It has now been 17 years since the original Cayenne cut a breach through staunch tradition and cleared a wide path for the current tidal wave of sport-utility vehicles from every luxury, prestige or exotic brand on this planet, save for Bugatti, Ferrari, Koenigsegg and Pagani. And who knows what these four are conjuring now.
After launching the taut and lean Macan in 2015 and quickly seeing it leap ahead of its elder in sales, Porsche kept to its plan of steadily upgrading the midsize Cayenne to help it fend off its many rivals. These include the Audi Q7 and Q8 siblings, stately Bentley Bentayga and racy Lamborghini Urus that all share the same MLBevo modular architecture, designed for vehicles with their engine bolted in lengthwise, within the giant Volkswagen Group. It is anything but lonely at the top, in this game.
Lighter and mightier
The second-generation Cayenne, introduced in 2011, was lighter by an amazing 250 kg and thankfully more elegant than its rather blobby and stubby forebear. The third Cayenne, recently launched as a 2019 model, is even more slender and nevertheless roomier, with 100 litres of additional cargo space, thanks to a body that is longer by 6.3 cm and wider by 4.4, on the same wheelbase.
And yet it is once again lighter than its predecessor by about 55 kg, thanks to body panels all crafted from aluminum and structural elements made almost entirely from various alloys. Not to mention trick pieces such as a lithium-ion polymer starter battery that saves 10 kg by itself.
This new Cayenne has new engines too. The entry-level model we tested got a single-turbocharged, 3.0-litre, V6 engine with 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque from only 1,340 rpm. Through an 8-speed automatic gearbox and a revised all-wheel drive system, it scoots from a standstill to 100 km/h in 5.93 seconds, covers the first quarter-mile in 14.16 seconds at 160 km/h and hops from 80 to 120 km/h in 4.7 seconds. It is notably quicker than its predecessor and less thirsty, also.
While the new Cayenne E-Hybrid combines the same turbo V-6 with a 134-hp electric motor, for a combined output of 455 hp, the Cayenne S is graced with a twin-turbocharged, 2.9-litre V-6 that delivers 434 hp. Both come with corresponding gains in performance and price hikes. Standing atop this family of models, once again, is the ever-brawny Cayenne Turbo, powered by a new, twin-turbocharged, 4.0-litre V-8 that produces 550 hp, with a current base price almost double that of the two previously-mentioned versions.
Wiser and brighter
In standard form, the new front and rear suspension, with multiple aluminum links and steel springs, provides a decent 210 mm of ground clearance. The optional air suspension, a $4,750 extra, will let it range from 132 mm at ‘seat access’ height to a serious 239 mm at full rise. This should let you make the best use of the optional off-road package ($2,280) and the four additional driving modes provided, for the mud, gravel, sand or rocks in your path.
Changes are extensive inside. The instrument panel is all-new, showing a clever, wise and effective combination of classic and fully modern design and features. Foremost are a bright and clear, 12.3-inch touch screen at the center and a gauge cluster with Porsche’s large and glorious tachometer in the middle, flanked by a pair of 7-inch screens. These offer several display choices, including round gauges to replicate the 911’s marvelous 5-gauge traditional arrangement.
On the all-new center console, gone is the plethora of aluminum control switches and buttons inspired by the Carrera GT. They have been superseded by touch-sensitive icons and labels, a mere quartet of switches for temperature and fan speed control, a round button for the interface, a tiny, textured aluminum barrel for volume control and the electronic shifter and parking brake switch. And it all works rather well, with the exception of an awkwardly-placed volume switch.
Although the overall presentation and ambiance are anything but blingy, the quality of all materials is remarkable and the overall precision of fit and finish just outstanding. In surprising contrast is Porsche’s insistence on using surprisingly thin and hollow, column-mounted plastic levers for turn signals, wipers and such. The 3-branch, leather-draped sport steering wheel itself has impeccably shape, size and texture, with good secondary controls and nice aluminum shift paddles tucked in behind the rim.
The front bucket seats are just superb in shape, comfort and support, with a great, big, wide footrest down below for a faultless driving position. Access to the rear seat is quite good, the cushion tall and long enough for good thigh support and the seatback sections adjustable in angle over a range of about 10 cm. Wish we could flip down the headrests while they are not in use, for a better view to the rear.
Front and side visibility is great, with exterior mirrors well clear of pleasingly-narrow front pillars and these nifty, triangular windows just behind. Steering is tight and precise, the ride firm to no excess, with the optional 20-inch wheels, wrapped with Michelin winter tires in sizes 275/45 and 305/40, front and rear. This new turbo engine is plenty flexible, muscular, lively and well served by the 8-speed ZF automatic. And at night, the optional LED-based Porsche Dynamic Light System (PDLS) throws reassuringly clear and powerful beams over your chosen course. Rear parking is also child’s play, with tilting mirrors and marvelous views to pick from, on the center screen.
There was no voice command button for hands-off phone use, no head-up display and a few popular knick-knacks missing in our nonetheless pricey test subject. Check all available options for this model, though, including the $10,350 ceramic-composite brakes, and you wind up with a mind-numbing price tag of $173,140, delivery included, for what starts as the most affordable Cayenne.
Fear not, since true and durable luxury radiates from unflinching attention to the core values of design and a great mastery of vehicle assembly. This ‘base’ version of the new Cayenne has quality, poise and solidity in spades, at the undeniable detriment of initial flash factor. The attraction of gadgets and gizmos will fade, inevitably, but the subtle enjoyment of fundamental virtues never does.
Model: 2019 Porsche Cayenne
Base price: $75,500
Price as tested: $88,930 (including delivery and preparation: $ 1,250)
Engine: Turbocharged, 3.0-litre V-6
Peak output: 335 hp at 5,300 – 6,400 rpm
Peak torque: 332 lb-ft at 1,340 – 5,300 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drivetrain: all-wheel drive (with five driving modes)
Suspension front: Independent, aluminum multilink
Suspension rear: Independent, aluminum multilink with subframe
Length: 4,917 mm
Width: 2,192 mm (including side mirrors), 1,983 mm (without)
Height: 1,694 mm
Wheelbase: 2,895 mm
Cargo volume: 770 litres (rear seat up), 1710 litres (seat sections all folded)
Ground clearance: 2,098 mm (standard steel suspension)
Curb weight: 1,855 kg
Towing capacity: 3,500 kg (braked)
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 5.93 seconds (measured)
Acceleration (1/4 mile): 14.16 seconds at 160 km/h (measured)
Top speed: 244 km/h (claimed)
Fuel Consumption (city/highway/combined): 12.4/10.1/11.4 L/100 km