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The Porsche Cayenne enters its third generation in a segment still booming after all these years, as newcomers from marques not typically associated with SUVs continue to mount challenges to the familiar cast of characters. Sound familiar? The concept of a Porsche SUV was viewed as heretical not that long ago. But the Cayenne nameplate is now old enough to be considered an established presence in the sport and luxury SUV niche that it carved out when competitors like BMW were just getting into the suburban family hauler game. Unlike several rivals, Porsche got the basic recipe mostly right the first time, certainly helping dispel skepticism of an SUV from a brand famous for handmade sport coupes with engines in the trunk.

The third-generation Cayenne, due on sale in the U.S. next year as a 2019 model, aims to improve all of the recipe’s basic ingredients, while offering those familiar with previous Cayennes an evolution of the experience they’ve come to enjoy. As such, the third-gen model lineup is more powerful, faster, lighter and more technologically advanced, without losing sight of what made the first two iterations a sales success.

The new Cayenne’s dimensions stay close to the outgoing model: The 2019 SUV keeps the 113.9-inche wheelbase but is now 2.4 inches longer overall, while shaving 0.3 inch off its height. The exterior design is evolutionary, and the Cayenne now rides on the VW Automotive Group’s MLB platform.   

2019 Porsche Cayenne S rear

The third-gen Cayenne keeps the wheelbase of the outgoing model, but it’s just a bit longer on the outside. It’s also lower. Photo by Autoweek

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For power, the three debut models use turbocharged V6 and V8 engines, but two more hybrids are coming a bit later in the product cycle. A single-turbo 3.0-liter V6 producing 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque powers the base Cayenne. Horsepower is up 40 over the outgoing model, good for sprints from 0 to 62 mph in 5.9 seconds. The Cayenne S is the middle child and uses a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 churning out 440 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque — 20 hp up on its predecessor — allowing it to cut down that 0-62-mph sprint time to 4.9 seconds. At the top of the pack is the Cayenne Turbo and its twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, good for 550 hp and 567 lb-ft of torque. The top dog can serve up 3.9-second sprints, supercar territory not that long ago. All three engines have eight-speed automatic transmissions. And of course all are technically turbos despite only one model bearing the Turbo moniker, but what’s more innovative about these turbos is that they’re all placed inside the cylinder V, yielding smaller engine dimensions. It also allows the engine lower placement in the bay for a lower center of gravity.

There is plenty of new tech on the menu, including an optional all-wheel-steering system and an adjustable three-chamber air suspension, raising and lowering the ride height according to selected driving modes. Inside owners can now enjoy the wide 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen in addition to another type of touchscreen, the console itself. Yes, the traditional buttons are gone, in their place a piano-black surface with illuminated “buttons” providing tactile feedback when pressed.  

The Cayenne S is the one we’ve sampled first in this trio and it’s the mid-range option when it goes on sale next year with an $83,950 starting price. That seems far away from the Turbo’s $125,650 base price, but can easily overlap with the base Cayenne once a few options are added to its $66,750 entry ticket.

The Execution

The cabin is less busy compared to the outgoing model, with the Cayenne having traded a vast array of those buttons and dials south of the gear shift. Now there is a more-modest selection just below the wide infotainment screen. The infotainment screen, by the way, is wider now and Porsche kept the center console’s now-familiar incline as well as the two giant A-shaped handles for driver and passenger. Several controls have stayed on the steering wheel spokes — the right way to do it –though we’re not sure if the drive mode selector pod at the 4 o’clock position needs to be where it is — we’ve come to expect it somewhere on the console in most cars, near the gear selector.

Speaking of the gear selector it’s a Monostable-type system, returning to the central position after every shift. It took about half a day to get used to it. It also requires you to visually confirm gear selection positions on the instrument cluster. The Cayenne’s gear-selector display is a bit small and is positioned in the central tachometer dial. Several luxury cars in the greater Volkswagen empire besides Porsche have adopted it. The setup makes it tedious to ease the Cayenne into a narrow parallel parking spot. You find yourself having to look at the gear selector display to avoid making the wrong selection in tight quarters, where inches count. Having no console display near the shifter itself doesn’t help.

The manevers the Cayenne enjoys, though, are on the twisty roads. Luckily those are in good supply on the Greek island of Crete, where we’ve come to try out the third-gen model. On the narrow mountain roads the Cayenne S does a good impression of smaller crossovers, offering confident cornering when pushed beyond its comfort zone and beyond.

2019 Porsche Cayenne S

The new Cayenne S will go on sale in the U.S. as a 2019 model with a starting price of $83,950 Photo by Autoweek

When it comes to pure acceleration, the Cayenne goes about its business without much drama, even though a bit of turbo lag is present in the default driving mode. Sport mode solves some of it, but those pining for some retro-style turbo lag should be delighted.

Besides, straight-line acceleration isn’t the Cayenne’s most impressive aspect, it’s the crossover’s ability to dance along twisty mountain roads. This is where the not-so-small SUV turns into a sport sedan. The Cayenne displays remarkable poise, refusing to get flustered, even when you’re driving it like you’re in a 1990s action thriller. The Porsche offers a German sedan’s handling instead of a big SUV laden with luxury trappings and corresponding weight. It helps that the brakes are very good, more than once saving us from getting in trouble. And the soundtrack is nice too.

While we’ve come to expect a Cayenne’s on-road prowess, its capability off-road is impressive, too. Far from its image as transport to a fancy mall the Cayenne tackles Crete’s rocky dirt roads with civility. That’s not something we expected given the size of the wheels alone and the rubber that’s wrapped around them. The Cayenne, though, sprints up mountain roads with minimal road noise and with the suspension soaking up road imperfections well. The latest Porsche can also crawl up narrow passages with more serious boulders, avoiding underside contact with the suspension raised and in Gravel mode. You probably would want to splurge on some more-serious off-road tires if you plan to a Cayenne off road regularly, but this luxury SUV can do for hours at a time, on tires optimized for on-road use, impressed us.

2019 Porsche Cayenne S interior

The new Cayenne S offers plenty of power, but it’s the handling in the corners that impresses most. Photo by Autoweek

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The Takeaway

The third-gen Cayenne S is far removed from a time when the idea of a Porsche SUV caused purists to faint. The first two generations won over most of the doubters and eye-rollers who saw it as a play for production volume and a wider popularity. With a sedan, a wagon and a smaller SUV in the 2017 lineup the Cayenne now needs little justification. It’s comfortable and roomy enough for long haul adventures with a German performance car’s handling and power. The 2019 model does not try to change the formula much — Porsche feels confident it got the basic recipe right in the first two generations — and has opted to improve on them rather than reinvent the proverbial wheel.

Porsche has separated the three models judiciously when it comes to power and performance specs, more so than other manufacturers. If the question is which flavor to purchase is connected to money in some way, we would advise giving the base model a hard look. The S’ thrills, certainly a step up from the base, might not be necessary, especially if you won’t be reenacting chase scenes from “Ronin” on your daily commute. The good news is there’s plenty of ability throughout the lineup to keep yourself entertained. Just don’t get too carried away with options.

On Sale: Summer 2018

Base Price: $83.950

As Tested Price: $121,160

Powertrain: 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6, AWD, eight-speed automatic transmission

Output: 440 hp @ 5,700-6,600 rpm; 405 lb-ft @ 1,800-5,500 rpm

Curb Weight: 4,453 lb

0-60 MPH: 4.9

Fuel Economy: TBA(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Confident handling and brakes, impressive grip, plenty of power, comfortable interior.

Cons: Turbo lag, unintuitive gear shifter, options get pricey fast.