When the Porsche Cayenne debuted a few years back, it seemed like sacrilege. A Porsche SUV was as off-putting to car enthusiasts as a Spago hot dog would be to food connoisseurs. Why would this maker of magnificent sports cars stoop so low as to make a truck? The answer is best expressed in dollar signs -- the Cayenne's sales success has netted the company a fortune. However, it's also a vehicle that fully lives up to the Porsche name, even if it doesn't fit the classic mold. The 2009 Porsche Cayenne may be a heavy SUV, but its unexpected levels of acceleration and handling are attributes that even the crankiest enthusiast can appreciate.
The Cayenne received its first major update last year. Exterior styling was only marginally tweaked, but the engine lineup received substantial changes. The base V6 went from a 3.2-liter laughingstock to a 3.6-liter unit better suited to such a large vehicle. The naturally aspirated and turbocharged V8s were also pumped up, and the new GTS trim level was designed to maximize the Cayenne's handling potential. For 2009, the Cayenne gets even spicier, thanks to the return of the granddaddy Turbo S model, now boasting a whopping 550 hp and 553 pound-feet of torque. With an estimated 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds, the Cayenne Turbo S is as quick as a 911 Carrera.
The other big news for 2009 is the updated electronic equipment that's being applied to all of Porsche's models. The clunky number pad and tiny knob that controlled the old stereo and navigation systems are gone, replaced by a touchscreen interface with more user-friendly physical buttons. Bluetooth, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack are also newly available.
Overall, the 2009 Porsche Cayenne is one of a handful of performance-oriented luxury SUVs. The BMW X5 and X6, the Infiniti FX, the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG and the Land Rover Range Rover Sport are all compelling entries, each offering a distinctive take on this peculiar segment. Nonetheless, while the Cayenne can get very expensive if you sample liberally from the options list, we think it's clearly the top choice in this group. Porsche enthusiasts might still roll their eyes at the Cayenne, but if they were ever to find themselves shopping for an SUV, we're sure the Cayenne would be at the top of their list.
The 2009 Porsche Cayenne is a midsize crossover SUV available in Cayenne, Cayenne S, GTS, Turbo and Turbo S trim levels, each with its own engine. Standard on the base V6-powered Cayenne are 17-inch alloy wheels, all-season tires, front and rear foglamps, heated side mirrors, a power tailgate, five 12-volt outlets, cruise control, 12-way power front seats with power lumbar, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery, a trip computer, a refrigerated glove compartment and a 12-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player and steering-wheel audio controls. The Cayenne S adds 18-inch wheels, a V8 engine, driver memory functions and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The Cayenne GTS includes a more powerful V8, 21-inch wheels with summer performance tires, an air suspension, a lower ride height than all other Cayennes, a sport body kit, Alcantara and aluminum interior trim and a power tilt-and-telescoping sport steering wheel. The Cayenne Turbo is equipped similarly but features a twin-turbocharged V8, 19-inch wheels, height-adjustable air suspension, a slightly different body kit, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps, front and rear parking assist, power seatbelt height adjustment, a touchscreen interior electronics interface, a hard-drive-based navigation system, front and rear heated seats, a heated steering wheel, upgraded driver memory functions, upgraded leather upholstery, leather-trimmed interior panels and a 14-speaker surround-sound audio system. The Turbo S further adds 21-inch wheels, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control for improved handling, sport seats, a two-tone interior color scheme and upgraded interior trim. Most of this extra equipment on the Turbo models is available on the lower trim levels as options.
The options list is one of the longest in the business. It's also among the priciest, so keep an eye on the bottom line. Highlights include dynamic chassis control (standard on Turbo S), an Off-Road Technology Package, various wheel designs, ceramic composite brakes (not available on the base Cayenne), variable-assist power steering, a towing package, keyless ignition and entry, a sunroof (regular or panoramic), quadruple-zone climate control, sport seats, Bluetooth, a rear-seat entertainment system, a six-CD changer, an iPod/USB interface, satellite radio, voice-recognition capability and numerous customized interior details (colors, materials, et cetera).
With a 911-style instrument cluster and left-side ignition switch, the Cayenne's interior is pure Porsche. For 2009, the Cayenne gets a new touchscreen for navigation, stereo and phone controls. Materials quality is superb -- every major surface feels worthy of a vehicle with such a large price tag, right down to the richly carpeted footwells. As you add things like extended leather and an Alcantara headliner, that quality improves even more. Fit and finish, especially with the optional wood or metallic accent packages, is excellent, and the various front seat designs are all supportive yet comfortable. Rear seat comfort is mediocre, however, and maximum cargo capacity, at 62.5 cubic feet, is on the small side for a midsize luxury SUV.
All 2009 Porsche Cayennes are equipped with all-wheel drive. The base Cayenne is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 producing 290 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, and a six-speed automatic is optional. According to Porsche, the Cayenne with the automatic goes from zero to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds. The automatic-only Cayenne S gets a 4.8-liter V8 with 385 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. In our testing, a Cayenne S completed the 0-60-mph sprint in 7.1 seconds.
The Cayenne GTS gets the same basic V8 as the S, but it's massaged up to 405 hp and can be had with a six-speed manual as well as the automatic. The latter transmission yielded a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds at our test track. The Cayenne Turbo gets a twin-turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 with 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, while the Cayenne Turbo S squeezes 550 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque from the same engine. Both Turbo models are only available with the automatic. The Turbo's estimated 0-60 time is 5 seconds flat, and the Turbo S should be quicker still. Not bad for a vehicle that tips the scales at more than 5,000 pounds.
Naturally, fuel economy is not a Cayenne strong suit, ranging from 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined for the Cayenne V6 to 11/17/13 for the manual-transmission GTS. If you have enough autobahn, the Turbo S won't quit till it reaches 174 mph -- a number that might stop those enthusiasts' eyes from rolling. Towing capacity for all Cayennes is a robust 7,700 pounds when properly equipped.
In terms of performance and handling, the 2009 Cayenne fully lives up to its Porsche heritage. With its combination of massive heft and remarkable agility, the Cayenne is the automotive version of former NFL defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who somehow managed to foxtrot his enormous frame around the stage on "Dancing with the Stars." The GTS and Turbo models offer particularly sporting drives. Swift acceleration from nearly any speed is always at hand, even with the base V6, while cornering is controlled and confident, especially when the dynamic chassis control option is specified. The ride is firm but never harsh, and the brakes are strong and linear. The Cayenne can also be a capable SUV when it comes to off-road work, but only with the optional off-road package.
Antilock disc brakes are standard on the 2009 Porsche Cayenne, as are front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability control is standard as well, and the system now features a rollover sensor. Active bi-xenon headlights and front and rear park assist are standard on the Turbo models and available on all other trims. Ceramic composite brakes are optional on all V8 Cayennes.
For 2009, the Cayenne Turbo S model returns to the lineup, now featuring 550 horsepower. Across the Cayenne line, the optional Porsche Communication Management interface now utilizes a touchscreen and can be equipped with Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. Additionally, the optional navigation system is now hard-drive-based, and satellite radio is newly available. Finally, carbon ceramic brakes become optional on V8-powered models with 20- and 21-inch wheels, and the standard brakes on the Cayenne Turbo have also been enlarged, bringing with them standard 19-inch wheels.