right down to it, any box with wheels will get you where you want to go; it’s how much you enjoy the journey that makes the difference. The Cayenne is expensive, even with its price drop, but that’s part of it: it’s a Porsche, and a really nice one on top of it. And sometimes, that’s all it needs to be.
Pricing: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S
Base price: $72,700
Options: $29,090 (Full leather interior, $4,180; trailer hitch, $750; power sunroof, $1,360; front and rear park assist, $1,250; dynamic bi-xenon headlamps, $2,130; air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management, $4,550; Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus, $1,710; 21-inch 911 Turbo II wheels, $6,310; ski bag, $470; comfort lighting package with driver’s memory, $290; Porsche Communication Management with navigation, $4,160; Bose surround sound system, $1,930)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $103,005
Pricing: 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Base price: $118,700
Options: $13,670 (Trailer hitch, $750; power sunroof, $1,360; Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus, $1,710; 21-inch 911 Turbo II wheels, $4,530; ski bag, $470; comfort lighting package with driver’s memory, $290; Burmester high-end surround sound system, $4,560)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $133,585
Crash test results
Jil McIntosh is a freelance writer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and Assistant Editor for CanadianDriver.com. Her personal website can be found at http://www.JilMcIntosh.com