A lot of people like to hate on the Porsche Cayenne. It dilutes the brand’s image! Stick to sports cars! Get off my lawn! Never mind the fact that the Cayenne (as well as its smaller SUV sibling, the Macan) accounts for the vast majority of Porsche sales. To all those haters out there, I have to ask: Have you actually driven one?
The third-generation Porsche Cayenne is one of — if not the — best-driving SUV money can buy. Even the base version is.
But if any model will change your mind about the goodness of Porsche’s flagship SUV, it’s this range-topping Turbo. With a 541-horsepower V8 and super-sharp reflexes, the Cayenne Turbo sets a new benchmark for performance SUVs. It’s simply fantastic, and 100% worthy of the Porsche crest on its hood.
The need for speed
Launching a 4,795-pound SUV to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds is no small feat. The Cayenne’s twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8 delivers 567 pound-feet of torque from just 1,960 rpm, and the rush of power is unrelenting. The eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission shifts with a quickness that’ll fool you into thinking it’s a dual-clutch unit, and if you keep on chugging, you’ll top out at 177 mph — in sixth gear, no less.
Even so, the on-paper specs don’t quite do the behind-the-wheel experience justice. Whether you’re flooring it from a stoplight or dialing in a bit more throttle to pass a slower car on the highway, turbocharged thrust is beyond ample. There’s a bit of lag to the initial throttle demand, especially if you aren’t driving in the more responsive Sport and Sport Plus settings. Of course, if you need to get around another car or shoot the gap right this instant, you can press the sport response button in the middle of the drive mode selector, which puts the engine and transmission on full boil and gives you 20 seconds of full-on assault.
On the other hand, even with its immense power, the Cayenne Turbo isn’t a car you have to constantly rein in while driving in the city. Yes, there’s a volcano of force under your right foot, but Porsche’s SUV is perfectly happy to just troll around town in Comfort mode, with easy throttle tip-in and silky-smooth transmission tuning. Take ‘er easy and you just might have a chance of hitting the Cayenne Turbo’s EPA-estimated 15 city, 19 highway and 17 combined miles per gallon ratings, too.
Straight-line speed is one thing. That the Cayenne Turbo can also put its power to the ground with incredible poise is another. The SUV’s base suspension and steering setup is automatically tuned to make it a rewarding driver on winding roads. But my Turbo tester has a few extra goodies added on that help turn everything up to 11.
For $1,620 and $1,500, respectively, Porsche fits the Cayenne Turbo with rear-axle steering and its PTV Plus torque-vectoring tech. The former helps give the Cayenne a bit of a back-end nudge around turns, allowing it to better rotate ’round a bend. The latter, meanwhile, more eagerly shuffles power from side to side, which improves overall balance while cornering.
The $3,590 Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control actively quells unwanted body movements and works with the air suspension to keep the ride quality firm yet compliant at all times. That’s especially noticeable on this test car, which rolls on 21-inch wheels ($1,250) with Pirelli P Zero summer tires. For as much cornering grip as these wide, low-profile tires offer, the air suspension and PDCC tech keep the ride free of unwanted harshness. Combine it all with crisp steering and you’ve got an SUV that’s unrivaled in just how well it handles canyon roads. None of this greatness comes at the expense of highway cruising comfort, either.
The Cayenne Turbo comes standard with Porsche’s new surface-coated brakes, which are both a blessing and a curse. Sure, they provide excellent stopping power and reduce the buildup of brake dust on your fancy-shmancy wheels, but I’ve often found them problematic at lower speeds. Slowing down on the highway is perfectly file, but coming to a stop at 25 mph can be a seriously jerky affair — until you retrain your brain on how to modulate the brake pedal, anyway. You could opt for the ceramic composite brakes fitted to this test car, instead, which are set off by their yellow-painted calipers. They’re even more powerful than the surface-coated brakes and don’t have the same low-speed abruptness to their bite. Of course, they’re also a $5,580 option.
Great tech headlines a comfy cabin
There’s a lot to like about the Cayenne’s interior. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and I dig the flat, angled panel surrounding the gear shifter, though the piano black finish does put fingerprints on full display. The Turbo comes with leather-wrapped everything, from the dashboard to the seats to the grab handles on either side of the center console, and every surface feels as exquisite as it looks.
Rear-seat space is about average for the midsize SUV class. At five-feet, eight-inches tall, I have no problem getting comfortable, with plenty of head- and legroom in the second row. Taller passengers will fit just fine, too. When it comes time to haul more than just ass, the 26.3 cubic feet of space behind the second row is less than what you’ll find in a BMW X5 or Land Rover Range Rover Sport. So, too, is the 59.3 cubic feet of space available with the back seats folded flat.
Infotainment duties are handled by the always-lovely Porsche Communication Management system, with a sharp, 12.3-inch display in the center console. PCM continues to impress with its quick response to inputs, myriad features and reconfigurable home screen, and comes standard with embedded navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and support for Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto — still).
However, a good deal of niceties do not come standard, even on this most expensive $124,600 (before $1,250 for destination) Cayenne Turbo. Prepare to pay extra for lane-keeping assist with traffic sign recognition ($1,300), adaptive cruise control ($2,000) or a head-up display ($1,720). If you want 14-way power seats, lane-change assist, cooled seats and those cool LED matrix headlights, they’re all part of the $3,690 Premium Package Plus. And all of that is before you peruse the Cayenne’s extensive customization options.
The driver’s SUV
All told, the Cayenne Turbo tested here stickers for $146,590, and represents a spec more focused on performance than comfort and tech. Still, it’s a super well-equipped car — for this price, it’d better be — with things like a panoramic sunroof, the aforementioned air suspension, heated seats and more all bundled in as standard equipment.
That said, I might recommend saving some coin and going with the $82,900 Cayenne S. You get a more-than-plentiful 434 horsepower from a 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V6, and I prefer its more subdued front end styling to the mouth-breather look of the Turbo. You can get all the same interior options, and since the S is as finely tuned as any other Cayenne, it too offers a comfortable, exciting drive.
Turbo or not, the Cayenne is every bit a Porsche.