2011 Porsche Cayenne — Review
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Porsche wants you to believe that the single most important aspect of the 2011 Cayenne is that the big SUV is now available as a 2-mode hybrid. That's impressive, but not nearly as amazing as the fact that the German engineers have managed to trim 400 pounds out of the truck.
Every nook and cranny was re-examined to drop the weight. The result: better performance and fuel economy. How sweet is that?
Step up the Porsche SUV ladder and you'll find yourself behind the wheel of the all-new Cayenne S Hybrid. Priced at $67,700, it's the only Porsche on sale right now that's capable of operating in all-electric mode. With 18-inch wheels and a smattering of high-tech drivetrain technology, it's the most efficient Cayenne of the bunch.
At the top of the pecking order is the Cayenne Turbo. Aside from being the fastest Cayenne you can buy, thanks to a burly twin-turbocharged V8 under the hood, the $104,800 Cayenne Turbo features unique 19-inch wheels for extra style.
Under the Hood
Here's where things get interesting: the Cayenne S Hybrid. The engineers in Stuttgart, Germany, fitted the Hybrid with a supercharged direct-injection 3.0-liter V6 engine. Combined with a small 47-horsepower electric motor, the engine manages to produce 380 horsepower and 427 lb-ft of torque. The system also uses a decoupling clutch in the 8-speed automatic transmission to allow the vehicle to operate in all-electric mode. A 288-volt nickel-metal hydride battery provides power to the electric motor.
The most powerful engine is in the Cayenne Turbo. For 2011, the turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 produces 500 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the topped-out SUV can scoot to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds — better than most sports cars.
So far, neither Porsche nor the Environmental Protection Agency has released fuel-economy numbers on the next-generation Cayenne SUVs, but we're told to expect a 23 percent bump in efficiency throughout the range, thanks to lightweight design and tricks such as an auto-stop system for the engine in the Cayenne Turbo and the Cayenne S Hybrid.
The Cayenne now wears the same elevated center console found in the company's new sedan, though the center grab handles hark back to the last-generation SUV. All of the center-console controls are easy to reach and use — a good thing whether you're tearing across Siberia or down the autobahn — but like the Panamera, they are mostly similar in feel. That means taking your eyes off the road momentarily, which is less than ideal. The upward-stretching center console itself is great, though — both the driver and front passenger get the feeling of being nestled into a sports car rather than sitting on a bar stool.
Just as before, the Cayenne remains a 5-passenger SUV, though the rear seats are now adjustable, able to both slide and recline. Porsche also managed to stretch the Cayenne's wheelbase by a little more than an inch and a half, making the back seat useful for people over 12. The rear seats can now slide up to 6.3 inches, and when folded down can provide up to 62.9 cubic feet of rear cargo area.
On the Road
In every Cayenne, the whole chassis feels significantly stiffer and more sorted, compared with the previous generation, and the fact that the truck is 400 pounds lighter than its ancestor shines through in braking and acceleration.
In Hybrid guise, one of the biggest changes to the driving experience is the new Sailing mode. At speeds up to 97 mph, the Cayenne will automatically shut down the engine and disengage it from the transmission when the driver removes his or her foot from the accelerator. Doing so removes parasitic drag from the engine, thereby allowing the rest of the driveline to spin freely. It's an odd experience picking up momentum so quickly, but it saves that extra bit of fuel.
By contrast, if you find yourself in a tight spot and jam the accelerator, the electric motor will jump into the fight alongside the supercharged V6 for a tag-team duo of speed. Porsche calls it Boost mode, and it's immediately apparent when the two power sources are working in tandem. When you're done throttling it, keep your eye on the display and just a pinky toe's pressure on the brake to watch the battery recharge.
The Hybrid is impressive, to be sure, but it's the Cayenne Turbo that bends physics. The potent V8 is blindingly fast, and the truck is now blessed with brakes that are capable of bringing the whole party to a stop in a hurry. Throw in the new torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, and the Turbo makes short work of tight road courses by engaging the brakes on individual wheels to help the vehicle corner more efficiently.
Right for You?
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Porsche provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitate this report.)
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trendand European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.