Porsche Cayenne S 2011 Review

In 2003, Porsche surprised the motoring world and shocked badge fans with the introduction of the first Cayenne. Critics at the time thought the Cayenne would prove a modern day ‘Spruce Goose’ for the German carmaker but fortune favours the bold and Porsche were quickly on to a sales winner. Despite grumblings about the Cayenne’s styling and plus size figure it has gone on to sell almost 300,000 units worldwide and rescue Porsche from the brink of financial hardship. But the Cayenne was more than just a sales success; it showed that a full size SUV could genuinely push the sensory buttons of a driver seeking a sporty steer. Now for 2011, Porsche has unveiled its second-generation Cayenne and despite the large boots to fill its built to be more advanced in every area. Car and SUV took flight in the next-gen Cayenne to find out just how good it really is.

Porsche has clearly taken many of the criticisms of the first-generation Cayenne to heart, not least the attacks on the exterior styling. The overall design looks sleeker and lower so the Cayenne can no longer be described as an obese 911 wearing a Mumu. Porsche has stuck with sports car design cues borrowed from the Carrera like the front guards but there are also elements of the new Panamera included, particularly in the headlight shape. The gaping front air intake now has a more menacing look and the Porsche badge has been repositioned on to the dipping bonnet. While it’s easy for the eye to be fooled, the new Cayenne is actually slightly larger in all directions. With the wheelbase extended there is little rear overhang and the back doors are longer for easier entry and exit. The rear also appears trimmer with a new lighter one-piece tailgate design.

The weight savings don’t end with the tailgate either. The use of lighter materials has taken 103kg from the body, 74kg has been taken from the chassis and 63kg from the engine with a further 10kg dropped from the electrics. Some extra weight has been put in for structural safety and extra equipment, but after doing the math the new Cayenne is around 165kg lighter than its predecessor. It’s an impressive result but Porsche’s SUV is still no flyweight with our tested Cayenne S model tipping the scales at 2065kg.

Inside, the advancements are staggering with a beautifully executed and intensely high-quality cabin. Many elements of the interior fit mimic the Panamera sedan including a modified dashboard, a wide, sloping centre console with a multitude of buttons and one of the gauge segments in the instrument cluster that houses a multi-function display. It’s a very stylish layout and while the switchgear takes some time to learn, once mastered, everything is easily at hand. Fit and finish is exceptional and all moving parts function flawlessly.  The Cayenne also exhibits Porsche’s skill at mixing style and practicality, like the swept back interior door handles, angled grab bars and large wrap-over main storage bin. Even the leather seats with their creative stitching still provided ample support, 14-way power adjustment and heating/cooling functions. The back seat is also clever and can slid forward and back, recline and splits to fold down for long cargo items. There’s good head and legroom in the rear pew and plenty of room for luggage behind with a 670-litre capacity enlarging to a cavernous 1,780-litres with the back seat folded down.

In terms of standard equipment the Cayenne S is well specified and includes a 7-inch colour touch screen with navigation, this is an intuitive system and is complimented well by the main control buttons. There’s a thumping Bose 14-speaker stereo with 6-Disc changer and full Bluetooth functionality. There are also the usual suspects like keyless entry, a multi-function steering wheel and auto lights and wipers.

Under the bonnet, the engines are largely carried over from the outgoing models with each variant in the Cayenne range having a different powertrain. Our tested Cayenne S is motivated by Porsche’s 4.8-litre alloy V8 engine. This naturally aspirated unit produces 294kW of power and a thumping 500Nm of torque. It’s a strong motor and will take the Cayenne S from standing to the open road speed limit in just 5.9 seconds. The V8 is a powerhouse of an engine but is also elegantly refined, delivering its grunt smoothly through the rev range with minimal fuss.

While there is a slight increase in power over the first-gen Cayenne S the big news is the switch from a six-speed to an eight-speed auto transmission. This increases the spread of gear ratios meaning a lower first gear and taller top gears for increased fuel economy during motorway cruising. The Cayenne S’ top speed of 258kph can actually be reached in sixth gear if you’re so inclined. Interestingly, Porsche couldn’t use their PDK twin-clutch transmission because of the Cayenne’s weight and towing capacity (3500kg). The new 8-speed shifts frequently and offers smooth and near unnoticeable changes. There is a sports mode that keeps the transmission on point, changing down during bends and holding gears longer. If complete manual control is required the button-style steering wheel paddles are ready to provide bullet-quick self-changes.

The large savings in weight and additional gear ratios combine with an automatic stop/start system to provide much improved fuel economy. With sensible pedal work the Cayenne S will return an impressive 10.5l/100km on the combined cycle. That’s a solid effort by Porsche but if you turn off the stop/start system and want to have a little fun, fuel consumption will quickly climb.

Although the powertrain is strong and advanced it’s the handling that has set the Cayenne apart from its competitors and the new model builds on this virtue. The standard 19-inch wheels come shod with 265/50 tyres and offer great grip on the tarmac. During spirited driving the Cayenne S stays poised and balanced but not in a way that disassociates the driver or completely hides its size. The dynamics leave you constantly aware of just how much mass surrounds you, but it never seems to matter. There is minimal body roll and understeer until it reaches high-limits. The steering is firmly precise and pedal feel is good with the front 6-piston calliper and 4-piston rear brakes pulling the Cayenne up sharply.

The Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system is fitted to the Cayenne S and provides drivers with adjustment over the vehicles dampers. Sport, normal and comfort modes can be selected depending on driver intent. This functions through buttons in the cabin and makes a noticeable difference, but normal setting is fine for most occasions.

There’s no doubt the Cayenne is a road-focused SUV but that doesn’t mean it’s scared to get mud under the guards. There are three pre-set modes for off-road driving. Mode 1 recalibrates the electrical systems like traction control and ABS for slippery terrain and also raises the ride height. Mode 2 locks the multiplate clutch in the centre differential for increased traction and in very rugged terrain Mode 3 will lock the rear diff. These modern electronic systems allow the Cayenne genuine 4WD capability even on road tyres making it a very well prepared machine, especially considering how many will never leave the tarmac.

When it comes to safety the Cayenne has more than just its bulky frame to protect occupants. Front, side and curtain airbags are loaded up and side impact beams brace each door. There’s also an immobiliser and alarm system to help fend off thieves.

The bottom line with the second-generation Cayenne is that it’s extended all the strengths of the first model and repaired most of its weaknesses. It’s now lighter, faster and more fuel efficient than before while being more spacious and luxurious. That alone, is an impressive feat.  It’s also an engaging drive with dynamics that push the boundaries of what a 2 tonne SUV is capable of. Exterior styling is much sleeker but still won’t suit all tastes while the interior is absolutely class leading and will make older model Cayenne owners want this one. There is always going to be hardcore badge fans out there that resent Porsche for making a vehicle with such broad appeal, but few can argue that the Cayenne isn’t a progressive and remarkable vehicle that all drivers can enjoy.

Price: From $137,000, Cayenne S (as tested) $182,500

What we like:

  • Exceptional interior fit-out
  • Dynamically competent off-road and on
  • Lighter and more economical
  • Powerful engine and smooth transmission

What we don’t like:

  • Rear visibility
  • Styling has improved but still isn’t stunning
  • No optional third row seating

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Other reviews of interest (click link):

Porsche Panamera S (2010) — Road Test

Lexus RX350 Limited (2009) — Road Test

Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI Edition 10 (2008) — Road Test

Range Rover Sport TDV6 (2008) — Road Test

Toyota Land Cruiser 200 VX (2010) — Road Test

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