You could argue that if not for the Cayenne SUV and its little brother the Macan, Porsche (POAHY) would be in a really rough spot financially.
Hard-core Porsche fans will never like these brutish ‘utes, but even they can’t deny the financial independence it gave the German automaker. And let’s not forget that it’s been nearly 20 years since it’s debut, meaning to me at least the Cayenne truly is part of the Porsche bloodline.
The Cayenne and Macan are Porsche’s top selling vehicles, so any updates, changes and accompanying feedback are watched closely by both us in the media and the execs back in Stuttgart.
Starting in the 2019 model year, the Cayenne is all new, now in its third generation. The car looks leaner, the engine’s more powerful, and efficiency improves. Porsche dropped off the latest Cayenne S for us to test.
The heart of the Cayenne S
The entry level Cayenne, the Cayenne S, and the Cayenne E-Hybrid are all powered by V-6s, however the S version gets a twin-turbo variant. Here in our Cayenne S we get a 2.9L twin-turbo V6, pumping out 434hp and 406lb-ft of torque. Pretty healthy power, but consider the Cayenne S still weighs around 4,800 lbs.
Helping take that power to the wheels is an 8-speed automatic transmission (not the company’s uber-capable PDK dual clutch), which is still pretty slick. Our test vehicle included Porsche’s Sport Chrono package, which offers sport-plus modes and custom drive configurations that you can adjust on the fly using a steering-wheel based mini-dial.
Believe it or not the Cayenne rides on that same VW corporate MLB Evo platform that’s the basis for a plethora of vehicles, like the Audi Q5, Lamborghini Urus, and Bentley Bentayga, among others. I have nothing but praise for the MLB EVO architecture, and the way Porsche designers wrapped the skin of the Cayenne around it, you’d never guess the platform is used by so many of its corporate cousins.
On the outside there’s no mistaking it’s a Porsche. From the 911-looking headlights, swept-back roof, and coupe-like rear, the Cayenne is pretty svelte for an SUV. Although one area I will knock the Cayenne is that its overall design is pretty staid, even tame. The appearance of the Cayenne S doesn’t really fully convey the sportiness that lies underneath its skin. Some customers might appreciate this ‘sleeper’ look, but for me I’d like a little more outlandishness. This isn’t a Volkswagen Tiguan after all.
Inside we have Porsche’s latest instrument panel and dashboard design. A lovely, widescreen touch-operated display greets you when you start up the car. Porsche has done a good job here integrating the screen into the dashboard.
What I’m not a fan of is the touch-sensitive, piano-black panels that you need to use to operate functions like climate control. Gone are the days of buttons and knobs for these sorts of things. The temperature and fan settings can be adjusted using switches, however.
The five-gauge instrument cluster still remains (just like in the 911), and here Porsche keeps the wonderful large RPM tachometer in the center, flanked by digital displays and one more analog display for speed. Everything here is clear and customizable, and I love this setup as it offers the driver everything he or she needs to see at a glance.
On the road with the Cayenne S
Slipping into the driver’s seat, you feel like you’re in familiar terrain. Though you’re a little higher up due to the chassis, that old Porsche driving position remains — you sit angled in supportive seats, with the steering wheel perfectly resting in your hands. It is a nice place to be for a drive.
The rest of the cabin is well-appointed. The leather seating surfaces and soft-touch materials used on the dash and door sills are nice, but this is what you expect at this price point.
Once you get the Cayenne S on the road, you immediately notice that you’re not driving a standard SUV here. The Cayenne feels light on its feet, agile, with nice turn-in and decent heft to the steering wheel.
Acceleration is brisk when you want it to be (whether in sport or sport-plus mode), but it won’t blow your socks off like the BMW X5 xDrive50i we tested a few months back, which was powered by a 450+hp V8. No this Porsche is a smooth operator — it’s all about making that 4,000+ lb SUV feel light on its feet, agile, and knowing it can take off in haste when need be. It’s not about brute force and aggression.
The way I see it with the Cayenne S, Porsche fans get their cake and get to eat it too, meaning they get a practical, handsome SUV that drives as close to a sporty sedan as possible. It’s a nice combination.
Now I must admit we had the sport chrono package with enhanced performance features as mentioned earlier, air-suspension including PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) which allows you adjust your ride-settings on the fly, as well rear-axle steering, which aided in making the Cayenne feel much smaller than it actually was.
This took our Cayenne S with a base price of around $82,900 to an eye-watering as tested $101,600. The aforementioned BMW X5 xDrive 50i with the stonking V8 came in at a shade below $92K as tested. Neither of these vehicles is cheap, but this is the playing field you’re in when it comes to buying European luxury sport utilities. I’m guessing most people are leasing here.
So you have to ask yourself: Do you want the loud, brash, and powerful X5 xDrive 50i? Or the smooth, capable operator we have today—the Porsche Cayenne S?
That all comes down to what your priorities are, for what is ostensibly supposed to be a luxurious, practical car from a prestige brand. Isn’t it great that we live in a country with so many choices?