Our man Kiino logged rave reviews of the 2011 Cayenne from the tire-squealing launch held at Alabama's intoxicating Barber Motorsports Park, but the purist Porschephile SUV-haters on staff had our doubts. Might the burnt-rubber fumes, free spaetzle and Schwaben Bräu have clouded Ron's judgment?

Then this mid-level Cayenne S arrived at our traffic-choked offices and began making friends immediately even without the press-launch perks. To begin with, it looks far more refined than its gape-mouthed predecessor. From every angle the lines appear sleeker, tauter, prettier, and tidier despite having grown almost 2 inches longer and 0.4 inch wider. Panamera parts improve the style and function of the enlarged interior considerably. The array of 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 fairly easy to figure out after just a bit of button twiddling.

Our Cayenne's first task was to climb onto the scales for a test of those improbable 400-pound weight-loss claims. Sure enough, at a still portly 4876 pounds, it tipped the scales 400-plus pounds lighter than our last S. Furthermore, ditching the obviously superfluous low-range transfer case (plus lightening both the engine and radiator) improved the front/rear weight bias from 55/45 to 52/48 percent.

Next stop was the drag strip, where the weight-savings, added power (up 15 horses from last year), and closer gear spacing in the new eight-speed automatic helped the 2011 S accelerate to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds -- that's a full second ahead of our 340-horse 4.5-liter 2003 Cayenne S. 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 about 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).