Active families with the means to afford one can’t do better than the Porsche Cayenne: a five-passenger sport-utility vehicle whose performance rivals the automaker’s legendary sports cars. Twenty-twelve models are basically a carry-over from 2011 with three available grades: the base gasoline-powered V-6, upscale Cayenne S with a 400-horsepower V-8, and a gasoline-electric Cayenne S Hybrid. The test car is the Cayenne S with all-wheel drive, which enhances traction and wet weather performance.
Base price is $65,000, excluding the $975 delivery charge. The test car has a bevy of options, including 21-inch wheels and special paint, 14-way power seats, upgraded audio system, trailer hitch, heated steering wheel and seats, rearview camera, navigation, bi-xenon headlamps, rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, and LED interior lights. Price as tested is $98,165.
Direct injection and 12.5:1 compression give the aluminum V-8 engine exceptional throttle response. Zero-to-sixty acceleration, according to the manufacturer, is 5.6 seconds. To minimize the risk of detonation, Porsche requires the use of 91-octane unleaded gasoline.
An eight-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection extends gas mileage by keeping engine speeds extremely low. During my 150-mile test drive, engine speeds rarely exceeded 2000 rpm. Average cruising speeds on the highway were about 1500 rpm.
On the flip side, the Cayenne is a heavy car, weighing 4553 pounds. While the EPA estimated 18 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy might not seem impressive, it’s a pretty hot number for an all-wheel drive sports car which can tow up to 7716 pounds, and get the trailer to the track faster than anything else on the road.
Focus on safety
I spent the past week driving the Cayenne S around the Phoenix metropolitan area and in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains east of town. The Cayenne is one of the safest cars on the road, thanks to its available safety features and exceptional steering response.
A perimeter monitoring system displays obstacles around the vehicle on the center stack screen, with color blocks to indicate the obstacle’s distance from the vehicle. The blind spot monitoring system illuminates LED signals in the A-pillars when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. Although over-the-shoulder visibility is quite good in either direction, the LED signals come in handy when cars change lanes into the driver’s blind spots.
The rearview camera projects a wide angle view to the rear of the car when the driver shifts into reverse, making it easier to back out of vertical parking slots and monitor cross-traffic. Lines superimposed over the image show the vehicle’s trajectory according to steering inputs.
The Cayenne’s exceptional traction and steering response can’t be overstated. On one occasion, I had to perform two quick lane changes to avoid a driver who extended his Saturday night drinking binge into Sunday morning. Had I been in any other vehicle, a collision would have been unavoidable. In the Cayenne, I was able to safely maneuver around him without endangering other cars in the vicinity.
Exhilarating power and performance
While it might not look like a sports car, a blindfolded passenger would have a hard time distinguishing between the Cayenne’s steering response and other Porsche models. The driver can choose between three suspension modes- comfort, normal and sport- according to driving conditions. The normal mode is on the stiff side, but I did not find it uncomfortable for a two-hour road trip.
The 21-inch wheels and low-profile performance tires give the Cayenne a fat footprint for high-speed stability. Six piston disk brakes in front and four piston disks in the rear stop the car on a dime.
The Cayenne has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is plenty for clearing obstacles on unimproved roads and driving through snow. I would recommend against anything but pavement with the wheel upgrade on the test car, simply because scratching a six thousand dollar set of rims is an expensive mistake. Drivers who plan to take their cars off pavement should stick with the stock 18-inch rims, or purchase a separate set of inexpensive wheels and higher profile tires for that purpose.
I kept the car in fully-automatic mode for most of the test drive, and used the formula-style shift paddles on the steering wheel on the mountain road east of town. To be honest, the eight-speed automatic transmission is so sophisticated that it performed just as well as shifting manually, if not better.
It’s rare to feel a lack of power in a 400-horsepower car, even with the engine spinning at very low speeds. The transmission does an excellent job of adapting for driving conditions, and downshifting crisply if the driver needs additional torque.
Engineers minimized road, wind and engine noise intrusion to the interior, making it easy for both rows of passengers to converse on the highway. The only noticeable sound, aside from the surround-sound audio system, is a pleasant belch from the exhaust during hard acceleration.
Inside, the Cayenne can comfortably seat up to five adult passengers. Bolsters on the front seats keep the driver and front passenger in position during aggressive driving. With fourteen power adjustments, drivers of all sizes should feel comfortable with just the right amount of lower lumbar support.
I was impressed with the amount of head, leg and hip room in the outboard second-row seats. Despite a low floor tunnel, the middle position is pretty comfortable as well. Adults should be fine for short trips around town.
Basic controls are easy to reach and intuitive to operate. Redundant audio and Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction. Graphics for the optional navigation system are easy to read. I had no problems seeing any of the center stack displays or the gauge cluster in bright sunlight.
A locking glovebox and deep center console bin give passengers room to stash cell phones, some maps, compact discs and vehicle documents. Although the cupholders in the center console are small, all four doors have bottle holders capable of carrying 20-ounce bottles.
A power liftgate makes it easy to load cargo into the back. With the second-row seats folded flat, the Cayenne easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards. A cargo area cover conceals smaller items stashed in back from prying eyes.
The Porsche Cayenne comes standard with front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, active front headrests and daytime running lamps.
Porsche builds the Cayenne at its Leipzig, Germany assembly plant.
Likes: The Porsche Cayenne combines the versatility of a sport-utility vehicle with the legendary performance Porsche is known for. It is a four-season car, capable of transporting its passengers through snow and on unimproved roads, with enough cargo space for bicycles, skis, snowboards and other types of large gear.
Dislikes: Its high MSRP and expensive options make the Cayenne unaffordable for many buyers. Premium gasoline is required, increasing the cost of ownership.
Model: Cayenne S
Base price: $65,000
As tested: $98,165
Horsepower: 400 Hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 369 lbs.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 5.6 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 16/22 mpg city/highway