Though it's been around since 2002, the Cayenne S has finally earned its Porsche crest with the 2011 rendition.
When the company decided to call its SUV the Cayenne, it probably had no idea how apt the moniker would be. The mere idea that Porsche would relent to consumers' infatuation with sport utility vehicles elicited a reaction from Porsche purists not unlike eating a tablespoon of the namesake pepper: a red face, a sweaty brow, a fit of coughing.
And they had a point. While the original Cayenne was a capable vehicle, both on-road and off, its weight and general execution were too far removed from Porsche's DNA.
Yet the Cayenne quickly became Porsche's global sales leader and has been so for much of its lifespan. (Only recently did Porsche's first four-door sedan, the Panamera, eclipse the Cayenne's sales.) This allowed Porsche to funnel Cayenne profit into R&D for the Boxster, Cayman and the venerable 911.
After a week in a new $79,160 Cayenne S, it was clear that a good deal of that profit also went into development of this second generation. It's every bit the amalgamation of a sports car and sport utility vehicle that Porsche would have you believe.
Now the only thing to make you red in the face is its price tag.
For starters, engineers reduced the Cayenne's weight by about 400 pounds, or about 10%, from the previous model to 4,553 pounds. Shaving the equivalent of a boy band off a vehicle's weight is never easy, but Porsche was able to do so with liberal application of aluminum. The chassis alone is 145 pounds lighter, and aluminum doors, tailgate, hood and wheels all contribute. Also trimming the Cayenne's waistline is a new all-wheel-drive system.
This reduced weight, paired with an optional suspension system called Porsche Active Suspension Management, makes the Cayenne S a surprisingly adroit handler. Switch into "sport" mode ("normal" and "comfort" are your other choices) and aim the SUV at the curves of your choice. Much as with a point-and-shoot camera, the operator's task becomes remarkably easy.
These abilities were made clear when I took a Cayenne S around a racetrack with a professional driver as my co-pilot. Nothing helps you overcome the notion that an SUV is a beast of burden than a helmeted speed junkie yelling for you to carry more speed through a turn than common sense dictates.
Largely bereft of body roll or understeer, the Cayenne never blinked. Furthermore, triple-digit speeds down the straight were an exercise in vehicular meditation.
Yet the Cayenne S occupies such a broad spectrum of excellence that my Sand White example was more than comfortable bouncing around an off-highway vehicle park outside Santa Clarita.
The standard full-time, all-wheel-drive system has an off-road mode that locks the center differential and diverts more torque to the front wheels for added traction. The Porsche climbed and descended grades Ed Viesturs would admire, all on summer tires no less.
Not only is the new Cayenne lighter and more fun to drive, it's also bigger, more powerful and more efficient.
Power for the Cayenne S comes from a 4.8-liter V-8 that is nearly identical to that found in Porsche's sedan, the Panamera S.
This refined unit puts out 400 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque and does so with a smooth and linear pull during acceleration. Porsche says the 0-60 time is 5.6 seconds, though it has been conservative with such numbers in the past.
This engine is mated with a new eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted manual controls. Though eight speeds may sound excessive, the Cayenne reaches top speed in sixth gear, and uses the final two to maximize fuel efficiency.
Gear changes are so discreet that one tends to forget the profusion of choices until switching to manual mode. Also new is an automatic start/stop function that turns off the engine at stop lights to save fuel.
The new transmission and lighter curb weight contribute to a mileage rating on the Cayenne S of 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, a noticeable bump over the previous model of 13/19 mpg. In my 400 miles of driving, I averaged 17.1 mpg.
Though you can't tell by looking at it, the 2011 Cayenne is slightly bigger than its predecessor, despite its lighter weight. This trick on the eye is largely the result of an exterior redesign that is more taut and streamlined.
The front maintains its pointed snout and Porsche genetics while the rear is completely new and bears a strong resemblance to that of the Panamera, with wider, curving taillights that extend into the lift gate.
If the exterior of the new Cayenne is an evolution, the interior is a revolution. Porsche wisely took the intricate yet functional dashboard layout in the Panamera and applied it to the SUV.
Many of the controls for the heating, cooling and drivetrain options have been moved to the elevated center console and have a bespoke feel to them.