The Porsche Cayenne Turbo, introduced in 2003, was the vector for a contagion that has since spread to the farthest reaches of the automotive universe. The 1992 GMC Typhoon may have been the first diagnosed case of this high-performance SUV virus, but now even Ferrari is running a fever. Symptoms can include weight gain, swelling of under-hood forces, elevated profit margins, and thinning of a brand’s heritage. While the 2017 Cayenne is still frothing mad in Turbo S form, the Porsche’s overhaul for 2019 with Stuttgart’s latest infection means this could be our last checkup with the current model.
The arrival of our Cayenne Turbo S test car was timely since we had just revisited the BMW X5 M, the Porsche’s chief rival that is due for a refresh of its own soon; despite base prices some $60,000 apart, these two are very similar both in mission and execution. This second-gen Cayenne debuted for the 2011 model year and the Turbo S was last updated to its current state of tune for 2016, which we’ve previously sampled in both Germany and Sweden. But this is the first time we’ve been able to affix our testing equipment to one.
One Sick Patient
Like the Bimmer, the Porsche’s gutsy 4.8-liter V-8 employs a pair of turbochargers to produce its maximum 570 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque—topping the X5 M’s 4.4-liter by a mere 3 horses but a more substantial 37 lb-ft. (The 2017 model betters the 2014 Turbo S we last tested by 20 ponies and 37 lb-ft.) And thanks to our test car’s $3210 variable performance exhaust, that immense power is accompanied by a guttural V-8 bellow that sounds pleasingly healthy in all the ways the X5 M’s synthetic murmur does not.
The top-spec Cayenne also features a masterfully tuned eight-speed automatic transmission, an advanced all-wheel-drive system, and Porsche’s Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV+) system, which apportions thrust between the rear wheels via individual brake applications and an electronically controlled differential. And you can’t miss the Turbo S’s standard carbon-ceramic stoppers, which cost $8840 on lesser Cayennes. Their hulking calipers, housing no fewer than 10 pistons each (!) in front and four each in back, wrap around the massive 16.5-inch front and 14.6-inch rear rotors like bright-yellow growths. Despite some initial squishiness to the Porsche’s brake pedal, their bite is strong and easy to modulate, with none of the squeaking and jerkiness that plagued the early days of carbon-ceramic brakes.
Other standard fare at this level includes Porsche’s PDCC active anti-roll bars, as well as the Sport Chrono package with its dash-top analog lap timer and hard-core Sport Plus chassis setting. The Turbo S can tow your 911 GT3 to the track easily (it’s rated at 7716 pounds), and has up to 10.7 inches of ground clearance if you feel the need to go off-roading in a 5130-pound SUV that Porsche says can lap the Nürburgring in less than eight minutes.
The Cayenne’s driver grips a steering wheel that is rewardingly tactile and responsive, even if it is unsurprisingly muted compared to the brand’s sports cars. And the conventional torque-converter automatic does an admirable impression of Porsche’s almost clairvoyant dual-clutch PDK gearbox, with smooth, intelligently timed shifts that turn whip-snap firm when you stress the engine to its max. Some Porschephiles still may hold this SUV as an abomination, but the Turbo S’s flow through corners and insane acceleration make it worthy of the Porsche crest. Depending on the driving mode (Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus), the Cayenne’s four-corner, driver-adjustable air suspension can produce either athletic poise or lazy suppleness—and stellar composure at ridiculous speeds. While the Turbo S doesn’t share the X5 M’s eagerness to rotate at the limit, neither does its exceptional body control and compliant ride quality detract from its day-to-day livability.
In the fictional world where luxury SUVs square off on the race track, however, this Cayenne falls slightly short of its foe from Munich. Unlike the X5 M’s staggered, Michelin Pilot Super Sport–shod setup, the Turbo S’s 21-inch wheels (20s are a no-cost option) are of a square arrangement with 295/35R-21 Yokohama Advan Sport V105 performance tires at each corner. The big brakes and rollers helped return an impressive 156-foot stop from 70 mph and 0.95 g of stick on the skidpad, yet both figures trailed the 173-pound-heavier BMW’s. And while the lighter, torquier Turbo S has the needed grunt to beat the X5 M to 150 mph by 1.6 seconds, its 3.8-second dash to 60 mph and 12.2-second run through the quarter-mile only equaled the Bimmer’s.
Aside from the yellow brakes and burbling exhaust, the Turbo S’s exterior doesn’t appear as brash as its performance, with classy, understated looks that border on sterile for a performance vehicle of this caliber. But the cabin is pure Porsche, with exquisite materials, perfectly balanced controls, and the brand’s familiar instrument cluster with a central tach and digital speedo. Despite the button overload on the center console (an approach Porsche is moving away from with the latest Panamera and new Cayenne) it all works quite harmoniously. And the standard 18-way power-adjustable front seats are both all-day plush and supremely supportive. The Cayenne’s 24 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats falls well short of the X5 M’s 36 cubes, though. And in terms of fuel economy, hardly a deal breaker in the Turbo S’s rarified air, the Porsche averaged only 13 mpg during its stay with us versus the BMW’s 16, despite both returning the same 20 mpg on our 75-mph highway test.
Milking the System
Porsche’s notoriously detailed order sheet reads like a hospital bill, itemizing nearly everything as an additional cost. You would think that $160K would include a backup camera and keyless entry, yet Porsche’s à la carte configurator lists those as stand-alone options for $660 and $890, or bundled in the $3240 Premium Package Plus (panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting, ventilated front seats, blind-spot monitoring, and powered rear side-window sunshades). Along with the extra-loud exhaust, our $169,555 test car featured a short list of additional conveniences that we’d expect to get on most luxury SUVs at half this price. Viewed alongside the $101,695 starting price of the well-equipped X5 M—let alone the $86,995 for the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk with 707 horsepower—the Turbo S’s delirium seems to have infected Porsche itself.
We’re still waiting on a full report on the upcoming new BMW X5 M, but the next-gen Cayenne Turbo S’s hybrid setup—good for 680 horsepower in the 2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid—surely will put it in the same loony bin as the Hellcatted Jeep. While market forces have yet to find a cure for the epidemic of ballistic utility vehicles epidemic, at least we have a full waiting room of contenders for a future comparison test.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED: $169,555 (base price: $160,650)
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 293 cu in, 4806 cc
Power: 570 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 590 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 114.0 in
Length: 191.1 in
Width: 78.7 in Height: 67.0 in
Cargo volume: 24 cu ft
Curb weight: 5130 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 3.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 9.2 sec
Zero to 130 mph: 16.2 sec
Zero to 150 mph: 24.4 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 4.8 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 2.8 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 3.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 12.2 sec @ 115 mph
Top speed (drag limited, mfr's est): 176 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 156 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.95 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 13 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 20 mpg
Highway range: 520 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 17/14/21 mpg