The Porsche Cayenne lineup is a diverse and interesting one. There's the 500-horsepower Turbo; the throaty, V-8 GTS; the base V-6...you get the idea. One model that was missing form the North American lineup, however, is the Cayenne Diesel. Available in Europeans since 2009, it has easily the best powertrain option in the range, and we Yankees can finally get our hands on it.

Make no mistake; the Diesel is no match for its V-8 siblings out of the blocks. With 240 horsepower from its boosted 3.0-liter six, Porsche claims the Diesel will reach 60 mph in a respectable but hardly headrest-flattening 7.2 seconds. (It is capable of reaching a top speed of 135 mph, though.) That said, if you plan to use your new Porsche SUV not as a stoplight bazooka but for, you know, actual SUV things, the oil-burner is about perfect. Torque is simply extravagant, with 406 lb-ft on tap from as low as 1750 rpm. That means the Diesel never sweats. More important, the Diesel sips fuel at a claimed rate of 19 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway, crushing the gas V-6 model (16/23 mpg with Tiptronic automatic) and easily topping the Cayenne S Hybrid (20/24 mpg). Need more convincing? Base price is $56,725, making the Diesel the second-most-affordable model in the range.

While the turbo direct-injection engine derives from the same VW/Audi unit that serves the Touareg and the Q7, Porsche has made noteworthy tweaks. Chief among these are revised Piezo-controlled fuel injectors and a new turbocharger benefitting from variable-vane geometry. Output climbs 15 horsepower as a result. Mated to the engine is Porsche's fabulous eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic, the only transmission offering. Yes, you can shift this smooth and flexible box yourself, but you probably won't want to, as Porsche's old-style -- and annoying -- pushbutton shifters foul up the steering wheel. Memo to the engineering team: The Cayenne deserves the same proper paddles as the new 911.

If you can do without the Q7's third row of seats, the Cayenne Diesel makes a far more compelling purchase case. For one thing, it's roughly 775 pounds lighter than the Audi. Combined with the slight bump in horsepower, such relative leanness makes the Porsche feel far nimbler and more responsive. (With the same 7716-pound tow rating as other Cayennes, the Diesel also out-hauls the Q7 by more than 1100 pounds.) As a drive across Alaska's mountainous Kenai Peninsula amply demonstrated, the Diesel is a Porsche through and through. Steering feel is smooth and alive; body motions are well-controlled by the optional air suspension; and grip is higher than you can safely explore on a public road. Yes, it's actually fun to gun the Diesel through a sweeping funnel of asphalt. Porsche also has done an exceptional job of muting typical diesel clatter; only while standing near the hood can you detect some familiar diesel noises. Inside the cabin, the pitter-patter is all but absent.

You won't forget you're piloting a diesel, though. Ease into the throttle at highway speeds and the transmission doesn't downshift -- instead, the torque monster attached to it simply pulls. Or watch the trip computer as fuel economy easily climbs into the mid-30s across gentle terrain. Significantly, the Diesel is the only Cayenne using the eight-speed Tiptronic S that doesn't have Auto Start/Stop. If you've driven the new breed of cars and trucks equipped with this feature, you know how irritating it can be when an engine suddenly shudders off or on at stoplights. (It's even worse when you're caught in traffic gridlock.) Porsche execs admit that customers are already demanding to have their start/stop systems set to "off" by default. The Diesel, in contrast, simply purrs away contentedly.

The lone concession to "diesel-ness" is the need to refill the exhaust system with AdBlue NOx-reducing agent every 10,000 miles or so. Customers can do this themselves, but it's a messy process and AdBlue fluid is nasty stuff -- let your dealer don the HazMat suit. What you won't be refilling much is the fuel tank: Maximum range is 740 miles. (Porsche has thoughtfully added a mechanical safeguard in the fuel-filler neck that prevents gasoline nozzles from being accidentally inserted.)

Power unit aside, the Diesel is essentially unchanged from other Cayennes. It lacks the Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus system (which modulates either rear brake to enhance steering response) available in other Cayennes but does offer PASM electronic damping control and the optional air suspension. With the latter feature, ride height can be elevated to a maximum 10.6 inches of ground clearance. Like other Cayennes, the Diesel lacks a low-range transfer case, but the broadly spaced eight-speed Aisin automatic largely mitigates that issue. Sporting the same new lightweight, electronically activated all-wheel-drive system as its siblings, this rig will go anywhere you'd likely dare to take it.

Michael Bartsch, executive vice president and COO of Porsche Cars North America, says he expects the Diesel to account for roughly 10 percent of total Cayenne sales. Based on our drive in Alaska, we'd have to say that's a highly conservative figure. Outright speed aside -- and, really, what's the use of a slingshot SUV? -- the Diesel has a broad-spectrum goodness lacking in its more specialized siblings, not to mention its bravura performance at the pumps. Put simply, the Cayenne Diesel is one of the best SUVs on the market today.


2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel
BASE PRICE $56,725
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.0L/240-hp/406-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4800 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 114.0 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 190.8 x 76.3 x 67.4 in
0-60 MPH 7.2 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 19/29 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 117/116 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.86 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently