Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Porsche Cayenne S and Turbo

MONT-TREMBLANT, QC – The king-of-the-hill 2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo, with its ferocious 541 hp, 568 lb-ft twin-turbo 4.0L V8, goes like a holy ol’ stink.

The twin-turbo V8’s intoxicating engine note spells P-O-R-S-C-H-E in no uncertain terms.

Augment its standard air suspension and PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) with rear axle steering ($1,840), Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport ($4,090), plus Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus ($1,700), it’s safe to assume your Cayenne Turbo’s physics-defying handling will hoof Thomas Edison right where he lives. The standard manhole cover-sized Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (415 mm front, 365 mm rear) clamped by 10-piston and four-piston calipers respectively will part the hair on the back of your head if you apply the brake pedal with enough gusto.

Or so I've heard.

You see, the Canadian press launch of the all-new 2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($139,700) and more modestly capable Cayenne S ($92,600) took place in the hilly winter wonderland of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, where meaningful traction was about as scarce as boutique poutine.

Launching vehicles in these questionable conditions might seem counterproductive, but it’s actually pretty smart on Porsche Canada’s part. Most consumers looking to buy these top-dog Porsche SUVs are not really interested in race-track antics. Granted, they want the baddest (or second-baddest) Cayenne for bragging rights, but in the end it’s all about luxury, tech, comfort, prestige, and the perceived safety of a robust SUV. All of which a day’s driving in bone-chilling, worst-case-scenario winter conditions can illustrate quite nicely.

This third-generation Cayenne rides on VW Group’s new modular MLB platform that also supports the VW Atlas, Audi Q7 and Q8, Bentley Bentayga, and even the Lamborghini Urus. Naturally it’s a stronger and lighter structure, and with the Cayenne’s new all-aluminum body, lithium-ion battery, and other weight-saving measures, this 2019 edition comes in about 65 kg lighter than the outgoing edition. These weight savings are despite its additional standard equipment, sound insulation, safety kit, and overall size. It’s marginally longer and wider but sits about 29 mm lower. All 2019 Cayenne models use an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with paddle shifters and are equipped with all-wheel drive capability.

Styling is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, adhering to the elegant and understated profile of the second generation. It looks a little crisper and a little more svelte, featuring a new horizontal light bar across its rump and standard LED headlights. The Turbo rides on standard 21-inch wheels to accommodate the aforementioned massive brakes, while the Cayenne S gets standard 19-inch wheels. Launch models were wearing 21s (a $4,810 option) to match big-brother Turbo.

New to the Turbo (and a segment first) is the active roof spoiler featuring five settings with increasing degrees of lift. Angles include flush, performance, sport +, compensation (not what you think – it eliminates sunroof buffeting), and air-brake. Deployment angle relates to velocity, and as this Turbo is a purebred Autobahn-burner, you won’t get the spoiler, ahem... aroused, until you’re well and truly into impound territory. Basically, if Officer Bob sees the air brake, your goose is cooked.

The Cayenne S runs with a 2.9L twin-turbo V6 that pumps out 434 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. Closely related to the 335 hp single-turbo 3.0L V6 found in the base $75,500 Cayenne but with a shorter stroke, said turbos are stuffed into the “V” of the engine. Compared to the outgoing Cayenne S’ 3.6L turbo V6, this new unit churns out 14 more horses while torque remains the same. Out on the road, the V6 feels strong and tractable but doesn’t really have much personality. As would be expected, the ubiquitous eight-speed ZF box is a paragon of swift, silky smooth changes, and responds to paddle inputs with Porsche-like precision.

This new cabin feels bigger and airier with good forward sight lines and a very Porsche-like driver’s environment. The $490 18-way adaptive sport seats proved comfy and snug, while the large centre console makes you feel like you’re ensconced in a sports car rather than an SUV. Another Porsche hallmark is the way the door shuts with a vault-like thunk.

The cabin is the paragon of quality, demonstrating a no-nonsense Porsche aesthetic. The big news in here is the adoption of the Panamera’s digital environment, although it’s up one generation from that sedan. A 12.3-inch central touchscreen dominates the dash. Porsche still gives us some real analogue controls with toggles for temperature control and a volume control wheel. Below on the central console we find a glossy panel with illuminated switches that respond to the touch with a haptic click.

While not as tactile as the previous-gen console with its plethora of buttons, it looks cleaner and is certainly one of the best “haptic” systems I’ve used. The touch points are big, well illuminated, and easy to locate. In the instrument cluster a large analogue tachometer stares you down in true Porsche tradition, flanked by a pair of digital screens that display virtual gauges and navigation map if selected. On offer is a head-up display, a first for Porsche.

The Cayenne S models we drove here were optioned up to about $120,000, bristling with fancy suspension upgrades along with the $9,650 all-inclusive Premium Plus Package that adds such amenities as a panoramic sunroof, upgraded Bose audio, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, ambient lighting, auto-dimming mirrors, proximity key, LED Matrix headlights, and more. Yes, you pay dearly for stuff that regular folks might think should be included in car with a base price just shy of one hundred grand, but regular folks don’t buy Porsches.

The true essence of the Porsche brand comes out loud and clear when negotiating snow-covered roads. The safest vehicles are the ones that can naturally communicate what they are doing, and even Porsche’s big SUVs are nothing if not communicative. And yet still smooth and refined. Sure, PSM (Porsche Stability Management) and quality winter tires had my back in both of these new Cayenne models, but feeling what they were doing through my hands and seat of my pants made driving them that much more enjoyable.

Jumping into the Turbo from the S reinforced the fact that this is indeed the big cheese. The twin-turbo V8’s intoxicating engine note spells P-O-R-S-C-H-E in no uncertain terms.

Cayenne has set the benchmark for sporty SUV handling since pretty much day one, and this new generation follows that path. Ride quality is good too, here with both models on the air suspension. Standard on Turbo models, it will cost you $2,480 to add it to the S.

Another new technology of note here is the first application of Porsche Surface Coated Brakes. Standard on the Turbo and available on other trims (for about $4,000), these iron discs are about the same size as the carbon-ceramics that cost more than twice as much. A 0.004-inch coating of polished tungsten carbide offers comparable stopping power to ceramics and benefits from resistance to salt, 90 percent reduction in brake dust, and 30 percent gain in surface life.

It’s no secret that the premium SUV segment is growing by leaps and bounds, experiencing a 43 percent increase in Canada over the last five years. It is also no secret that the Cayenne has been a cash cow for the Porsche brand since first appearing in 2003. Porsche Canada has sold over 22,000 Cayennes in its sixteen years of production, accounting for about 40 percent of total volume. Currently, the smaller Macan SUV pretty much doubles Cayenne sales at this point, but we expect this new 2019 will gain traction. Uniquely Porsche and better in every way for Generation Three, the Cayenne is in a class of one when it comes to performance SUVs.

And when we find a dry road, we’ll confirm the Turbo’s claimed 3.9 second dash to 100 km/h. Promise.