As a long-time Porsche enthusiast, I’ve been asked to name my favorite Porsche more than once. My answer is usually the same: one of the Brumos 59s, the Martini-liveried 917, the Mobil 1 GT1, a 993 RS or a 997 GT3. But how about a 2011 Cayenne?
I know some of the more hardcore Porsche devotees have mixed feelings about the Cayenne. Our own LifeStyle editor has been known to say, “whenever I see one, the driver is on the phone, or—even worse—parked over two spaces at the local Whole Foods!” But when we prod further, she reveals she enjoyed driving her loaner Cayenne around town, and found the car “very un-SUV-like.” Still, how on earth can I put the Cayenne in the company of the sports cars above? Stick with me for a minute here and you’ll get a better idea.
Whether the “Porsche Purists” like it or not, the Cayenne is now the single best selling Porsche of all time. Porsche has sold 280,000 Cayennes worldwide, 90,000 of which went home to American consumers, and Porsche has already received 16,000 orders for the second generation Cayenne.
Before the Cayenne came about, the pool of Porsche models to choose from was fairly shallow. While not a problem for bonafide Porsche lovers (die-hards could still get a 911 and that’s all that mattered), financial challenges were hampering what the company could do and hamstringing progress. Then came the Cayenne. After the automotive world cleaned the spittle off their shirts, it was time for really cool things to come down the line.
The first generation Cayenne was a great achievement on many levels. If you lived in a four-season climate, needed to transport 4 people, had kids, had a dog or any other scenario where the 911 just wasn’t gonna cut it, the Cayenne opened doors and liberated you from more mundane SUV choices (or, horror of all horrors, a minivan). Soon after the appearance of the Cayenne, I saw numerous Porsche owners towing their 911s to the track using this newest Porsche to do so. This multi-purpose, water cooled, front engine, all-wheel drive Cayenne may not have made sense to many, but it was one of the best decisions Porsche ever made. And it translated into more Porsches for the Purists.
So do we owe the current Porsche lineup to the Cayenne? “When I joined the company in 1999, we had no Targa, no Boxster S, and of course no Cayman,” said Gary Fong, Product Communications Manager for Porsche Cars North America (PCNA). “The Cayenne didn’t pay for all of that but selling over 250,000 of them worldwide didn’t hurt,” he adds. We think its safe to assume that the Cayman and GT3 exist, in big part because of the Cayenne, and Porsche has the ability to go prototype racing again.
So now, nearly 8 years later, the Cayenne is here to stay. The second generation of the most race-car like SUV has just been introduced at Barber Motorsports Park. Perhaps the most anticipated introduction to the 2011 Cayenne lineup is the hybrid model (I’m looking at the only two in the country as I draft this review). Although the Cayenne lineup already seemed quite complete, Porsche felt compelled to mind the environment and conform with CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) while delivering vehicles that really perform. To that end, they have introduced two hybrid models: the very limited production GT3 R Hybrid race-car (an astounding piece of engineering which made its track debut this year) and, for the rest of us, the Cayenne (read on for more about the Cayenne Hybrid).
The Porsche Cayenne Grows Up
Admittedly, it was time for the Cayenne to get a facelift. The goals for the second generation of the Cayenne were simple, said Dr. Martin Bratzler, (Project Manger Marketing and Sales Product Line, Cayenne): to be the best in class in road performance, to reduce fuel consumption significantly, and to provide more space, variability and everyday usability to the driver.
As I get behind the wheel of the new Cayenne at Barber it’s quite apparent Porsche was successful in meeting their goals. The second generation Cayenne lineup boasts impressive numbers. The entire Cayenne lineup is lighter than its predecessors, and power across the model line is up: 300hp in the base model, 400 hp in the Cayenne S, 500 hp in the Turbo, and 380 hp for the V6 Hybrid. As far as reducing fuel consumption, success again: the new Cayennes consume nearly 23% less fuel than their predecessors and CO2 emissions are down by up to 26% (depending on the model).
Porsche is known for its cutting-edge technology, and the Cayenne has definitely benefited from this. Some of the benefits reaped include the Cayenne’s 8-speed Tiptronic S gearbox, which delivers a 20% mpg fuel efficiency increase; auto-start/stop which allows the engine to shut off completely while at rest and re-starts it almost imperceptibly; and engine management/drivetrain chassis/suspension re-engineered for efficiency.
Trying all the Cayenne Flavors
When I first set eyes on the latest generation Cayenne, it looks a little smaller, more sleek and agile. In reality, the second generation is actually 2” longer, which goes to show Porsche is still superbly able when it comes to design. The sleek new lines of the Cayenne bring harmony to the entire Porsche lineup, from the headlights and LED running lights to the “V”-shaped hood (also evident in its sister, the Panamera). But the beauty of the Cayenne goes beyond skin-deep: If you think this baby is all beauty and no brawn you are sorely mistaken.
The first Cayenne I try is the Turbo. The rear brakes clue me in to what lies beneath this SUV. In the front are huge, six-piston calipers with extra large, pizza pie-sized, two piece 15.35” rotors; the rears display magnificent 14” rotors and hat with four-piston calipers. Inside, too, there is the perfect marriage of comfort and sport: details like the aluminum scripted door sills invite you to an incredibly well-bolstered seat that is pure comfort for my shoulders, waist and lower back. As in the Panamera, the raised center console brings the driver and co pilot down into the cockpit, creating a connection with the car.
My first drive in city traffic and highways shows the Cayenne is a sporty yet civilized ride with very little road noise and a very deep, throaty roar from the 500 ponies. Thankfully the throttle can be easily modulated so as not to stir Alabama’s finest, rendering the Cayenne a fine commuter vehicle.
On track at Barber Motorsports, the Cayenne turns in crisply, holding the line as if honed in on the apex. Encouraged, I squeeze the 4.8L turbo charged V8 throttle and unleash the 516 lb ft of torque thrusting me (along with David Donohue and three members of the press corps) back into the seats past the track out in turn 3. The Cayenne’s balance is really impressive, it transitions nicely, and the weight transfer whether braking or cornering feels very smooth and relatively flat.
The Cayenne Turbo performs unlike most street cars–let alone SUVs. One of the reasons is that the 2011 Cayenne has Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV). PTV works by slowing the inside wheel, allowing the outer wheel to turn more (thus turning in better), then locks the rear differential to provide maximum push out of the corner. Magic, indeed.
The standard V6 Cayenne (your only choice if you want a manual Cayenne in the U.S.) now has 300 hp and 295 lb ft of torque and weighs in just under 4400lbs. Its even more eco-friendly counterpart, the V6 Cayenne Hybrid, combines a 90 degree 3.0L 333hp V6 with a 47 hp electric motor for a combined 380 hp and an impressive 427 lb ft of torque. The Hybrid captures kinetic energy from its braking system and stores it in lithium-ion batteries. Porsche places the batteries (which are designed to last the life of the vehicle) low in the trunk area to retain as much usable storage space possible and achieve near 50/50 weight distribution. Although the batteries are heavy (380 lbs) the new generation Cayennes are so much lighter than in the past the hybrid remains very manageable.
You may have heard of hybrid SUVs before, but have you heard of one that can accelerate from 0-100kph in 4.8 seconds? While the Cayenne Hybrid normally accelerates to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, put it in “boost mode” – where the electric motor and gas powered engine combine – and acceleration is now in high-end sports car territory.
If you want to be truly amazed, let someone else drive the new Cayenne Hybrid, sit in the passenger seat, and listen. Hear that? Me neither. This Cayenne can drive solely on batteries (up to 37 mph) in an eerie silent “E” mode. The moment you ask for acceleration the V6 fires up and seamlessly integrates with the driveline. The Cayenne’s ability to “Sail” (no driveline engaged at all), recoup power to the batteries, send power to the wheel from the batteries or combined with the combustion motor–without you ever knowing—is testament to Porsche’s engineering success.
The only fault I find with the Hybrid is that I’m distracted by how good it is. I find myself constantly checking one of two displays showing me where power is going to or coming from. As if that isn’t enough, there is the active cruise control to entertain me: it’s incredibly cool to set the speed and the distance to the next vehicle and let the Porsche safely negotiate the ebb and flow of traffic. I am glad they put so much technology into these vehicles, right down to the BOSE or sublime Burmester audio sound system.
Making Cayenne Choices
With so many choices, how do you pick a Cayenne “family favorite”? If you’re fortunate enough, buy one of each. For the the rest of you I suggest making a list of what matters most to you and your co-pilot. Is it comfort, fuel economy, acceleration? Start by spending the day at your local Porsche dealer and test driving each one. In this case, you can bring your partner, kids and dog, and pass it off as a family activity! Buyer beware! With everything the Cayenne line-up has to offer, it’s a difficult choice to make.
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