The Blue Mountains, ON – Necessity is the mother of invention, or so the saying goes.
In the early 2000s Stuttgart’s fabled Porsche brand was in trouble. Producing only two cars—the 911 and the Boxster—was just not enough to pay the bills. Consumers at the time were much more interested in the burgeoning SUV craze than sports cars, so in response Porsche launched the Cayenne SUV in 2002. The goal was to bring in a different sort of customer through the door, one that might have never considered the brand to begin with.
Porschephiles and car enthusiasts everywhere gathered in an angry mob accusing Porsche of losing its way. These were the same people still sobbing about the 911’s departure from air-cooled engines, choosing instead to go with new water-cooled units. 911 fans can be a difficult bunch to please, overly sensitive to change no matter how small. An SUV from the maker of one of the most legendary and successful sports cars in the world was decidedly blasphemous.
Luckily for them though, the Cayenne proved a resounding success, helping to nearly double Porsche’s sales volume over the following years. This most un-Porsche-like of Porsches helped save the company from the brink of extinction paving the way for cars like the stupendous GT2 RS and 911 R.
The polarizing first-generation Cayenne with its fried-egg headlights and frumpy styling won drivers over with impeccable road feel and sporty handling that belied the size and mass of the thing. And unlike some of the competition, the Cayenne didn’t shy away from off-roading duty but rather embraced it with standard locking differentials and low range gearing, giving it the capability to go almost anywhere. Optional turbo power made this the fastest SUV at the time, capable of lapping the Nurburgring in just 8 minutes and 42 seconds.
Much better styling, more power, and even more capability came with the second generation in 2010. Diesel power hit North American shores in 2013 and a plug-in-hybrid joined the fray in 2015.
For 2019 there’s a brand new Cayenne, arriving in dealer showrooms at the time of this writing. Porsche Canada invited us to put this new model through its paces on a drive route that would take us from Pearson Airport up to Creemore and then to our destination in The Blue Mountains.
As far as redesigns go, Porsche is typically conservative choosing not to mess with a successful formula. Although every single body panel is new, you have to look hard to spot the differences, especially from the front. Larger air intakes give the new Cayenne a wider appearance, and the standard LED lighting with distinctive elements are one way to tell it apart from the old model. The LED taillights have turned into an elegant thin strip that spans the width of the rear hatch housing the Porsche logo in the middle.
This is a nip and tuck style surgery that has retained what was best about the last model and refined what wasn’t. The overall design aligns the Cayenne with the rest of the Porsche family, taking elements from all the models and blending them in a cohesive fashion. Even though it’s grown a bit wider, taller, and longer you really can’t tell. But there’s more room in the interior and a full 100 litres of extra cargo space.
On the inside, the centre console full of hard buttons makes way for a sleek black touch panel very similar to the one in the new Panamera. While it looks fantastic, I found myself having to take my eyes off the road for too long. A bit of time to get familiar with it made things better, but I still miss the lack of buttons that now seems to be the norm with most luxury car makers.
A new 12.3-inch centre touch screen sports ultra-sharp graphics and the latest version of Porsche Communication Management (PCM). The instrument cluster also features two user-configurable 7-inch screens on either side of the analog tachometer.
New rear seats have a 10-way manual adjustment and had a good amount of room for my 6-foot frame.
Build quality is tight as a drum and everything feels like its milled out of a block of steel. Lifting the center armrest cover multiple times makes for a great tricep workout.
The body is now made almost entirely out of aluminum and there’s also more of it in the chassis which sees a 20 percent increase in torsional rigidity. It’s helped to make this the lightest Cayenne yet: 275 lbs lighter than the previous generation and a whopping 461 lbs lighter than the first generation.
A redesigned suspension and a standard 19-inch staggered wheel setup (20 and 21-inchers are available) take advantage of the reduced weight to help make this Cayenne more agile through the corners.
Has it worked? We had a good mix of twisty roads to put this new SUV through its paces. An excellent driving position and a large greenhouse make for an easy car to drive. The steering is pin sharp and provides good feedback. Through some of the tighter, slower corners the weight and relatively high centre of gravity make itself apparent but the stiffly sprung chassis remains solid and planted. Body roll is minimal and the grip is astounding for something of this size.
I recently drove the new X5 and this new Cayenne easily had the superior driving dynamics displaying more eagerness to turn in, less body roll, and a general playfulness that wasn’t present in the Bimmer.
Our tester was the base Cayenne, that comes with a 3-litre single-turbo V6 that pumps out 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque at a low 1340 rpm. Coupled with a new 8-speed automatic, now sourced from ZF, it can scoot to 100 km/h in 5.9 seconds. The X5 makes similar power but is a tick or two faster to 100. Either way, the power is more than adequate and should be enough to satisfy most customers.
If you do need more the Cayenne S packs an extra turbo and slightly less displacement at 2.9 litres but ups the horsepower significantly to 434. The Cayenne Turbo takes things even further with a 4-litre twin turbo V8 that puts out a prodigious 541 hp good for a 0-100 km/h dash in under 4 seconds and a top speed of 177 mph.
A plug-in hybrid model with 44 km of electric range is also available but sadly there will be no diesel as Porsche like many others is abandoning them for good in favour of electric technology.
A new adaptive cruise system called Innodrive can provide hands-free driving under 60 km/h particularly helpful in stop and go traffic and can see up to 3 km ahead taking into account the speed limits, curves, and inclines and adjusting itself accordingly.
For the first time on a Porsche a new laser projection head-up display is available but wasn’t present on our tester. It promises sharp graphics without the need for a large unsightly screen on the top of the dashboard like many current systems use.
The base Cayenne starts at $75,500 a modest increase over the last generation but it comes with more standard equipment, like those LED headlights, 19-inch wheels, park assist, remote start and a 20-inch spare. For comparison the 2019 BMW X5, also completely redesigned, stickers at $71,500 and comes similarly equipped. This is not a cheap car and Porsche’s notoriously expensive options will drive that price skywards in a jiffy.
As expensive as it is, this will likely become the best selling Cayenne of all time. Good news for Porsche enthusiasts everywhere as that means more development dollars to build even better 911s. And that’s a win in anyone’s books.