Best of the Best 2007: Sport-Utility Vehicles: Porsche Cayenne

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Porsche Cayenne

The original porsche Cayenne was an astonishingly good car. It possessed solid SUV bona fides, and it established the class benchmark for on-road performance with its searing acceleration and exceptional handling. Following a light mechanical and aesthetic makeover, the Cayenne retains its status as the standard-bearer for performance-oriented SUVs.

Porsche has dropped the recently introduced Turbo S, leaving three models in the lineup: the normally aspirated 6-cylinder Cayenne ($43,400) and 8-cylinder Cayenne S ($57,900), and the Cayenne Turbo ($93,700). All engines benefit from the addition of direct fuel injection, and those enamored of the late 520 hp Turbo S need not fret: The revised 4.8-liter engine in the new Turbo model produces 500 hp, an increase from 450. Also, Porsche claims that the Turbo will hit 60 mph in a scant 4.9 seconds, which is just slightly off the Turbo S’s pace. The Cayenne S uses its 385 hp to reach 60 mph in a respectable 6.4 seconds; the 290 hp Cayenne takes a more leisurely 7.5 seconds to achieve that speed.

The most obvious difference between the new and the old Cayenne is its shape; Porshe has flattened the formerly bug-eyed headlights into an aggressive squint. Handsome and more cohesive with the Cayenne’s overall design, the new look trades a measure of oddball personality for a welcome gloss of elegance. An otherwise subtle design evolution includes flared wheel arches and refined taillights. The extensive options list contains such niceties as 21-inch wheels and a panoramic sunroof.

New antiroll technology—dubbed Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC)—augments the already sure-footed Cayenne’s stability by virtually eliminating body lean. Available only in conjunction with the Cayenne’s air suspensio (which is standard on the Turbo, optional elsewhere), the system integrates antiroll bars into the front and rear axles. According to Porsche, PDCC keeps the car’s body flat, well past the g’s you can achieve during spirited romps through twists and turns.

During a preview drive near Cádiz, Spain, earlier this year, the 8-cylinder Cayennes acquitted themselves admirably, both behaving more like sports sedans than SUVs. Pressing the Turbo’s gas pedal to the floor produced an urgent, uninterrupted surge of power that receded only when the driver’s foot did. Though slightly less satisfying than the Turbo, the Cayenne S also moved with easy authority. On a narrow mountain road, the PDCC demonstrated its value as the Cayenne remained remarkably composed when entering corners.

Although no one will mistake the Cayenne for a 911, it is never necessary to qualify the 8-cylinder version’s performance with the phrase “for an SUV.” (The same cannot be said of the 6-cylinder Cayenne. The entry-level model may serve a valuable business purpose for the company, but the less-polished vehicle seems a poor fit for the Porsche badge.)

 

Porsche declines to comment on the subject, but the release in the next year or two of an even more accomplished Cayenne Turbo S would not be surprising. In the meantime, though, it is difficult to imagine a more thrilling SUV ride than the ones offered by the current Cayennes.

Porsche, www.porsche.com/usa

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