I was one of them; one of those that dismissed the Porsche Cayenne at first. After all, this wasn’t your typical Porsche model – not on the surface. Not rear-engined, more than two doors, not a sports car. Not. A. Porsche.
Which, of course, turned out to be all sorts of wrong. I’ve driven every gen of the Cayenne since, and they’ve all impressed, probably more so because there was no way a vehicle with that kind of packaging – not to mention the stigma around it – should be as capable as it was. It was fast, it handled, it had a fantastic interior and instead of bearing an SUV cross, it became a beacon for what Porsche was now capable of. It has sold well since, and many will tell you that the sales success of the Cayenne made it possible for Porsche’s engineers and designers to justify the existence of stuff like the 911, GT3 or Carrera GT to their bosses and the pencil pushers.
Now, there’s a new one. It’s larger than before, more powerful and lighter, too, loaded with all manner of ultra-smart electronic chassis aids to make the Cayenne feel more like a sports car than ever before, as well as a comfortable, safe and practical everyday driver. Which, when you’re talking competition from big names like BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, is imperative.
It’s lighter than those guys, though. Last year, the hood and trunk were crafted from aluminum; this year, the whole body is. They’ve turned to lighter weight engine internals, a lithium-ion battery, and more to help shave as much as 500 lbs. – that’s half a metric tonne, folks – over last year’s truck.
There’s more power, too; the S’ 2.9L twin-turbo V6 makes 434 hp and 406 lb-ft – the former is up 14 from 2018, the latter is even – while the Turbo makes 541 hp and 568 lb-ft of twin-turbo V8 power (both engines get their turbos nestled within the “v”, helping fuel economy), up 21 and 15, respectively, on the 2018 model. Of course, up or not, 568 lb-ft is a tonne of twist and makes itself heard with a rich, American-muscle-car-meets-German-super-saloon bellow. Accompanied, of course, by acceleration to the tune of 0-100 km/h in less than – less than – four seconds. That’s a mighty fine time for an SUV weighing in at over 2,100 kilos.
You won’t look all that bad while you’re at it, either; granted, SUVs and pickups are some of the harder vehicle types to style uniquely, but the longer, wider and lower Cayenne does a pretty good job of it nonetheless. The main change for 2019 actually happens ‘round back, with a rear fascia that now sees the LED taillights connected by a light bar, in keeping with the rest of the Porsche line-up. The Turbo’s profile has also been changed thanks to the addition of an adaptive roof-mounted spoiler, a function of which allows air to pass more smoothly over the car when the moonroof is open; it only deploys at 160 km/h, though, which is a pretty extreme situation not legally attainable in Canada. It also acts as an air brake between 170-250, which is also not something that matters in Canada unless you’re on the track, where Porsche insists some Cayenne owners actually spend time. I guess if you don’t track your Cayenne, you can still like the spoiler for its looks, right? The Cayenne S, meanwhile, gets a fixed spoiler.
Up front, the headlights have also been updated to something Porsche calls “Matrix Beam”; 84 LEDs help provide variable lighting strength depending on the situation. In Canada, it used to be that high beam/low beam was a black-and-white thing; you either had one or the other. After new legislation, Porsche can provide varying levels by switching off individual LED segments.
The next real eye-catcher is a stylistic change, yes, but also a functional one. If you’ll look at the wheels, you’ll notice white brake calipers – massive, 10-piston white brake calipers squeezing massive 415 mm discs. Less noticeable at this juncture on these low-mileage cars is the reflective surface of the caliper; with more wear, they will become as reflective as a mirror. That’s because they are an example of Porsche’s new powder-coated brake system that through some kind of science much too in-depth to explain here, the pad material mixes with the coating to create the effect, somehow with little to no brake dust. The white calipers? There to show you how little brake dust there is. It’s a $3,990 option, but it’s a good middle ground between your standard steel-disc system, and the $10,000 ceramic-disc system that’s also available.
Inside, a few details are on-hand to differentiate the ’19 from the ’18; the biggest change is the touch-panel surrounding the shift lever, an area that had been littered with about a million buttons until this year. Which I didn’t mind, actually; I’m a fan of traditional buttons, so I was hesitant to embrace this new system, even though Porsche assured me that enough haptic feedback had been built into each button to make them feel as “real” as possible. Turns out, they weren’t whistling dixie; each button “press” – for the adjustable dampers, the traction control, etc. – provides a nice, positive response. I’ll take it.
Also new is the infotainment screen; a 12.3” number with ultra-clear graphics and all that, complemented by a quasi-digital gauge cluster; analog tach in the middle, and two customizable screens on each side. It’s a nice modern take on the traditional Porsche gauge cluster. They’ve also added new seats; 18-way power adjustability is standard on both the S and Turbo, while the Turbo gets an active set-up that adjusts the side bolsters depending on how aggressively you’re driving. That’s some pretty serious kit for a people-moving SUV.
Air suspension is standard on the Turbo but optional on the S, and it does a masterful job of ironing out the road ahead of you. While we spent some time on a smooth highway during our drive, most of it was spent in quasi-plowed, hard-packed back roads finished in a way that only roads in Quebec can be. Ideal conditions, then, to test Porsche’s most family-oriented vehicle.
Here’s the thing. We can go on and on about how all the numerous electronic aids – traction control, stability control, torque vectoring, et cetera–can help a vehicle rotate through corners more quickly, provide a more thrilling drive on a back road and so forth. That’s all great but in the real world, it’s how these systems keep everyday drives and drivers – and their families – on the straight and narrow.
With the Cayenne – especially the Turbo that gets Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus as standard kit – you can really feel the systems working, shuffling power to and fro, axle to axle, wheel to wheel, keeping the Cayenne heading true. That’s the electronic stuff; there’s new mechanical additions, too, in the form of a new multi-link front suspension set-up and staggered wheels and tires that measure 315 mm at the back, for better turn-in response. Also helping in that regard is the addition for 2019 of rear-wheel steering; it’s a weird feeling at first, especially in the snow since, at low speeds, the rears turn in the opposite direction from the fronts and that can actually feel like you’re sliding at first. In reality, what’s happening is the wheelbase is being artificially “shortened” to help out in tighter situations. That’s at speeds under 80 km/h; above that, the rears turn with the fronts to better stabilize the car when changing lanes or moving through faster sweepers.
It’s also here that you can really feel those new brakes doing their thing, as brake pressure can also be automatically applied if the situation requires it. It often did, here, and I experienced enough to say that these are some mighty fine brakes that are responsive and ultra-capable, without the grabbiness or noisiness associated with the ceramic system. Safe to say that if you want to feel confident during winter driving, the Cayenne has you covered in more ways than one. Of course then, while I haven’t yet experienced one in drier conditions, you also get all of that dry-driving stuff we talked about earlier. If the systems work as well in dry conditions and have as much of an effect on the drive as they do in these wintry conditions, then there’s little doubt in my mind that the Cayenne will likely qualify as one of the most dynamic drives in the segment.
The Turbo is undeniably fast even in these conditions – monstrously so, in fact– but that’s not to say the S left me wanting. For starters, the V6 howl that replaces the Turbo’s V8 growl is a great sound in its own way, and it’s also lighter than the Turbo and quite fleet of foot as a result. At the wheel of the Turbo, I felt like I was in a ground-pounding GT car; the S is more sports car-like in its attitude. Pretty neat trick Porsche has pulled here, with two divergent takes on a single model. Add the base single-turbo-6 and hybrid models, and you can see just how far the Cayenne has come, and how its stock has risen both at Porsche and with buyers.
First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE