Porsche CUV torque vectoring delivers unparalleled handling; hybrid sails away at 75 mph.
Devotees of the Porsche brand, known for iconic sports cars, dismissed the need for an SUV when the Cayenne first launched here in March 2003.
But after more than seven years in the market, the Cayenne continues to outsell every 2-door car in Porsche's U.S. lineup and has created precisely what the wily German auto maker wanted all along: more devotees of the Porsche brand.
The '11 model year brings a total redesign for the luxury cross/utility vehicle, and in every respect it is better, lighter (yet bigger), more powerful, more fuel efficient, more comfortable and better looking than the model it replaces.
The new Cayenne delivers laser-like handling, enhanced by a new active all-wheel-drive system that can be paired for the first time with the Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus option to make the 5-passenger CUV feel amazingly stable and confident through every twist and turn at Alabama's Barber Motorsports Park.
The CUV also ushers Porsche with shocking ease into the era of electrified mobility. The Cayenne S Hybrid, going on sale this fall, is the first step to recasting a Porsche as something other than a vessel for conspicuous consumption.
The parallel full hybrid system, shared with theTouareg Hybrid, consists of a 333-hp 3.0L supercharged V-6 designed by corporate sibling Audi AG, combined with a 34 kW electric motor.
All told, the system produces a prodigious 380 hp at 5,500 rpm and 428 lb.-ft. (580 Nm) of torque at a nominal 1,000 rpm, while delivering V-6 fuel economy.
On a 36-mile (58-km) loop on rural roads and highways, the hybrid achieves an impressive 25.6 mpg (9.2 L/100 km).
The gasoline engine kicks on and off seamlessly thanks to a decoupling clutch connecting it to the new 8-speed automatic transmission. The clutch allows the engine to operate independent of the electric motor, and vice versa.
In pure electric mode, the CUV silently reaches speeds of 41 mph (66 km/h) during our drive. The decoupling clutch enables coasting — or “sailing” — at speeds up to 97 mph (156 km/h) with the engine off and without electric power.
Of course, extended periods in sailing mode require a light foot, and the feature works best on downhill grades. We saw 75 mph (121 km/h) on a slight downhill stretch of interstate for nearly a minute.
Get back on the accelerator and the gasoline engine restarts without fuss. Through it all, the Cayenne S Hybrid still feels like a Porsche.
A 288V nickel metal-hydride battery weighing 154 lbs. (70 kg) resides under the luggage compartment to store electricity, further enhanced by regenerative brakes that help charge the battery.
A downside here is the lack of a spare tire, which is available as an option.
The hybrid comes with permanent AWD, enabled by a self-locking center differential. The new Porsche Traction Management active AWD system on the non-hybrid Cayenne drives the rear wheels and transfers power to the front axle via an electronically controlled, multi-plate clutch, in the event of wheel slip.
In a torrential downpour that turns terrain around the racetrack into a steamy, gushing mudslide, the Cayenne S stays composed heading down a slope of about 45 degrees. And the right foot never has to touch the brakes thanks to Porsche Hill Control, standard on all models.
Dynamically, the Cayenne is solid on road and track and outright brilliant when the optional new Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus is employed.
In hard cornering, the system responds to steering inputs and yaw velocity by applying brake pressure to the inside rear wheel, which transfers drive torque to the outside rear wheel and pushes the vehicle in the intended direction.
An electronically controlled rear differential urges the driver to exit the turn with accelerator mashed. On the undulating, tight-cornered Barber track, the system works flawlessly, keeping the V-8-powered Cayenne Turbo in full control while 500 horses howl Porsche's symphonic theme song.
The CUV feels more nimble than its predecessor, thanks to an aggressive weight-loss campaign that targeted liberal use of aluminum.
The new Cayenne with 6-speed manual transmission is 364 lbs. (165 kg) lighter than its predecessor, while the Cayenne S with the excellent new 8-speed Tiptronic automatic has shaved 396 lbs. (180 kg).
Carried over are the naturally aspirated gasoline 3.6L V-6 and 4.8L V-8, both tweaked for 3% more horsepower.
Inside, the Cayenne is lavishly appointed in the style of the award-winning Panamera sedan. The CUV borrows the sedan's steering wheel, gauge configuration and sloping center console.
Base pricing begins at $46,700 for the V-6, $63,700 for the V-8 and $67,700 for the hybrid. Porsche expects about a 50/50 split between the V-6 and V-8 take rates; up to 15% of Cayenne buyers globally are expected to pick the hybrid.
Whether buyers want to indulge in a decadently powerful Cayenne Turbo or a more politically correct hybrid, Porsche has a CUV for everyone — at least everyone with money to spare.