We realize this looks bad. A bunch of unabashed car-loving adrenaline junkies invite a high-clearance sports car to an SUV contest and go all wobbly-kneed with excitement, crowning it champ. We can hear the hate mail composing itself from here: "That high-falutin' Porsche is an even stupider pick than last year's Scooby-doo station wagon! Cancel my subscription! (Again!)" We beg your indulgence as we build our case around the six key criteria.
We'll start with engineering excellence. Don't forget, when Porsche's Cayenne first vied for SUOTY in December 2003, we found its many sporting charms resistible, awarding the calipers to its calmer subdermal sibling, the VW Touareg. But the technical enhancements made between then and now are compelling. The initial lineup of two engines has expanded to five powertrains. The V-6s include a free-breathing, 300-horse, 3.6-liter that can be paired with a six-speed manual and a supercharged 3.0-liter gas-electric hybrid that cranks out a combined 380 horsepower and earns big efficiency points by sipping fuel at the rate of 21 mpg city/25 highway. (Speaking of efficiency, all engines feature direct injection; all automatics get eight ratios; and an auto-stop feature on all models turns the engine off when stopped to improve real-world efficiency, if not EPA figures.) Two 4.8-liter V-8s round out the roster, making 400 and -- in twin-turbo trim -- 500 horsepower. This widens the Cayenne's base-price footprint to span from $47,675 to $105,775. (Tick every box and you can blow $168K!)
Another impressive engineering advancement: Porsche lightened the load those powertrains lug by 400 pounds. The Deep Woods Off! set may be chagrined to learn that a chunk of that savings came from axing the two-speed transfer case in favor of an active AWD system with an electronic multiplate clutch that engages the front axle on demand. An off-road mode optimizes the electronic control logic of the traction, transmission, and chassis systems for trail running. A hill-descent control function is standard and optional air springs lend extra ground clearance for rock climbing.
Design advancement? Most staffers agreed that the exterior styling of the Cayenne has taken a big leap forward, appearing sleeker, tauter, prettier, and tidier than its gape-mouthed predecessor, despite having grown almost 2 inches longer and 0.4 inch wider. Inside, Panamera parts sharing improves the style and function of the roomier cockpit. The array of console and dash buttons appears intimidating at first, but the degree to which a driver can tailor the information presented on the center-stack screen and the reconfigurable gauge-cluster display is remarkable, and it's all fairly easy to master after a bit of button twiddling.
We officially evaluated the median-grade Cayenne S -- $64,675 to start, $79,160 as pimped out for our test with active suspension management, dynamic bi-Xenon headlights, navigation, and a lovely Bose sound system. Even toting all that gear, it weighed in 424 pounds less than our initial 4.5-liter S, and 480 under our more recent 4.8-liter GTS. Not surprisingly, it whooped its progenitors at the track, besting the original by a second to 60 (5.9 versus 6.9 seconds), and the GTS by a thinner 0.2-second margin. Quarter-mile sprints happen in 14.4 seconds at 98.7 mph -- 0.6 second and 3.8 mph ahead of the original one. That should line up with the heavier BMW X5 xDrive50i and rank just ahead of the six-cylinder sporty 'utes, but well behind the racy Infiniti FX50 (13.7 at 102.1). Later, we got our hands on a Cayenne Turbo ($105,775 base/$121,120 as tested). Boasting 50 more horses and 450 fewer pounds than our last one, it also shaved nearly a second off the 0-60 and quarter-mile times, running these benchmarks in 4.3 seconds and 12.8 at 108.9 versus 5.1, and 13.6 at 101.8.
Anybody can hustle a hefty hulk up to speed with a big-horse engine, but these Porsches earn their crests in the way they shed speed and carve corners. Running standard steel brakes (ceramic ones are available for $8150-$8840), the Turbo stopped from 60 mph in 107 feet -- shorter than any stock SUV we've tested, while the S stopped fifth shortest at 113 feet. Both provide plenty of reassuring pedal feel. Spin the steering wheel and the news gets even better, as our Cayenne S' 0.91g lateral cling outcornered everything we'd ever classified as an SUV except the new Turbo, which manages 0.95g. The Turbo trumped all 'utes in the figure eight as well, laying down a 24.8-second, 0.81g run. That's Corvette Z06/Lamborghini Murcielago territory! The S tied the burly Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 (and Infiniti G37 coupe) circulating the course in 26.1 seconds at 0.69g. Two options helped our Turbo achieve its uncanny handling: an active anti-roll bar system ($3510) and a torque-vectoring rear axle ($1490), both of which -- along with the ceramic brakes -- are available on any Cayenne.
Best of all, those figures don't oversell the Cayenne driving experience, which greatly eclipsed that of every other contender. Even the S proved astonishingly competent at tearing up a twisty road; its helm offers a sports car's heft and accuracy, though less road-feel reaches the rim than in a mid- or rear-engine Porsche. Logbooks were filled with rave reviews from surprised former Cayenne haters. Detroiter Lassa observed, "Few SUVs, even sporty ones, can put down the power as effectively as the Cayenne S, especially out of tight turns," adding, "I'd take this over a Panamera all day long." Kiino found it "Stays mostly flat through turns, but offers up a bit of roll, which I like. Reminds me a little of how an STI handles," concluding, "The Cayenne S finally feels like it has Porsche DNA." First-time SUOTY voter Lieberman found fault with the level of chassis rebound in rough corners but declared, "The steering is best of the group." Mortara proclaimed it "the best all-around SUV I have ever driven."
Most impressions and all handling numbers were obtained with the electronic controls in their Sport setting, but dial back to Normal or Comfort and the throttle response and transmission shifting relax along with the dampers. Ride comfort and permissible body roll are increased, and the driver's heart rate naturally slows. Ahhhh.
Further surprises awaited us on the off-road course, where the S model's broad eight-speed gearing and off-road-mode throttle mapping permitted us to maintain a snail's pace with no tire slippage up and down a steep and rutted silt-and-gravel hill on the same footwear that generated those big handling numbers. This prompted even "real SUV" booster and Truck Trend editor Harwood to observe "It's amazing that you can get this combination of performance and capability in one package -- it tows over 7700 pounds, is capable off-road, and handles like a Porsche in twists and turns."
It's that breadth of performance capability, combined with the Cayenne's roomy and comfortable interior and reasonably capacious cargo hold, that helped it nail our performance of intended function criteria. With strong showings in the engineering excellence and efficiency areas, attractive exterior and thoughtful interior design, a full roster of active and passive safety gear and the value rating fig leaf of the V-6's affordable opening price, the Cayenne won over the thoughtful adults as well as the boy-racers to win by a supermajority. Of course, it's the boy-racers who are helping spec out our long-termer.
|2011 Porsche Cayenne S; Turbo|
|Drivetrain layout|| Front-engine, AWD|
|Engine type ||90-deg V-8,
alum block/heads; twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads |
|Valvetrain ||DOHC, 4-valves/cyl|
|Displacement|| 293.3 cu in/4806 cc|
|Compression ratio ||12.5:1; 10.5:1|
|Power (SAE net)|| 400 hp @ 6500 rpm; 500 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)|| 369 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm; 516 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm|
|Weight to power ||12.2; 10.1 lb/hp|
|Transmission ||8-speed automatic|
|Axle/final/low ratios|| 3.09:1/2.13:1; 2.92:1/2.01:1|
|Suspension, front/rear|| Control arms, coil spr, adj shocks, anti-roll bar/multilink, coil spr, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; control arms, coil-air spr, adj shocks, adj anti-roll bar/multilink, coil-air spr, adj shocks, adj anti-roll bar|
|Stering ratio ||12.5-15.9:1|
|Turns lock-to-lock|| 2.6|
|Brakes, f/r ||14.2-in vented disc/13.0-in vented disc, ABS; 15.4-in vented disc/14.1-in vented disc, ABS|
|Wheels ||9.0 x 20-in; 10.0 x 21-in cast aluminum|
|Tires ||275/45R20 110Y; 295/35R21 107Y Michelin, Lattitude Sport|
|Wheelbase ||114.0 in|
|Track, f/r|| 64.8/65.4; 65.4/65.9 in|
|Length x width x height ||190.8 x 76.3 x 67.4; 67.0 in|
|Ground clearance|| 8.7; 8.5 in|
|Approach/depart angle ||26.5/25.0; 26.0/24.5 deg|
|Turning circle ||39.1 ft|
|Curb weight|| 4876; 5050 lb|
|Weight dist, f/r|| 52/48%; 54/46%|
|Towing capacity ||7716 lb|
|Seating capacity|| 5|
|Headroom, f/r ||38.6/38.9 in|
|Legroom, f/r ||41.0/36.5 in|
|Shoulder room, f/r|| 9.1/56.1 in|
|Cargo vol behind, f/r|| 23.7/62.9; 60.2 cu ft|
|TEST DATA |
|Acceleration to mph |
|0-30 ||2.0; 1.4 sec|
| 0-40 ||3.2; 2.2|
| 0-50 ||4.5; 3.2|
| 0-60 ||5.9; 4.3|
| 0-70 ||7.8; 5.6|
| 0-80 ||9.9; 7.1|
| 0-90 ||12.2; 8.7|
| 0-100 ||14.9; 10.6|
|Passing, 45-65 mph|| 3.0; 2.1|
|Quarter mile ||14.4 sec @ 98.7 mph; 12.8 sec @ 108.9 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph ||113; 107 ft|
|Lateral acceleration|| 0.91; 0.95 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight|| 26.1 sec @ 0.69 g (avg); 24.8 sec @ 0.81 g (avg)|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph ||1500; 1400 rpm|
|CONSUMER INFO |
|Base price || $64,675; $105,775|
|Price as tested ||$79,160; $121,120|
|Stability/traction control ||Yes/yes|
|Airbags ||Dual front, front side,
f/r curtain, driver knee|
|Basic warranty ||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty ||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance ||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|Fuel capacity ||22.4; 26.4 gal|
|EPA city/hwy econ|| 16/22; 15/22 mpg|
|CO2 emissions ||1.06; 1.11 lb/mile|
|MT obs fuel econ|| 13.4; N/A mpg|
|Recommended fuel|| Unleaded premium|