It was an insult to automotive history. It was the Fonz waterskiing over a shark. It was selling out to the worst degree. "It" was the Porsche Cayenne, an SUV derided by Porsche traditionalists when it arrived in North America in 2003 and yet also a wild financial success that secured Porsche's future. Despite the controversy, the Cayenne has proven to be one of our favorite luxury SUVs. Now the second-generation version has been introduced and the 2011 Porsche Cayenne is better than ever, though the idea of an SUV that carries the badge of Stuttgart's iconic sports-car maker is still strange.
Take a look at the 2011 Porsche Cayenne and you're likely to notice how much smaller it looks. This is actually an optical illusion inspired by the Cayenne's lower nose and raked D-pillar, as this Porsche is fractionally longer, wider and taller. Yet it is also a stunning 397 pounds lighter thanks to the deletion of its former dual-range transfer case (meant to permit serious off-roading) and the use of lightweight body panels.
The weight-loss regimen improves handling, lightens the work for the engines and improves fuel economy. This is especially good news for the base-model Cayenne with its revised V6, which now produces 300 horsepower and works with the eight-speed automatic that is now standard for every Cayenne model. Meanwhile the Cayenne S's V8 (now with 15 hp more) and the Cayenne Turbo's turbocharged V8 feel more energetic as well.
All new for 2011 is the Cayenne S Hybrid, a gasoline-electric model that showcases a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 (similar to the engines found in numerous Audi models) and a Porsche-developed hybrid system with battery-powered electric motor. The result is one of the most seamless power deliveries from a hybrid system on the market. Aside from the usual stop/start engine mode (something incorporated by every Cayenne model this year), the hybrid also coasts at speed with the engine shut down. Porsche estimates the Cayenne Hybrid will produce 20 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
As before, the new Cayenne is quite pricey, especially if you start sampling from the extensive list of options. It also doesn't offer much cargo capacity. The 2011 BMW X5, Infiniti FX50 and 2011 Land Rover Range Rover Sport offer interesting alternatives for the V8-powered Cayenne, while the 2011 Audi Q5, 2011 BMW X3 and 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 compare to the entry-level Cayenne V6.
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne is a five-seat midsize SUV available in a number of different trims, which are aligned to engine choice.
The base Cayenne comes standard with 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels, self-leveling automatic headlamps, front and rear foglamps, LED running lights, power tailgate, automatic wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, sliding and reclining 40/20/40-split rear seat, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, a touchscreen interface and a 10-speaker sound system with CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Cayenne Tiptronic trim adds an automatic transmission.
The Cayenne S and Cayenne S Hybrid differ in powertrain, but both add different steering systems (an enhanced speed-sensitive hydraulic system for the Cayenne S and an electric-assist system for the Hybrid), a sunroof and driver memory functions. The Cayenne Turbo adds a turbocharged V8, 19-inch wheels, air suspension, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, front sport seats with adjustable cushion and backrest side bolsters, rear sport seats, heated power-adjustable steering wheel, aluminum interior trim, a navigation system and a 14-speaker Bose surround-sound system with satellite radio and an iPod/USB audio interface.
Aside from engine choice, the extra equipment found on upper trims is available as options for the lower trim levels. The options list is extensive, with such items as embossed Porsche seat logos as well as different wheels, active body control, carbon-ceramic brakes, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a blind-spot warning system, panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, four-zone climate control, ventilated front seats, voice-activated controls (requires navigation system), rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a six-disc CD/DVD changer and a 16-speaker surround-sound audio system.
After the rather subdued, almost boring cabin of the original Cayenne, the all-new 2011 model features an aggressive, cockpit-style layout reminiscent of the Porsche Panamera. The center console, adorned in upwards of 50 buttons, rises sharply to meet the dash and large touchscreen display, creating an enveloping driver's environment. With so many buttons, it can be difficult to find what you're looking for quickly, though once you know where everything is, you might argue that this Porsche system is more efficient than the many knob-and-screen systems found in its competitors. Or you could argue that it's hopelessly busy.
Like other Porsches, the Cayenne features the finest interior materials put together with excellent craftsmanship. Handsome wood, alloy trim and leather upholstery further add to the luxurious ambience. The front seats are available in three different designs, ranging from simple eight-way power adjustment to the 18-way sport seats, which feature adjustable bolsters, lumbar and seat cushion length. The sculpted rear seats not only recline but slide fore and aft as well, which is a feature not typically found in five-passenger luxury SUVs.
At the same time, the Cayenne has a maximum luggage capacity of 62.9 cubic feet (a figure reduced to 59.7 and 60.2, respectively for the Hybrid and Turbo models). This is on the small side for the Cayenne's class.
The base 2011 Porsche Cayenne is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 300 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a six-speed manual transmission. An eight-speed automatic is optional and features automatic start/stop technology to conserve fuel. Porsche estimates this Cayenne V6 will reach 60 mph from a standstill in 7.1 seconds with the manual transmission and 7.4 seconds with the automatic. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined with the automatic. It's 1 mpg worse with the manual.
The Cayenne S features a 4.8-liter V8 good for 400 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, as is an eight-speed automatic transmission. Porsche's estimated 0-60 time is 5.6 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid features a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 attached to a 34 kW electric motor and an eight-speed automatic. Combined, this hybrid powertrain produces 380 hp and 427 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds performance testing, the hybrid went from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, yet EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 20/24/21.
The all-wheel-drive Cayenne Turbo gets a turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 that produces 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. With its standard eight-speed automatic, the Turbo hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds during Edmunds testing, which puts it alongside the BMW X5 M and X6 M as the quickest, fastest SUVs sold. Estimated fuel economy is 15/22/17, which is actually better than the first-generation Cayenne V6.
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne drives with a laid-back demeanor, especially with the standard V6. You'd never describe it as sporting, but it's impressive by SUV standards.
The steering deserves praise for its linearity, making it easy to place this 4,500-pound vehicle on the road. Body roll is well contained and the Cayenne can be hustled along with something approaching gusto, helped by an all-wheel-drive system that delivers 60 percent of its thrust to the rear wheels under normal conditions. The optional active suspension system provides a supple ride even with the dampers in their most aggressive setting. As a result, the Cayenne is an excellent candidate for long-distance driving.
Opting for the Cayenne S or Cayenne Turbo obviously gets the blood pumping since they're so darned quick, but don't expect some lithe plaything that can also carry the kids. The Cayenne S Hybrid, with its added weight and electric power steering, is notably less enjoyable to drive, but does provide a nice blend of performance and fuel economy.
The Cayenne comes standard with antilock brakes with enhanced brake assist and readiness, stability and traction control, driver knee airbags, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Rear side airbags, parking sensors, a rearview camera and a blind-spot warning system are available.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Cayenne Turbo came to a stop from 60 mph in 108 feet -- exceptional for an SUV. With its regenerative brakes, the Cayenne S Hybrid fared worse with a stop of 120 feet, but that's still acceptable in this class.
The Porsche Cayenne has been completely redesigned for 2011. A new Hybrid model has been added to the fray, while the GTS and Turbo S models have been put on hold.