The Porsche 911 gets the glory. But the Porsche Cayenne makes the money. It’s taken Porsche 54 years to build 1 million 911s but just 15 years to build three-quarters that many Cayennes. Porsche engineers love nothing more than creating better, faster 911s. But they know the SUVs pay the bills, so they make sure their SUVs look and feel as much like Porsches as any tall, heavy, all-wheel-drive wagon can possibly feel. The third-generation 2019 Porsche Cayenne follows that well-honed formula, brilliantly disguising the fact it’s one of Weissach’s least purely … Porsche vehicles.
Unlike the 911, the Panamera, and the 718 Cayman/Boxster twins, the 2019 Cayenne is built on a vehicle architecture for which Porsche was not the engineering lead. Instead, it uses VW Group’s MLB hardware, the primary development of which was handled by Audi. This particular iteration of MLB made its debut last year under the second-generation Audi Q7 and underpins the Bentley Bentayga.
The new Cayenne therefore shares, with the Audi and the Bentley, its basic structure, drivetrain layout, and suspension hardware—including the three-chamber air springs that are standard on the Cayenne Turbo and the 48-volt powered active stabilizer bars and rear-wheel-steering system that are optional across the range. But although the Q7 and Bentayga roll on a 117.9-inch wheelbase, the 2019 Cayenne retains the 114.0-inch wheelbase of the second-generation model despite being about 3 inches longer overall and 1.7 inches wider.
Most of the uniquely Porsche stuff in the new Cayenne is trickle-down tech from the flagship Panamera. The three Cayenne variants due on sale in the U.S. in 2018—the Cayenne and Cayenne S, which arrive midyear, and the Turbo, which goes on sale in the fall—have exactly the same engines with exactly the same power and torque outputs as their counterparts in the Panamera range. Inside is a 12.3-inch HD infotainment touchscreen, haptic switches on the center console, and an instrument panel with an analog tach flanked by two 7.0-inch HD display screens—all straight from the Panamera.
It’s not all hand-me-down hardware, however. A new brake technology, dubbed Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (PSCB), makes its debut on the 2019 Cayenne. In simple terms, PSCB is composed of cast-iron brake rotors coated with tungsten carbide to increase friction—and therefore performance—while reducing dust and increasing brake rotor life by 15 to 20 percent. Identified by white-painted calipers, PSCB is standard on the Cayenne Turbo and optional on the other models (at a cost of $3,490), and it can be fitted only in conjunction with 20- or 21-inch wheels. Those Cayenne customers after the ultimate in brake performance will still be able to order Porsche’s unquenchable carbon-ceramic PCCB setup if they wish.
Back to the engines: The base Cayenne is powered by Porsche’s 3.0-liter single-turbo V-6 that develops 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, up 40 hp and 37 lb-ft on its predecessor’s 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V-6. The Cayenne S gets the 440-hp, 405-lb-ft 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 originally developed by Audi. Power is up by 20 horses compared with the 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6 of the outgoing Cayenne S, and peak torque is about the same.
The Cayenne Turbo boasts Porsche’s potent 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8—the all-new engine that made its debut last year in the Panamera—under its hood. With 550 hp and 567 lb-ft of torque, it delivers a useful 30 hp and 14 lb-ft more than the 4.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 that powered the previous Cayenne Turbo—enough, says Porsche, to slingshot the new model to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds (3.7 seconds with the Sport Chrono Pack fitted) en route to a top speed of 177 mph.
All engines drive all four wheels through a revised eight-speed automatic transmission rather than the Panamera’s slick and quick new eight-speed PDK dual-clutch. Driver-selectable modes change the transmission’s shift protocols to suit mud, gravel, sand, or rocks and also adjust settings for the suspension and differential locks to suit. Standard wheels on the Cayenne and Cayenne S are 19 inches; the Turbo gets 21s. And all get wider rims and wider tires at the rear to improve on-road handling.
Porsche claims the new MLB architecture has led to weight savings of up to 143 pounds, depending on model, despite the addition of more standard equipment across the range. The unibody is a combination of aluminum and steel, with the aluminum used for the body panels, floorpan assembly, and front structure. Adopting a lithium-ion polymer starter battery saved 22 pounds alone.
The new Cayenne’s exterior design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, combining forms derived from the previous model with sporty themes from the Macan and luxury flourishes from the Panamera. The Turbo has been given a distinct identity to clearly separate it from its six-cylinder siblings, with a more aggressive front-end graphic, wider wheel arches, and unique quad tailpipes. The Turbo also gets active aerodynamics, courtesy of a movable rear wing integrated into the roof spoiler. The trailing edge of the wing automatically lifts 0.8 inch at speeds above 100 mph (or 1.6 inches if you select Sport Plus mode) to increase downforce on the rear axle. It lifts 2.4 inches if you have the panorama roof open to compensate for a less effective airflow over the roof and snaps up 3.2 inches under heavy braking. Porsche claims the wing’s airbrake effect helps cut up to 79 inches from the Cayenne Turbo’s braking distance during a full commando stop from 155 mph.
Inside, there’s 15 percent more cargo room with the rear seats up and more technology and functionality at your fingertips, but in general terms the new Cayenne’s interior execution is, like the exterior, also evolutionary. Signature Cayenne design elements such as the center-mounted grab handles sit adjacent to the stuff repurposed from the Panamera.
It’s all familiar but sharper, more focused. And that’s exactly how the new Cayenne drives.
We sampled all three variants on tight and twisting rough-and-tumble roads—some of them gravel—through the rock-strewn mountains of Crete, the biggest of the Greek islands. But we can’t tell you how the base Cayenne and Cayenne S feel on their standard steel springs and 19-inch wheels and tires, because every car on the drive program was fitted with the air suspension ($4,160), active anti-roll bars ($3,590) and rear-wheel steering ($1,620), along with a bunch of other options—almost $35,000 worth in the case of the Cayenne we drove and $36,000 worth on the Cayenne S. Even the Turbo we tried—which comes standard with the air suspension—was pimped out with about $30,000 worth of extras, including carbon-ceramic brakes ($5,580), night-vision assist ($2,420) and adaptive cruise control ($2,000).
Boasting the biggest increases in power and torque over its predecessor, the new base Cayenne is noticeably quicker on the road than the previous model, though throttle response of the 340-hp single-turbo V-6 is slightly doughy below 2,000 rpm. More impressive, the new Cayenne is also quieter and more refined, with less tire noise and impact harshness even on the optional 21-inch wheels and tires fitted to our tester. That’s the air suspension proving its worth.
The 440-hp twin-turbo V-6 in the Cayenne S is crisper at low revs and zings happily to 6,600 rpm. It’s a more vocal engine than the other V-6, growling purposefully when you bury your right foot, with a muted crackle from the exhaust on the overrun when Sport Plus mode is selected. Porsche claims the Cayenne S is a second quicker to 60 mph than the Cayenne (4.9 seconds versus 5.9 seconds), and that’s easy to believe. But the engine isn’t quite as impressive as it is in the Panamera 4S. There’s a slightly grainy resonance evident from about 3,000 rpm through 5,000 rpm, and the extra 254 pounds it has to lug around in the Cayenne S dulls some of its sparkle.
Although we’d happily live with a Panamera 4S, any Cayenne but the Turbo is a compromise. Porsche’s twin-turbo V-8 is a stormer of an engine, even in this—its earliest and, most likely, least powerful iteration. It makes the Cayenne Turbo feel more effortlessly fast, more special than either of its six-cylinder siblings. Yes, the Cayenne Turbo weighs 341 pounds more than the S, but there’s barely half a percentage point between the two in terms of the front to rear weight distribution, and that extra power and torque—all 567 lb-ft are present and correct from just 1,960 rpm—allows you to more easily induce weight transfer to change its attitude through corners.
Both the Cayenne S and the Turbo we drove were fitted with Porsche’s optional Torque Vectoring + system (ker-ching … $1,500), which helped get both through tight corners more eagerly than the base car. (All three versions were on the same Pirelli P Zero tires, 265/60 R21 front and 315/35 R21 rear.) But the Turbo felt the more alert of the two on corner entry and punched harder away from the apex. Like the base Cayenne and the Cayenne S, the new Turbo is also quieter and more refined on the road than its predecessor.
The new Cayenne drives like a Porsche SUV should drive yet more comfortable than you’d expect. But even with the optional active stabilizer bars, whose 48-volt motors are capable of producing up to 885 lb-ft of twisting force to counter roll through corners, there’s simply no disguising the fact it is relatively tall and relatively heavy. Although the lower, lighter Panamera feels comfy and composed when hustled along a twisty two-lane with its air suspension in the standard setting, you’ll want to select Sport mode in the Cayenne just to calm the body motions a fraction.
“If we built an off-road vehicle according to our standard of quality and it had a Porsche crest on the front, people would buy it.” So said Ferry Porsche in 1989, when the idea of a Porsche SUV seemed impossibly sacrilegious to the 911 purists. But more than three-quarters of a million Cayenne customers have since proven him right. As with the 911, Porsche engineers have taken great care to ensure the new Cayenne artfully and expertly builds on its legacy, and with good reason: By the time the legendary 911 celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2023, the Cayenne will have probably become the best-selling Porsche of all time.