The Cayenne is Porsche’s larger mid-size luxury SUV. For its third generation, the self-described “sports car for five” has gotten lighter, faster, and more performance-inclined to distinguish itself from external competitors and similar internal competitors like the Audi Q8 and the Porsche Macan S.
The Good: Porsche designed it. Quick for an SUV. Excellent balance and low center of gravity. Responsive steering. Intuitive transmission. Notably comfortable front seats.
Who It’s For: Affluent SUV buyers who want Porsche cachet and performance. Perhaps a one-car Porsche enthusiast whose kids have outgrown the 911’s rear seat.
Watch Out For: Engine noise underwhelms. Standard suspension feels tight. The option tree gets pricey and borderline exploitative.
Alternatives: Other high-end European performance geared SUVs in this general price range include:
Range Rover Sport ($67,050, base)
Audi Q8 ($67,400, base)
BMW X5 ($60,700, base)
Review: The thing about driving a Porsche around Napa for a day is you can’t describe it as work. Social mores mandate at least a knowing smirk when you say that. We all know why. Porsche means premium, precisely engineered, and damn near perfect. When Porsche needed to redefine the Cayenne for its third generation (and differentiate it from its Audi Q8 cousin using the same MLB platform and engine) the answer was to play up just how much of a Porsche this midsize SUV is.
Porsche made the Cayenne more athletic. The SUV has gotten lighter (down 120lbs) from the last generation. The new 3.0L Turbo V6 in the base model generates more power (+35hp) and torque (37lb-ft) than the last model. Getting lighter, more powerful, and having the driving dynamics improved makes it faster. Every iteration of the Cayenne will do 0-60mph in under six seconds.
Porsche wants the Cayenne to look more like a Porsche. Truth be told, it looks similar to Gen 2. But, Porsche wants the wide shoulders to remind you of the 911’s characteristic, much fawned over back end. The new Cayenne also incorporates a number of performance features from other Porsches. It has staggered front and rear wheels, replacing the predecessor’s square alignment. It can be fitted with rear axle steering and launch control. The Cayenne will be the first Porsche fitted with proprietary Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (PSCB). These deliver most of the benefits of ceramics, cost much less, and leave a boss mirror finish.
Upping the Porsche quotient (surprise, surprise) produces an engaging SUV to drive. The Cayenne is quick. It is well-balanced. The steering is responsive. It has a low center of gravity and an impressive amount of grip. The transmission intuits what the driver wants seamlessly. It’s a keen corner taker. It behaves when bottled up behind a Subaru on a two-line highway. About the only criticism is the engine note which was either too mild or too mild to puncture the noise canceling glass.
Rest assured. Porsche did not go full-on “SAV” here. The Cayenne is still an SUV. The grab bag of Porsche sports car features available did not include the PDK transmission, because Porsche believes its 8-Speed Tiptronic is better for off-roading and towing. The Cayenne has multiple off-road terrain settings. The closest we got to testing them was ducking into a scenic roadside lookout for pictures.
The Adaptive Air Suspension is worth the expense. The standard one felt very tight and unforgiving on our morning tester with 21-inch wheels. The air suspension gives a smoother and more composed ride. Even when the car is being pushed, the copilot can settle into a notably comfy front seat for a post-lunch snooze.
I would lean toward taking the PSCB brakes as well. I found them too touchy starting out at slow speed. I missed how easily they stopped the car when I didn’t have them. The standard brakes are adequate. The PCSBs, as they should be for the cost, are better and look cool.
I didn’t futz with the infotainment system too much. The Cayenne has dual customizable 7-inch displays behind the wheel and a 12.3-inch tablet screen in the center. The design was clean. Menu progression was natural. I wish the big screen had been angled toward the driver slightly more.
Where the Cayenne offers the truest Porsche experience is when you reach for the checkbook. Porsche makes nearly everything, including many features most luxury cars would make standard, options. Those options get expensive in a hurry. Embark with me on a quick configurator journey.
Let’s add the air suspension ($4160) and the PSCB brakes ($3490). The latter require you to upgrade to at least 20 inch wheels ($1720 minimum). That alone is approaching $10,000. You probably want adaptive cruise control ($2000) and lane change assist ($950) on your kid transporter. Sunroof? That’s an additional ($1850). Want your car to remember your seat settings ($1900) and heat up during the winter? ($530 for just the front).
Does the performance stuff intrigue you? The Sport Chrono package for launch control and sport plus driving mode ($1130) is a must have. There’s the rear-axle steering ($1650) Do you plan to use your Cayenne for SUV stuff? That will be an additional off-road package ($2000) and tow rig ($660). Yeah, I dig that Biscay Blue Metallic paint ($800) too. This stuff only scratches the surface of the customization options.
Our lightly outfitted, base model tester vehicles were pricing out north of $80,000 for what, reminder, is the third best engine you can have in a Cayenne. That price tag factors into the perception. The Cayenne provides a great drive for an SUV. It’s an all-around, capable, and fun car. It’s recognizable as a Porsche. It’s more than a profitable placeholder in the Porsche lineup. But, an $80,000-plus or more car should have some outstanding quality that makes that expenditure feel justified. However improved or formidable, the Cayenne in the base trim doesn’t.
The Cayenne will be more than enough SUV for most buyers. Porsche will sell a number of them. The cachet from that Porsche emblem alone will keep many Cayenne customers happy. It better, because they are paying a steep premium for it.
Verdict: The Cayenne is a proper Porsche. It’s top notch engineering. It performs just about every task well. It will be more than enough for most buyers. But, a near $90,000 car, SUV or no, should give you the giggles. It should have one exceptional quality that excites you about spending that much money. The Cayenne didn’t.
What Others Are Saying:
• “It took Porsche 53 years to sell a million 911s. Porsche has sold 770,000 Cayennes in the 15 years since it was launched in 2002, and the millionth will probably be built in about three years. As much as we love and cherish the sports cars from Stuttgart, Porsche in the 21st century is the house that the Cayenne SUV built.” – Tony Quiroga, Car and Driver
• “If you’re willing to pay the premium, though, the new Cayenne delivers precisely what cargo-hauling Porsche fanboys consistently insist they want: an SUV that satisfies the sport part of the equation while offering a level of functionality and people-moving they can’t get in a 911 or 718. – Basem Wasef, Autoblog
2019 Porsche Cayenne Key Specs
Engine: 3.0L Turbo V6
Transmission: 8-Speed Tiptronic
Weight: 4,377 lbs
0-60: 5.6sec (with Sport Chrono package)
Top Speed: 152mph
Porsche hosted us and provided this product for review.
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