Versus the competiton:
On a winding road or racetrack, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne will go toe-to-toe with a lot of performance cars, but its annoyances as an SUV will test just how much you care about that.
Larger than it’s sedan sister the Panamera, and heavily revised for 2015, the five-seat SUV comes in twin-turbo V-6 (Cayenne S) and twin-turbo V-8 (Cayenne Turbo) drivetrains; we drove the latter. There’s also a turbo-diesel V-6 in the Cayenne Diesel, plus a Cayenne S E-Hybrid. The E-Hybrid pairs a supercharged V-6 with an electric motor. We cover the hybrid separately in the Research section. All-wheel drive is standard across the board. Compare the Cayenne trims here, or go here to stack up the 2015 and 2014 models.
About the same length but significantly wider than before, the Porsche Cayenne sports a reshaped lower grille with sculpted borders. It’s a squared-off take on the same three-portal theme as before, and the changes are subtle. Porsche says the hood, bumper and fenders are new, but you’d have to put the 2014 and 2015 Cayenne side by side to see the differences.
The updates are easier to spot in back, where the redesigned taillights have a thinner appearance than last year’s more bulbous shapes. The old lights look cartoonish by comparison; this is a big improvement.
Unlike the 911, the Porsche Cayenne doesn’t have a ton of visual changes between base and high-level trims. Aside from some modest ground effects, the biggest visual difference is the wheels. Eighteen-inch alloys are standard, while optional rims run all the way to 21 inches.
The sport-oriented Porsche Cayenne Turbo eats pavement like your dog would chow table scraps at a Brazilian steakhouse. Its twin-turbo V-8, rated at 520 horsepower and 553 pounds-feet of torque for 2015, is up 20 hp and 37 pounds-feet versus last year’s eight-cylinder Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Curb weight is roughly the same, and fuel economy is not a concern.
Mash the accelerator and the SUV launches to triple-digit speeds with a degree of ferocity that’s sure to alarm unsuspecting passengers. Interstate passing maneuvers have the standard eight-speed automatic kicking down as many as five gears at once to catapult the SUV in ways no SUV should be able to catapult. Keep a lighter foot on the gas and the eight-speed can occasionally gear hunt, but Sport mode effectively eliminates that with decisive kickdowns.
Porsche lists a zero-to-60-mph time of just over 4 seconds in the Cayenne Turbo, and there’s no reason to doubt it. It’s entirely unnecessary, though, given the Cayenne S’ twin-turbocharged V-6 gets you there in just over 5 seconds — which is still quicker than any SUV needs to be. If you’re wondering what happened to the base, GTS and Turbo S variants, Porsche will bring them back for the 2016 model year. Oh, and the Turbo S’ 570 hp brings a scorching 3.8-second zero-to-60-mph time.
Our Cayenne Turbo employed a three-mode adaptive air suspension, the most elaborate of three setups available in the Cayenne. (Lesser trims offer a steel suspension in fixed and adaptive setups.) Ride quality in the Turbo is on the soft side, keeping with the lux-SUV norm. Its three modes — Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus — are noticeably different, with Sport Plus adding some road feel over most bumps. Still, even at its firmest setting the Cayenne is comfortable.
Quiet and smooth, though — not so much. An aggressive idle-shutoff function cuts engine power a moment before the SUV comes to a complete stop, divesting you of power-steering assist in the process. You can turn the system off, which you’ll want to do; our editors found it a constant annoyance. And the suspension, though comfortable, is noisy, thwacking away at bumps in a manner unbecoming a $100,000-plus SUV. At most speeds, the Michelin Latitude Sport 3 P295/35R21 summer tires on our test car emitted a constant hum. It’s all the more pervasive because at anything less than heavy throttle, the engine’s damn near silent.
Like acceleration, handling goes well beyond the SUV norm. Throw the Porsche Cayenne into a cloverleaf interchange and those Michelin tires grip the pavement like the car is half its weight. The steering has good feedback and sharp turn-in precision. The chassis shows hints of nose-heavy understeer, but a little extra throttle can draw the tail around to straighten you out. Activate Sport Plus mode and the suspension eliminates body roll like no SUV ought to be able to do.
The suspension can alter ride height by about 3.5 inches between its lowest and highest driving settings. Another console switch engages an off-road program with optimized suspension and drivetrain systems; it can also engage the Cayenne’s locking center and rear differentials. Adjusted to its most hardcore modes, the Cayenne clawed its way through inches-deep mud and split-traction surfaces with little drama, which is probably the extent to which most Cayenne owners will venture off-pavement.
Amid acres of wood, chrome and leather, the Porsche Cayenne’s wraparound cockpit rivals Mission Control for buttons and rocker switches. It takes some getting used to, and Porsche should consolidate some buttons. Larger drivers may want more knee and thigh room, which the Cayenne’s high center tunnel inhibits.
Our test car had optional adaptive sport seats that hug your every dimension, but some editors found them uncomfortable despite a plethora of power adjustments. The standard seats have smaller bolsters and fewer adjustments, so be sure to evaluate both types during your test drive.
The rear seats are adjustable forward and backward, and they can recline a few degrees. The bench sits high enough off the floor, but it could use another inch or so of cushion length for adult-friendly thigh support. Legroom and headroom are good, though a large center floor hump takes up some footwell space.
Porsche seems to think SUV drivers don’t have much stuff. The dearth of storage space in this SUV is downright mean-spirited; when it comes to cabin storage, this is more of a sports car than an SUV. The center console is embarrassing. The cupholders allow travel mugs to tip at the slightest corner. Beyond them and a tiny ashtray (or a like-sized cubby in non-smoking cars), there’s no convenient open storage.
The limitations extend rearward. Porsche makes the most of the cargo area’s 23.7 cubic feet with a low load floor and rectangular, obstruction-free space. But the overall volume is modest; many two-row luxury SUVs have more room (a lot more, in the case of Mercedes-Benz’s M-Class). The Cayenne’s rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split, but there’s a significant incline in the extended load floor when they’re down, and any forward adjustment of the seats creates a cargo-catching gap. Hoi-polloi alternatives like the Lexus RX have engineered solutions to this problem, and Porsche needs to do the same.
Standard equipment includes a touch-screen navigation system with USB/iPod integration and Bluetooth phone/audio. In stark contrast to the hoard of buttons surrounding it, the unit is fairly intuitive. If you want an audio upgrade, surround-sound systems from Bose or Burmester are available.
Like the Panamera, the Porsche Cayenne has not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Lane departure and blind spot warning systems are optional, as is a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking. Click here for a full list of standard safety features or here to see our Car Seat Check.
The Cayenne Turbo gets larger disc brakes than lesser trims. High-performance carbon-ceramic composite brakes are available on any model, but they’ll run you more than $8,500.
For about $63,000, including a destination fee, the cheapest 2015 Porsche Cayenne — the Porsche Cayenne diesel — has power seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-and-vinyl upholstery and a pretty generous multimedia setup. (For 2016, a gasoline V-6 base model drops the starting price to just over $59,000.) Typical of German luxury cars, however, features like heated seats, a moonroof, keyless access and a backup camera cost extra in the Cayenne.
The Cayenne also offers nearly every option under the sun, from soft-close doors and giant wheels to leather trim in every conceivable part of the cabin. Go to town on a Cayenne Turbo and the price tag can spiral past $200,000.
Even at that, the Porsche Cayenne remains a flawed SUV. It’s opulent, stylish and enthralling to drive hard, but not every commute involves winding back roads free of traffic. In the tug of war between sport and utility, the Cayenne remains decidedly on the sport side. Decide if that’s right for you.