By on October 21, 2011

Strongly feel that Porsche should stick to sports cars? Personally, I’m willing to cut Zuffenhausen a little slack. Sports car sales, with their boom-and-bust cycles, don’t provide a sound foundation for corporate financial health. A more reasonable test: does Porsche’s entry look and drive unlike any other, in a manner consistent with the marque? Though not pretty, the Panamera passed this test. And the Cayenne SUV?

The initial outlook isn’t good. While the Cayenne’s front end strongly resembles those of other Porsche models, the rest of the exterior can easily be mistaken for an Audi or even a Volkswagen. In fact, the first time I saw the redesigned-for-2011 second-generation Cayenne I thought it was an Audi Q5. One reason: while the Panamera is closely related to no other car, the Cayenne retains close ties with the Volkswagen Touareg, which it also resembles. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. Like the second-generation VW, the 2011 Cayenne is sleeker, better-proportioned, and altogether more attractive than its predecessor.

The Cayenne’s interior is more distinctive than its exterior. Whether by actual dimensional differences or by visual trickery, the instrument panel seems significantly lower and more compact in the Cayenne than in the Touareg. As in the Panamera, the IP rests directly atop an upward-sloping center console (its many buttons closer at hand than they would be in a vertical center stack) to form a subtly tapered “T.” The center console’s upward-angled grab handles (why would the driver need one?) are now mirrored by the door pulls (though the latter are mounted farther forward). Put it all together, and the Cayenne seems sportier from the driver seat than any other SUV. Yet, unlike in the Panamera, there’s no sense that you’re actually in a sports car. The seats (and entire vehicle) would have to be much closer to the ground for that.

Porsche’s interiors have come a long way over the past decade, but the new Cayenne’s still includes too much hard plastic that cannot be mistaken for anything else—even when fitted with the tested car’s upholstered instrument panel and center console. One surprising oversight that provides a poor early impression: the artful door pulls flex and creak when put to their intended use. Form clearly took precedence over function.

The Cayenne’s base front buckets are cushier than the German norm. Though they provide some lateral support, anyone planning to drive this Porsche like a Porsche should pony up another $1,815 for the 18-way power-adjustable sport seats. As in the Touareg, the comfortably high rear seat slides and reclines. In its rearmost position there’s plenty of legroom for all but the tallest adults—but the same can be said of many smaller, lighter compact crossovers. Cargo volume is similarly beyond sufficient but well short of outstanding.

As in the Panamera, engine choices include a 300-horsepower V6, 333-horsepower supercharged hybrid V6, 400-horsepower V8 “S”, and 500-horsepower turbocharged V8 “Turbo.” In the Panamera, the V8 takes the car to an entirely different level. With the Cayenne I sampled only the V8, but drove a Touareg with the V6 in 280-horsepoweer tune immediately beforehand. While the V8 is quicker and more sonorous than the V6, it doesn’t transform the Cayenne like it does the Panamera. Blame two factors. First, while the 4,553-pound 2011 Cayenne S is, commendably, 400 pounds lighter than the 2010 and 740 pounds lighter than the similarly-dimensioned BMW X5 xDrive50i, it remains ten percent heavier than the Panamera. About 70 pounds went with the no-longer-offered two-speed transfer case—Porsche figured out that few owners ventured far off the tarmac. Second, while the V8 is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual in the big hatchback, it’s hooked up to a conventional eight-speed automatic in the SUV. Though the Aisin box is perhaps the best of its kind, with quick, nearly imperceptible shifts, the PDK shifts even more quickly and provides a manual-like direct, mechanical connection. Bottom line: in the SUV, the turbo is needed to kick the tail out at will and quicken one’s pulse. The reduced curb weight and additional transmission ratios do significantly improve fuel economy, bumping the V8’s EPA ratings from a dismal 13/19 to a respectable 16/22.

The Cayenne is too large (though not too heavy) to feel as chuckable as compact SUVs like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 (the upcoming Cajun will target these), but too small to have the road presence of a Cadillac Escalade or Infiniti Q56. The boxes not checked affect its braking and handling. Options include ceramic brakes ($8,150), adaptive dampers ($1,990), air springs (another $1,990), active stabilizer bars ($3,510), torque vectoring ($1,490), and ultra-low-profile ultra-high-performance tires ($1,560-$4,875). The tested Cayenne S had none of these. So perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it didn’t steer or handle dramatically better than the Touareg. Yes, the steering was quicker and more communicative, there was less lean in hard turns, and body motions were more tightly controlled, but the difference was a matter of degree, not of kind. As in the VW, you don’t forget you’re driving a tall, heavy vehicle. And so nothing like the difference between the Panamera and its competitors. By the same token, though, the standard suspension Cayenne S only rides a little more firmly than the Touareg, so it’s more day-to-day livable than the hatchback.

You’re not getting an entirely bespoke vehicle with the Cayenne, and its price does reflect this. Outfit a 2011 Cayenne S with Convenience Package (nav, xenons, Bose audio, heated seats, auto-dimming mirrors), obstacle detection, and full-leather interior, and it lists for $71,780. A similarly-equipped Panamera S lists for nearly $95,000. But even relatively inexpensive Porsches are far from cheap. A BMW xDrive50i with the same bits lists for $65,125, and adjusting for remaining feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool adds another grand to the heftier, truckier BMW’s price advantage, for a total over $7,500.

In the end, the tested 2011 Porsche Cayenne S doesn’t quite pass my test. From most angles it’s too easily mistaken for an Audi or even a VW. It handles better than competing SUVs, but not dramatically so. The turbocharged V8 and chassis options might well make a big difference. But if one or more of these are needed to render the Cayenne worthy of the Porsche crest, then why offer the SUV without them?

Scott Vollink of Suburban Porsche in Farmington Hills, MI, provided the car. He can be reached at 248-741-7980.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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47 Comments on “Review: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S...”

  • avatar

    from the rear angle I’d say it’s more easily mistaken for a 5 year old Hyundai than an Audi.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m thinking this is more like those bulbous CGI anycars from the commercial discussing hypothetical reviews, where the one red car is emphasizing how he has a smooth ride, and the van thing says something like “not on your life”.

    • 0 avatar

      +1, the front is an improvement but the backend is a step back.

    • 0 avatar

      Hyundai or Audi, what is the differnce? Not a lo…, that’s cos Porsche is up to its old tricks: have Audi or VW build a platform, then put a Porsche badge on the bonnet & tailgate, and voila! you have an instant profit! Here’s a simple solution for the rest of us: buy a VW Touareg (or Kia SUV) and superglue Porsche insignias on the hood and trunk! All the status, whilst saving $15,000 or so of the cost!

      • 0 avatar

        Plus the Touareg’s interior, though not as nice as the previous one, is IMO a bit better than the Cayenne’s.

        Also I don’t think even the front end looks better now; it’s just as ungainly to look at but now also lacks character to boot.

        So pretty much I don’t like this car at all and as far as premium SUVs go I’d probably go for a hi-po version of ye olde BMW X5 or ye olde RR (sport) Supercharged instead (the new Mercedes Grand Cherokee continues to not impress me either).

  • avatar

    Totally lacking in road presence — weird!

  • avatar

    Will there be a “take two” review of the Cayenne by Jack Baruth, or will Porsche be spared the humiliation?

  • avatar

    The spoiler looks like an aftermarket item.

  • avatar

    Please Review The Turbo

    Disappointing but believable.

    I hate the new Cayenne.

  • avatar

    ceramic brakes ($8,150) – wonder what a brake job for one of those costs!

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    This car is as interesting as a lead balloon. Been said before but the Porsche magic lies in sports cars. What is the point of an SUV that doesn’t go off road? Other than pretension what is the point to this vehicle! I had a hard time generating enough interest to even finish reading the review (not to say you didn’t do a fine review).
    Kids all know iconic Porsches but NOONE will ever buy a matchbox of this car and say I want this when I grow up.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 For the life of me, I cannot understand the attraction to these things.
      And…”Kids all know iconic Porsches but NOONE will ever buy a matchbox of this car and say I want this when I grow up.”
      That about sums it up for me too. Well said…….

      • 0 avatar

        The name. Porsche as a brand is higher than BMW, Audi, etc. The Cayenne is cashing their equity by selling the car for 30-40000 less than people think Porsches sell for.

  • avatar

    Why does this thing have handles either side of the gear shifter? Do Porsche seriously think people will go offroad in this?
    Other than this – meh, not interested. It’s just another overly expensive ride for people with more money than sense.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, it’s what’s keeping Porsche alive. It has massive margins and they sell a ton of them. As long as they still produce the sports cars keep these coming.

  • avatar

    This rig is rated tow a very acceptable 7700lbs. I’m guessing that’s why there is no PDK used here.

    Does this version retain any of the off-road ability from the first gen?

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t test this, but Porsche claims that the lower initial ratios of the eight-speed automatic eliminated the need for a low range. You can still lock the center differential and opt for skid plates and a height-adjustable air suspension.

  • avatar

    The only reason I can see for justification of buying one of these is the Porsche name. It has very little cargo room (I tested one) and is overpriced for what it is.

    A Mercedes GL costs similar but has much more space and a nice name.

  • avatar

    I LOVE this vehicle. It’s funding development of the 911. And if the 911 weren’t so good, maybe a car I actually am in the market for wouldn’t be as good as it is (GT-R for instance). So huzzah for the Cayenne!

  • avatar

    Those wheels are hideous and entirely too small for those large wheel wells.

  • avatar

    I’ll keep my sportage, thank you.

  • avatar

    Are those symetrical grab handles on the center console actually a cost saving move for using the same bits in both right and left hand drive cars…or are they anticipating drive by wire on the autobahn?

  • avatar

    The new Maserati Cincqueporte (Kubang?) will give this a run for the money.

    • 0 avatar

      The Maserati Kubang, like the Mercedes ML, is a Jeep GC in disguise. Though the Cayenne isn’t a great car by any means I think it should be able to beat a Chrysler.

  • avatar

    The Cadillac EXT I leased was fast, but it was way too heavy. I haven’t driven the new Cayenne, and probably won’t, but, I drove the outgoing model. I prefer my speed close to the ground with my SRT8. I could never go back to SUV’s, but, if I did, I’d take the Jeep SRT8 in a heartbeat.

  • avatar

    The Cayenne has always struck me as an odd choice. I haven’t had a chance to sit in or drive the new model, but previous Cayenne’s I’ve seen as trade ins, or potential trade ins, have left me very underwhelmed in interior quality. It does look like that has at least been improved here.

    If you add option it with all of the sporty suspension, tire, and handling upgrades it may well drive sportier than other SUVs, but I’d image that would also cause a decline in ride quality, and it still won’t handle anywhere nearly as nice as a sports car, or even a large sedan with some sporting intentions.

    The big question for me, if I was planning on dropping the better part of $100,000 on a SUV, is what makes this in any way more appealing than a Range Rover?

    • 0 avatar

      Interior quality is subjective. I like the interior and I’m sure the people dropping money on it do too. It’s roughly the same or better than a new Mercedes ML.

      Thing is, people buying this want a “Porsche suv that goes really fast”. Everything else is secondary.

    • 0 avatar

      Every way. I leased an ’08 RR new and within the first 3 months knew the service manager’s name and phone number by heart (which is saying something- I grew up with cell phones and haven’t memorized a number in 15 years). The lease couldn’t expire soon enough. I hated every second of it. It was replaced with a loaded second-hand ’06 Cayenne S (air suspension, full leather interior, etc.) and have loved it as much as I hated the RR. Drives nicer, feels nicer inside, looks better and most importantly everything works. Hasn’t been back to the dealer once since new except for oil changes and tires.

      The Cayenne became mine when my father replaced it with ’10 Cayenne. Having heard all my complaints, I’m reasonably certain the thought of getting an RR didn’t occur to him.

  • avatar
    M.S. Smith

    By pure chance, someone parked a Volkswagen Touareg that I’d never seen before in my apartment complex today. I don’t like SUVs much, so if you had asked me yesterday what one looked like, I would not have been able to tell you. But just based on the photos of its more expensive cousin in your review, I was able to identify it instantly.

    The arrogance displayed by such blatant badge engineering on such expensive products is astounding. Clearly, Porsche thinks anything will sell if they put their name on it, no matter what it is. And for now, they’re right, but if they keep this up they’re going to rip the brand to shreds.

  • avatar

    Michael, next time you ask a Porsche dealer for a Cayman S to review you need to speak more clearly on the phone.

  • avatar

    Looks like a cheap Chinese knock off Porsche.

  • avatar

    The previous-gen Cayenne (not the first) was the best-looking, IMO. No “P O R S C H E” nonsense in the back, and a nice, aggressive nose. The new one is one of the few cars whose proportions shrink it in photos but have the opposite effect in person: it’s a bloated and flavorless design.

  • avatar

    The perfect car for trophy wives everywhere.

  • avatar

    I don’t care for these myself, but my wife loves them. I guess that’s what they are for… Wealthy men buy them for their wives, or maybe for themselves because it impresses their buddies at the country club.

    I think they look pretty good when optioned up with the big wheels, I just prefer the Land Rover… To me Porsche builds the best sports cars, Rover builds the best SUVs. However, both brands are entirely too pricey.

  • avatar

    I have to respect the fact this thing saved the company. That said, the only thing I like about the Cayenne is that when I pass one I know I’m going to see a frosted blonde MILF. If you wanted an SUV and a Porsche, why wouldn’t you spend the same money on a Touareg and a used Boxster S?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    For me an SUV has to be able to tow, carry gear/people, and be reliable. With the Cayenne, I couldn’t check any of those boxes. NEXT!

  • avatar

    I remember when a guilty Tony Soprano bought one for Carmela and she showed it to one of her girlfriends: “Cay=enne, like the pepp-uh.”

  • avatar

    Funny you don’t look like a 71k SUV, at least not from the hind quarters. More like a 5 year old Hyndai from the A-pillar back.

  • avatar

    My wife just LOVES the 2010 Cayenne.

    Porsche, now that our Cayenne just about paid off,is bombarding us with letters saying “come on in …we may be able to put you in a new Cayenne with the same payment AND no cash down.” I have three of these letters.They know we have a lot of equity in the car.

    I like my 0.9 % interest rate from Porsche Credit.( In 2010, I found this rate in the NY Times Car Section.0.9 % was about a half page high. The sales guy claimed this rate was not available and/or did not exist til I showed it to him and the owner)

    Feb 22 Wall Street Journal ran an article on the need for dealers to increase inventory of good used cars.

    The car is at 48,000 miles with a manufacturer’s warranty about to
    expire. To go to 100.000 miles on the warranty is $4000.Better to put it into the new car? or stick whith the ’10? Its been trouble free but new brake pads and tires will be about $1,300 or so in a few months and they are not warranty items.

    Wife wants to go for the new one at the same payment BUT the dealer just ain’t got them. Germany will build one if we can wait til July. (Me…I can wait till the NHL puts a hockey team in Saudi Arabia).

    We have the 2010 Cayenne base (moon roof, nice audio system, heated wheel, seats,etc.) Fun to drive. Makes my wife happy.That alone is worth serious money.

    One sales guy offered that Porsche was not ‘supporting’ the US market by shipping us Yanks anything except the higher end loaded up ones.

    I like good quality cars, keep them for 6-8 years and do not mind spending money to get value.Keeping wife happy is important also.

    Do you guys know the real scoop with Porsche, its SUVs , its marketing practices and why we have this interesting oportunity? Got a good buying strategy ??? I am all ears.

  • avatar

    I find it funny people bashing these cars to the ground. While the platform is the same with the Touareg it’s final assembly and setup are done in Leipzig and not Bratislava (as for Audi and VW). As for the car itself they drive and feel completely different than the Tuaregs. I’m not sure how the reviewer felt there’s not too much difference between 280 HP and 400 HP in a lighter car and this fact alone makes me question the value of this review. Switch a Cayman S to Sport mode and it becomes a completely different animal with quick throttle response and ample torque to launch this massive car with surprising agility, think 5.5s to 60mph and 14s quarter mile at 101mph, definite sports car territory as a .85g on the skidpad also is.

    It is very easy to nitpick at the Cayenne for it is no 911 and I know this first hand. But to dismiss it as simple straight badge engineering is VERY far from the truth about this particular car.

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