Seen by high-end luxury shoppers as either a practical way into ownership of a prestigious sports-car brand or by longtime Porschephiles as a bit sacrilegious and a necessary evil for keeping the brand aloft financially, the Porsche Cayenne has turned into Porsche's best-selling model and is definitely here to stay. But for 2011, Porsche has redesigned the Cayenne to improve its performance on the road and track while maintaining its level of off-road capability.
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne has become a little more svelte in appearance and officially gets all-new sheetmetal, but unless you take a look at a 2010 and 2011 model side by side, the changes are rather subtle. More curvaceous door panels and curvier-looking rear flanks hint more strongly of the sports cars in the Porsche family. The new version also has a new air dam design, different detailing in front and in back, and a few more curves, with a lower stance being the most noticeable effect. Inside, the Cayenne picks up the instrument panel and center-console look of the plush Panamera fastback sedan, with a sweeping, more coupe-like feel and matte-metallic brightwork.
With an extensive lineup of engines and trim levels, the Cayenne can be equipped to suit affluent suburbanites, up-and-coming families who want the Porsche badge on a bit of a budget, or enthusiasts who want track time on the weekend. Prices range from under $50,000 for the base Cayenne V-6 up to the $150,000 mark or higher for the Cayenne Turbo S.
After the rather subdued, almost boring cabin of the original Cayenne, the all-new 2011 model features an aggressive, cockpit-style layout reminiscent of the Porsche Panamera. The center console, adorned in upwards of 50 buttons, rises sharply to meet the dash and large touchscreen display, creating an enveloping driver's environment. With so many buttons, it can be difficult to find what you're looking for quickly, though once you know where everything is, you might argue that this Porsche system is more efficient than the many knob-and-screen systems found in its competitors. Or you could argue that it's hopelessly busy.
Like other Porsches, the Cayenne features the finest interior materials put together with excellent craftsmanship. Handsome wood, alloy trim and leather upholstery further add to the luxurious ambience. The front seats are available in three different designs, ranging from simple eight-way power adjustment to the 18-way sport seats, which feature adjustable bolsters, lumbar and seat cushion length. The sculpted rear seats not only recline but slide fore and aft as well, which is a feature not typically found in five-passenger luxury SUVs.
At the same time, the Cayenne has a maximum luggage capacity of 62.9 cubic feet (a figure reduced to 59.7 and 60.2, respectively for the Hybrid and Turbo models). This is on the small side for the Cayenne's class.
Outside and in, the 2011 is so much better than the popular outgoing model that Porsche could have stopped with a new exterior and a duly revised interior. But they didn't.
Under the new design, the new Cayenne is much more Porsche-like than the old. First, it's nearly 400 pounds lighter. This is significant and impacts the SUV's dynamic performance and fuel economy in a big way.
There are two distinct suspensions: One uses conventional steel springs while the other is an air suspension marketed as the Porsche Active Suspension Management. A $3,000 option, we much preferred the air-assisted ride as it provides an exceptionally smooth and stable ride plus suspension settings that ranged from luxury car downy to sporty stiff.
We marveled at the Auto-Stop function, not because we've never seen it before, but that this fuel-saving technology seemed out of character for a sports car company. This feature turns off the engine when the Cayenne is stopped in traffic and immediately re-starts as the driver lifts off the brake. Additionally, the audio and ventilation systems remain fully functional, as do all safety systems. This feature was necessary to meet new European Union C02 standards, so the Auto-Stop function is active unless the driver disables it. U.S.-bound Cayennes, however, don't have to meet the EU emissions standard, so the driver must activate the Auto Stop function when they feel like being frugal.
Porsche's drive train project manager, Christian Heiselbetz, told us, "When we started the new Cayenne program several years ago, Americans weren't so concerned about fuel economy. We didn't think they'd value the feature, so we made it necessary for the driver to engage it. We think that we will reverse this in the future."
The substantial diet and Auto-Stop function weren't the only things Porsche did to improve efficiency. Every Cayenne uses a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Having more gears saves fuel while delivering improved acceleration.
All other Porsche models are available with the company's twin-clutch automated manual, the Porsche Doppelkupplung, PDK for short. The gearbox is known for its exceptionally quick shifting, and we asked why it wasn't fitted to the Cayenne. Heiselbetz explained, "The Cayenne is heaver than our other vehicles, plus it must have the ability to tow and drive off road. A torque converter (a component in the eight-speed conventional automatic transmission) is part of what makes those capabilities possible." The Cayenne is rated to tow 7,716 pounds, plus it has substantial off-road capabilities that are used by some drivers, especially those in the Middle East who dune surf.
The performance of the 500-horsepower Cayenne Turbo didn't surprise anybody, but the on-track hustle of the most complex Cayenne ever did. When we got behind the wheel of the $67,700 Hybrid S, we felt as if we were sitting in the middle of the world's most harrowing compromise: A Porsche... that's also an SUV... and a hybrid. There must be a black hole for that sort of quandary.
The Hybrid S uses a combination of a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 and electric motor to crank out a combined 380-hp at 5,500-6,500 rpm and 428 lb-ft at just 1,000 rpm. The gasoline engine is supplied by Audi (a sister company of Porsche) and makes 333 horsepower on its own. The electric motor produces 47 horsepower, but more importantly, it alone produces peak torque of 300 lb-ft off idle, with half as much still available at 2,250 rpm. For the technically inclined, engineers don't add the individual power numbers of the gas engine and electric motor together because their power peaks occur at different speeds, making a blended figure for the complete hybrid powertrain a more accurate measure.
This power enables the hybrid to accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 6.1 seconds. This is only 0.6-seconds slower than the V8-powered Cayenne S. Conversely, the Hybrid S is 1.3-seconds faster to 60 mph than the base V6 Cayenne, but delivers significantly better fuel economy. Official estimates aren't available, but expect the Hybrid S to achieve in the low 20s city, with more than 23 mpg highway. When it comes time to brag about more than mpg, the Hybrid S has a top speed of 150 mph.
On the road, the Hybrid S drives like a sporty V8 SUV with one exception. Porsche engineered a "sailing" function into the hybrid powertrain. Unlike most hybrids that use heavy regenerative braking to re-capture the kinetic energy for battery charging, when a driver lifts off the Cayenne's throttle, the SUV figuratively "sails" because there is almost no powertrain drag.
To understand the concept, imagine driving 90 mph in a conventional SUV and putting an automatic transmission in Neutral. It's the same feeling, except in the Hybrid S, the SUV feels as if it might coast forever. By allowing the engine to shut down at speeds up to 97 mph, the hybrid system can save fuel even at highway speeds.
In around town driving, the Hybrid S can motor up to 40 mph on battery power alone in ideal conditions. Expect 15-25 mph under most normal operating conditions and less if it's exceptionally warm or cold out.
As for how it all works together, we expect most Hybrid S drivers will think it's cool. After all, they're not buying this Cayenne because they love pure Porsche performance.
The Cayenne comes standard with antilock brakes with enhanced brake assist and readiness, stability and traction control, driver knee airbags, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Rear side airbags, parking sensors, a rearview camera and a blind-spot warning system are available.
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne drives with a laid-back demeanor, especially with the standard V6. 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 4,500-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 under normal conditions. The optional active suspension system provides a supple ride even with the dampers in their most aggressive setting. As a result, the Cayenne is an excellent candidate for long-distance driving.
Opting for the Cayenne S or Cayenne Turbo obviously gets the blood pumping since they're so darned quick, but don't expect some lithe plaything that can also carry the kids. The Cayenne S Hybrid, with its added weight and electric power steering, is notably less enjoyable to drive, but does provide a nice blend of performance and fuel economy.