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).

Jump on the other pedal and our Cayenne S lays down the fourth best stop of any SUV in our records, requiring just 113 feet to stop from 60 mph (four of the ten other utes that stop in 110-113 feet were Cayennes). Spin the steering wheel and the news gets even better, as this Cayenne out-cornered everything we've ever classified as an SUV, logging a decidedly carlike 0.91g. Ditto its figure-8 performance, which ties the burly Grand Cherokee SRT8 circulating the course in 26.1 seconds with an average lateral/longitudinal g reading of 0.69.

We all know that liars can figure and figures can lie, so the chief staff skeptic (yours truly) climbed aboard the Cayenne S for a run up to Monterey on some of California's twistiest byways, including the demandingly tight, undulating, and at times poorly paved Carmel Valley Road. I was pleasantly surprised to discover true Porsche DNA in this type of running. The steering weight and accuracy conform to sports-car norms, even if the information filtering back up from the road is a bit less newsy than in a 911.

With Porsche Active Suspension Management (a $1990 stand-alone option that was rolled into a $7790 Premium package on our tester) dialed to its Sport setting, there's practically no discernable body roll. Thusly hunkered down, it follows every dip and camber-change like a Magnum roller-coaster car. Ride quality is borderline harsh, but the minimal weight transfer makes the most of the abundant grip generated by the 20-inch Michelin Latitude Sport rubber. Similarly, the standard steel brakes possess uncanny reserve, always capable of delivering a bit more whoa when that blind corner turns out to be tighter or more precipitous than anticipated. And if this level of chassis performance is insufficient, you can opt for ceramic brakes ($8150), an active anti-roll bar system ($3510 plus the requisite $3980 air suspension) and/or a torque-vectoring rear axle ($1490).

Dial PASM back to the normal or comfort settings, and the throttle response and transmission shifting relax along with the dampers. Ride comfort and permissible body roll are both increased, and the driver's heart rate naturally slows. Press the "Auto-Stop" button, and the Cayenne's heart will stop at traffic lights (but not its electrically powered air conditioning). For some reason this feature defaults to "off" every time the vehicle re-starts.

Our final task for the Cayenne was to tame some rutted dirt and silt trails and hills. Press the button with the mountain image on it, and the various electronic systems optimize themselves for moderate off-roading. We easily scaled a steep hill of soft, loose sand and gravel at a snail's pace (a much more difficult task than charging up, shot-peening the undercarriage with gravel). Hill-descent control maintains a similar walking pace on the downhill, or just select the shorter first gear and the closed throttle will maintain about 11 mph.

So the skeptics begrudgingly agree: The 2011 Cayenne S performs respectably off road and impressively at the track, it's attractive and comfortable on a long-haul or cross-town trip, and even in mid-grade trim (our track results could be duplicated for just $69,395) indeed it feels like a Porsche on the kinds of tortuous tarmac we'll go way out of our way to storm. We're sorry we doubted you Ronnie...


2011 Porsche Cayenne S
Base price $64,675
Price as tested $79,160
Vehicle layout Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 4.8L/400-hp/369-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4876 lb (52/48%)
Wheelbase 114.0 in
Length x width x height 190.8 x 76.3 x 67.4 in
0-60 mph 5.9 sec
Quarter mile 14.4 sec @ 98.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 113 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.91 g (avg)
MT Figure eight 26.1 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)
MT Observed fuel econ 13.4 mpg
EPA City/hwy fuel econ 16/22 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.06 lb/mile

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