Review: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S

review 2011 porsche cayenne s

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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  • Prospero51 Prospero51 on Mar 03, 2013

    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.

  • Ofeqve Ofeqve on Jul 17, 2015

    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.

  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
  • TitaniumZ Of course they are starting to "sour" on the idea. That's what happens when cars start to drive better than people. Humanpilots mostly suck and make bad decisions.
  • Inside Looking Out Why not buy Bronco and call it Defender? Who will notice?
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