2019 Porsche Cayenne first drive review: an epoch-ending SUV

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Back in the 1980s, Porsche knew it could build an SUV. And it knew a Porsche SUV would sell well.

It finally got around to building that first Cayenne in 2002. Instincts: correct. Since then, it’s sold more than 770,000 of them. It’s so successful, Porsche now sells a smaller Macan SUV.

An epoch-making moment looms in the not so distant future. The new 2019 Porsche Cayenne makes it nearly certain that, at some point in the next few years, the big sport-utility vehicle will become the best-selling Porsche of all time.

The TL;DR here? The new Cayenne is fluent on both the smooth and civil roads and the dirty grunty stuff Porsche drummed up for us as we looped around the Greek island of Crete, in the early throes of shuttering down another thronging season of tourists.

We made a dramatic departure to drive the new Cayenne, but the Cayenne itself makes few big leaps. Its shape is tamper-proof, completely in line with the 2002 original. It’s a bit bigger and more curvy than before, but you’ll have to look closely at the ribbed front air intakes and the slim LED taillights to tell it apart from previous versions. We see faint hints of Panamera in its fascias and in the more cohesive shapes that collect at the rear.

Inside it’s a different story. A big high-resolution touchscreen and touch-sensitive controls have swept away most of the buttons and switches on the console. There’s a welcome simplicity inside that shows off the Cayenne’s leaner, more logical dash.

Inside the gauge cluster, twin 7.0-inch TFT displays flank the tach, and toggle to display navigation with Google Earth maps, infotainment settings, and driver-information systems. The ignition’s still on the left of the steering column, a nifty heritage-tinged touch. The rest of the Cayenne’s cockpit and its command-and-control interfaces have a distinct leap-ahead feel.

A trio of turbos

The 2019 Cayenne offers a trio of engines. All have turbos, but some have more turbos than others.

In base models a 3.0-liter turbo V-6 with 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque can reach 60 mph in under six seconds (5.9 seconds, or 5.6 seconds with a Sport Chrono bundle that pokes engine and transmission software with a sharp stick). Top speed is set at 152 mph. Behind a wall of acoustically treated glass, the monoturbo’s a smooth talker, without much of the lumpy V-6 noises we’ve heard in other 60-degree units.

The Cayenne S has a 2.9-liter twin turbo V-6 with 440 hp and 406 lb-ft. Essentially a slightly destroked version of the base engine with another turbo, it’s down slightly on torque but up 20 hp over the prior twin-turbo V-6 in the last Cayenne. The new twin-turbo version hits 60 mph in under five seconds, and can reach a top speed of 164 mph.  

The Cayenne S surges ahead with authority–but if it’s blistering acceleration you need, only a handful of machines on the road can keep up with the Cayenne Turbo and its shuffling V-8 roar.

The ground-stomping Cayenne Turbo, with its 550-hp twin-turbo V-8 has 567 pound-feet of torque. It guns to 60 mph in under four seconds (3.7 seconds with Sport Chrono) and stretches to a top speed of 177 mph. Its turbochargers nestle between the cylinder banks for better airflow and quicker light-off. It’s up 30 hp and 14 lb-ft over the prior version–and compared with the fine V-6s, its mellifluous roar seems to make its upgrade price worth it alone.

No, the Cayenne’s not the quickest SUV on earth, nor is it the fastest one. The related Bentley Bentayga claims a higher top speed, while the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk’s brochure suggests 0-60 mph times of 3.5 seconds. But the Porsche’s close, and there’s a lot left in the tank.

The plug-in hybrid found in the last Cayenne hasn’t yet been confirmed for Gen 3, but we’re confident it’s on the way. In the meantime, Porsche adds stop/start and active air shutters to smooth air and save drams of fuel. On Turbos, an active rear spoiler does the same, and also flips up to help slow the Cayenne more quickly from high speeds.

The touches are helpful, and so is a lightening program that mixes materials in the Cayenne’s body to make it weigh less. Base models check in at 4,377 pounds; the Cayenne S weighs 4,454 lb and the Cayenne Turbo, 4,795 lb.

All coupled up with an 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic and all-wheel drive that conspire to route and reroute power constantly between the front and rear wheels–and across the rear axle on vehicles with Porsche’s torque-vectoring differential. Porsche’s AWD system biases power to the rear, in a progressively higher ratio in Sport and Sport+ drive modes. That’s great on pavement; off-road, the Cayenne can ford through 19.7 inches of water, and can hold oil pressure on a 45-degree incline. On any terrain, it can tow up to 7,700 pounds.

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