The first-generation Porsche Cayenne—you remember, the vehicle that purists said would be the death knell for Stuttgart—rode on a platform engineered by Porsche, and it was incredible. Honest-to-goodness sporty handling and mountain goat–like off-road-ability. The similar-vintage first-gen Volkswagen Touareg was built on the same platform, and I can’t remember driving a machine that felt more overengineered. Like, the parking brake pedal had a damper on it! Porsche also built the platform for the second-generation Cayenne, an SUV we liked so much that we named it our 2011 SUV of the Year.
However, the third-generation Porsche Cayenne arriving this year is built on the Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo platform, same as the Audi A4, A5, A6, A7, A8, Q5, Q7, and Q8, as well as the VW Touareg (and China-only Phideon sedan), Bentley Bentayga, and Lamborghini Urus. My question then: What’s so Porsche about it?
Certainly not the powertrain. Audi’s 3.0-liter single-turbo V-6, good for 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, powers the base Cayenne. What’s more, that motor is mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic, curiously the only traditional torque-converter automatic Porsche sells. The 911, Boxster, Cayman, Panamera, and even the Audi MLB-platformed Macan all use a version of Porsche’s own PDK dual-clutch transmissions (though the Macan uses an Audi DSG box).
Porsche states that it decided to go with a “real” automatic because it’s better for towing. I’ll call BS on that; the new Cayenne uses the eight-speed auto because all the other SUVs built on MLB Evo use the ZF eight-speed. In other words, there’s no dual-clutch transmission that would fit. Case closed. A “hang-on transfer case” shuttles power to the front axle, but don’t let that nomenclature lead you to expect low-range gearing.
The new Cayenne features grille shutters that close for increased fuel economy and open when extra cooling is needed. All Cayennes now have staggered wheels; this base SUV has 285-section fronts and fatty-fat 315 rears. I find that impressive.
Porsche claims the body-in-white is 47 percent aluminum and that the third-gen Cayenne should weigh 4,377 pounds, less than the vehicle it replaces. Well, we weighed one, and it clocked in at 4,676, just about 300 pounds more than Porsche claims. We never weighed a second-generation base Cayenne; we did weigh a second-gen Cayenne S, though (4,876 pounds), and the previous S had a V-8. The new Cayenne S features another Audi engine, the 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6, the same as in the most excellent RS 5. Point being, despite Porsche’s weight-saving efforts (like a lithium-ion starter battery that’s 22 pounds lighter than before) the Cayenne is big-boned.
Big-priced, too. The Moonlight Blue Metallic ($800, please and thank you) Cayenne we tested has a base price of $66,750. Not crazy but certainly on the high end of the price spectrum. The Volkswagen Group will probably mark me for death (or at least overcook my next rib-eye) for pointing this out, but the Audi Q7 3.0T—which is, again, the same platform—starts at $60,945. But the Audi has a third row and essentially the same power (329 hp versus the Porsche’s 335; 325 lb-ft of torque versus 332), plus what I consider to be a nicer interior. As this Cayenne is optioned—and there are seven options—the price swells to $81,650.
One of those options is the $4,160 adaptive air suspension, which includes Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM). I initially assumed this would be a must-have feature, as Porsche’s three-chamber air springs promise a plusher ride in Comfort and a sportier ride in Sport; PASM even gives you a second sporty mode, Sport Plus, which makes things even stiffer and racier.
That may all be true, but I drove a Cayenne with the standard steel springs and dampers, and I thought that version had a sweeter ride. I even liked the handling better over the damp, twisting, climbing, plunging, and redwood-lined roads of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties—the location in the heart of Northern California wine country Porsche picked to launch the new Cayenne. I found the air suspenders to be a bit vague in Comfort and a bit artificial feeling in the aggressive modes. The other problem for Porsche is that Mercedes just launched the new GLE—a direct competitor—and that SUV’s fast-acting hydraulic E-Active Body Control damping system is a game changer.
However, I do recommend taking the money you would have spent on the air springs and spending it instead on Porsche’s new PSCB brakes (Porsche Surface Coated Brakes). Porsche takes the massive (16.3 inches up front) rotors from the PCCBs (the carbon-ceramic stoppers) and makes them from steel but coats them with tungsten carbide. This not only helps with stopping power but—working with special new pads—also keeps the wheels clean.
A little-known fact in the car biz is that on all those initial quality surveys, German carmakers are routinely dinged for brake dust. (They also used to be hit for their single, central door-lock button, but they “fixed” that.) Porsche claims the PSCBs cut down on brake dust by 90 percent.
I don’t care about that (wash your car, slob), but I do care about how the 10-piston calipers feel grabbing those big, fat stoppers: in a word, excellent. In a couple more: Compared to the standard brakes, the PSCBs feel three times as effective, and the majority of the stopping action is concentrated in the top of the pedal, just how I like it. Too racy for parking at the mall? Probably, but hey, it’s a Porsche, ain’t it? At $3,490, the PSCBs are cheaper than the air suspension, as well as the (gulp) $9,080 carbon brakes. Cheaper to replace, too.
At this point you might be wondering what I was thinking after I drove the 2019 Cayenne down to Los Angeles. There’s no fatal flaw, but I’m having an awful hard time understanding what’s so Porsche about it. Why not just call it the Audi Q6?
Then we took the Cayenne to the test track, and, well, now I get it. After several laps around our figure eight, MotorTrend ride and handling guru Kim Reynolds recorded a best time of 25 seconds flat. To give you some perspective, that’s as quick as a current Volkswagen GTI, a 2011 Cayenne Turbo, a 2009 911 Carrera S, and a 2007 Cayman. Impressive, no?
Porsche claims that with the Sport Chrono package, the 2019 Cayenne will hit 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. Our hot shoe Chris Walton did the deed in 5.1 seconds before running through the quarter mile in 13.7 seconds at 100.7 mph, the same as both a Honda Civic Type R and Subaru WRX. That’s good company for a heavy crossover. Stopping from 60 mph happened in 105 feet, which is outstanding. And we tested the stock brakes! Oh yeah, that platform-sharing Audi Q7? It does 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, the quarter mile in 14.0 seconds, 60 to 0 mph in 121 feet, and our figure eight in 26.4 seconds. The Porsche dusts it.
No, these are not crazy numbers, but they’re quite good for a base midsize SUV. Need more oomph? Porsche’s model line has you much more than covered.
In the “final” summary, Porsche may have just nailed its target audience by building a nice-looking, comfy-riding, practical, spacious SUV with a seriously desirable badge. Plus, when your know-it-all car guy or gal friend says, “It’s just an Audi,” you can rest assured in the knowledge that, as Han Solo so prophetically said, “She’s got it where it counts.” Or you can just floor it and crank the wheel.
|2019 Porsche Cayenne|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$81,650|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.0L/335-hp/332-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,676 lb (56/44%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||193.6 x 78.0 x 66.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.7 sec @ 100.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||105 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.95 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.0 sec @ 0.74 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/23/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.94 lb/mile|
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