When Porsche first introduced the Cayenne eight years ago the sports car specialists proved they could make an SUV. Now they want to prove it's a Porsche.
Not content to make a vehicle appealing to North America's legions of pampered soccer moms, the Stuttgart-based carmaker has revamped the Cayenne for 2010.
The new model is leaner, meaner and even comes as a hybrid if you feel like helping out the environment while cruising on the autobahn, off-roading, or even just picking up some groceries.
Of course, the Swabians would never concede the old Cayenne wasn't a real Porsche. But it's apparent that they've made a distinct effort to ensure the new one has even more “Porsche DNA,” as lead designer Mitja Borkert put it during a press preview in Leipzig this week.
The effort has paid off, with the front-end of the new Cayenne looking distinctly more aggressive and shark-like than its predecessor.
“We've tried to pull the nose down as low as possible,” said Borkert, adding that all Porsche's try to evoke the lines of a classic 911 Carrera.
In a flashy presentation at the company's futuristic facility outside the eastern German city, he walked through all the nips and tucks his design team made to the old Cayenne just as a plastic surgeon might. A new nose, a lift here, some streamlining there – and the overall effect is dramatic.
The new model is five centimetres longer, yet its silhouette appears racier and considerably more compact.
“That's exactly the effect we were going for,” said Porsche CEO Michael Macht.
He also lavished praise on the Cayenne team for combining the sporty exterior with entirely new engineering on the inside. The key innovation is a hybrid model, combining a powerful combustion engine with electrical drive.
There was lots of talk in Leipzig about “the Obama laws” – referring to the legislation being considered by the US government to drastically tighten a carmaker's permissible emissions across its entire fleet of models. This would hit Porsche particularly hard, since unlike Volkswagen or Daimler it only makes powerful, petrol-hungry sports cars. Therefore hybrid Cayenne is undoubtedly a key part the company's strategy to avoid punitive fines in the key North American market.
“Porsche will jump over this hurdle,” said Macht. “We will adhere to the new laws by 2015.”
Of course, the Cayenne was already a hybrid of sorts – half sports car and half SUV. And Porsche makes no secret it aims to dominate the luxury crossover segment with its latest offerings.
The Local tested three models in Leipzig: the new hybrid, the Cayenne S, and a turbo-charged monster.
All have quality interiors to be expected from Porsche, but the difference between the new and old Cayenne is striking. The onboard computer comes with an easy to navigate touchscreen offering information, a completely restyled cockpit and an optional 1,000-watt Burmester sound system. But it's the engineering that truly sets the different models apart.
Porsche has opted for a so-called parallel hybrid for the Cayenne, which it claims offers fuel savings of up to 23 percent over the older version (8.2 litres per 100 km or 34.5 mpg) with added benefits likely to appeal to the company's demanding customers.
The Cayenne S hybrid, priced at €78,636, is normally powered by a supercharged three-litre V6 with direct gasoline injection offering a maximum of 333 hp. An electric motor delivering 34 kW (47 hp) can either propel the vehicle on its own up to speeds of 30 kph (18.6 mph) or it can augment the combustion engine on the motorway. Porsche has dubbed this neat trick “sailing,” when a driver lets off the accelerator to coast using the electric motor at speeds up to 156 kph.
As is to be expected from a Porsche, the sailing experience of the combustion engine shutting off and on while barrelling down the autobahn is seamless.
The option of operating solely on “e-power” at lower speeds, however, is a less satisfying one, as we found the gutsy petrol motor would jump in rather quickly to take over from the electric motor at a stop light.
Of course, drivers opting for a Porsche hybrid are likely to be more concerned about what they're sitting in than their monthly petrol bill, so we also monitored the sort of figure our ride cut around town.
On a tour around Leipzig, our black Cayenne hybrid clearly failed to impress a pretty blonde on a bike. It did, however, manage to frighten a hippie pedestrian attempting to cross the street. So that would likely be equal honours for most Porsche owners.
But perhaps most importantly for the Stuttgart carmaker, it got the occupants of an older black Cayenne turbo extremely excited.
Pulling up next to us they rolled down the windows and pumped their fists wildly. “Where did you get that?” they asked. They were in awe of the Cayenne's new design, but less interested by its cutting-edge propulsion system: “That's a hybrid? Huh.” Then they drove off.
And truth be told, as important as the new hybrid technology is to the future of Porsche, we were also more impressed with how the regular Cayenne S did off-road and how the turbo model dished up a blistering performance on the test track.
In command off-road
Negotiating Porsche's off-road course in Leipzig in the Cayenne was like having a robot co-pilot sitting next to you. The company's engineers have come up with an array of James Bond worthy technical gizmos that aid you while driving through rough terrain but manage not to get in the way themselves.
As soon as the driver activates the Cayenne's off-road mode via a toggle switch on the centre console, the eight-gear Tiptronic transmission switches to a specially tailored gearing for extra traction and a more precise dosage of engine power.
Heading up an extremely steep incline but you need to stop? No problem, the auto-braking function will keep you locked firmly in place without riding the brake pedal. Rolling down the other side is also made easier with “Hill Control,” which will slowly and carefully negotiate the slope for you by adjusting the power to each wheel for optimal traction.
Drivers can also manually adjust the car's clearance (27 centimetres maximum), which came in handy for us while fording a rather deep water hazard. The Cayenne also managed to effortlessly glide through a road that looked like it had been drenched in chocolate pudding after heavy rain in the morning.
Emerging from the muck unscathed, we turned our final attention to the 500-hp turbo model with a sticker price of around €100,000. Taking to the test track with a professional Porsche driver, he put the two-tonne Cayenne through its paces in a fashion likely never to be repeated by a potential customer.
But perhaps that was our mistake for asking him how much of an improvement the new model was over the old one for sport driving conditions.
“The old Cayenne was good, but this one is a monster,” he said casually.
It was the next lap that he took an S-turn as a succession of lateral sliding with the tyres squealing for mercy. Thankfully gripping the handles on both sides of the passenger seats, we held on for dear life until he calmly drove us back to the Porsche facility.
Our nausea eventually went away 30 minutes later.
The new Cayenne goes on sale in Europe on May 8. Prices in Germany start at €55,431.
Test models abgefahren
Cayenne S: 4.8-litre V8, 400 hp (294 kW); eight-speed Tiptronic S; PTM with active all-wheel drive; acceleration 0 – 100 km/h in 5.9 sec; top speed 258 km/h (160 mph); fuel consumption 10.5 ltr/100 km (equal to 26.9 mpg imp); CO2 rating 245 g/km.
Cayenne S Hybrid: Parallel full hybrid 3.0-litre supercharged V6 and synchronous electric motor, 380 hp (279 kW) overall system output; eight-speed Tiptronic S; PTM with permanent all-wheel drive; acceleration 0 – 100 km/h in 6.5 sec; top speed 242 km/h (150 mph); fuel consumption 8.2 ltr/100 km (equal to 34.5 mpg imp); CO2 rating 193 g/km.
Cayenne Turbo: 4.8-litre dual turbo-V8, 500 hp (368 kW); eight-speed Tiptronic S; PTM with active all-wheel drive; acceleration 0 – 100 km/h in 4.7 sec; top speed 278 km/h (172 mph); fuel consumption 11.5 ltr/100 km (equal to 24.6 mpg imp); CO2 rating 270 g/km.