While it's easy to be tempted by the company's fastest offerings, the truth is, Porsche instills gobs of brilliance into even its most-basic models. That's especially true with the 718 and 911 sports cars, but it extends to Porsche's four-door models, as well. Case in point: this 2019 Cayenne.
Porsche will soon offer the Cayenne in S, E-Hybrid and Turbo variants here in the United States, and I'll bet my bottom dollar we'll eventually get a GTS trim, too. But for the sake of this review, I'm going to focus on the base model. It's the foundation on which every other Cayenne will be built. As an entry-level offering, this Cayenne is anything but basic.
New look, inside and out
It all starts with stronger underpinnings. The new Cayenne has only grown slightly in its third generation -- it's 2.4 inches longer and 0.9-inch wider than before. Yet thanks to a greater use of aluminum throughout its body structure, despite this slight increase in size, the Cayenne is 120 pounds lighter than its predecessor.
I've heard some people say the new Cayenne is a bit uglier heading into 2019, but I fully disagree. Especially from the rear three-quarter view, Porsche's largest SUV looks to be better sorted than before in terms of design. I love the slim, full-width taillamps, with standard LED lighting. Up front, the headlamps get LED bulbs, as well. And while I don't love the mouth-breathing appearance of the sportier Cayenne Turbo, I think the base model's grille looks just fine. Certainly better than previous Cayennes, anyway.
The interior gets a massive upgrade in terms of both materials and design. The angled center console adopts the flat surface launched on the new Panamera, with backlit buttons that provide haptic feedback when pushed -- Porsche calls this Direct Touch Control. It's a super-clean look, though beware, you'll be wiping off greasy fingerprint smudges on the regular (pro tip: don't eat french fries in your Porsche). The Cayenne's large grab bars flank either side of the console, and though they're a nice carryover touch from previous iterations of Porsche's flagship SUV, they're placed low enough that I can't imagine them being useful as "oh shit" handles should you actually venture off road.
Front passengers are treated to supportive leather seats, and there's enough space behind them for adults to comfortably enjoy the second row. Fold the back seats flat and the Cayenne offers 60.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which isn't as spacious as a BMW X5 (72.3 cubic feet), but bests the Land Rover Range Rover Sport (56.8).
Big screens, big tech
A common trait between all Porsche vehicles is the large, fixed tachometer with digital speed readout, right in the center of the gauge cluster. But while other models have fixed gauges on one or both sides, the Cayenne gets a pair of 7-inch digital displays, where you can toggle between various panes of vehicle data, or audio and navigation information.
Smack-dab in the middle of the redesigned dashboard is a 12.3-inch Porsche Communication Management infotainment screen -- every Cayenne gets this big-screen treatment. Furthermore, all Cayenne models get online navigation, Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto -- still) and a number of apps and services bundled into Porsche's Connect Plus package. Cayenne drivers can use Connect Plus to sync with Amazon Music and even smart home functions from Nest.
I'm a big fan of the PCM infotainment setup. Not only is the high-resolution screen easy to read, with bright, crisp graphics, it's really great to use. Responses to inputs happen instantly, with no lag while swiping between screens or moving through menus. Yes, the menus can be a little intimidating at first -- it takes a few tries to really get the hang of the overall structure. But the more I use PCM, the more I like the layout, not to mention the wealth of customization options. The home screen, for example, can be rearranged to show just a few or a whole bunch of widgets, all of which are reconfigurable.
A whole lot better to drive
The Cayenne gets a new base engine for 2019, and it's a total champ. Gone is the old, naturally aspirated, 3.6-liter V6; in its place is a turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 -- the same one you'll find under the hood of the. With 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque on tap, the turbo engine boasts gains of 35 horsepower and 37 pound-feet over the old V6. More importantly, that increased power arrives sooner -- all 332 pound-feet of twist comes on at just 1,340 rpm, compared to 3,000 rpm in the old Cayenne.
Every Cayenne sends its power to the ground via all-wheel drive, and the turbo engine mates to a new eight-speed automatic transmission for 2019. With smoother, quicker shifts -- not to mention the healthy increase in power -- this helps the Cayenne post improved acceleration times. Porsche says the 2019 Cayenne will sprint to 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds, compared to 7.3 in the last-generation model. Opt for the Sport Chrono pack and your Cayenne will do the 0-to-60 dance in just 5.6 seconds. Considering this thing weighs 4,377 pounds, that's damn quick.
But the Cayenne isn't a better performer just because it's quicker off the line. On the hilly roads north of Napa, California -- the same gorgeous route where I tested the, another ode to Porsche's base-model excellence -- the Cayenne shows off its newfound verve.
The new chassis strikes an excellent balance between ride comfort and sharp handling, Porsche's optional adaptive air suspension aiding in this ready-for-anything behavior. Cayennes come standard on 19-inch wheels, with 20- and 21-inch rollers available as options. I appreciate the high sidewall and cushy ride of the 19-inch setup, but if corner-carving is a high priority, you'll want to opt for one of the larger fitments, if only for the more aggressive tires. The 21-inch wheels and staggered Pirelli P-Zero tires of my test car provide excellent cornering grip, but give up a little in the way of cruising comfort. Personally, I'd probably go with a 20-inch option. Split the difference, ya know?
Like other Porsche cars, the Cayenne's steering is exactly right. The SUV is quick to respond to inputs, with a level of feedback that's nicely matched to the weight of the steering wheel's action. You can quickly and accurately negotiate a tight series of switchbacks, and you never feel like you're trying to tame some oversized, cumbersome beast. Porsche even offers rear-axle steering here, too, helping the Cayenne feel like a much smaller, nimbler vehicle.
The 2019 Cayenne introduces the first application of Porsche's new Surface Coated Brakes (PSCB) -- a $3,490 option on this base model. You'll recognize these brakes because of their silver calipers; the standard stoppers are dark gray, while Porsche's carbon ceramic option stands out with a bright yellow finish. They're pretty big, with 16.3-inch discs up front and 14.4-inch discs at the rear. But most impressively, Porsche says these new brakes are more responsive than the standard setup while still posting a 90-percent reduction in brake dust. Porsche owners hate brake dust, I'm told.
In action, the PSCB setup takes some getting used to -- I find them super-touchy at slow speeds. But on the road, these new brakes provides secure, unrelenting stopping power. That's great if you'll be driving your Cayenne with gusto all the time, but honestly, the standard brakes -- 13.8-inch front and 13.0-inch rear steel units -- feel just fine, even with the sort of lightly spirited driving I'm doing on this Northern California test route. The PSCB setup will come standard on the much-more-powerful 2019 Cayenne Turbo, and I think they'll make a bigger impact in that application.
Really, it doesn't matter which brake option you choose. With its better power delivery, nicely tuned chassis and great steering, the 2019 Cayenne is truly enjoyable to drive. It'll do fine work as a comfortable commuter car day in and day out, but should you push this Cayenne a bit harder, it'll respond like a proper Porsche should.
A strong case for going base
With prices starting at $65,700, not including $1,050 for destination, the 2019 Cayenne is positioned pretty competitively within the luxury SUV space. The aforementioned BMW X5 comes in at $60,700, but a Range Rover Sport will set you back $69,050 before options. Although, speaking of options, Porsche's list of extras is as extensive as ever, and the add-ons add up quick. You'll spend $3,150 for the Palladium Metallic paint seen here, $1,850 for a panoramic sunroof, $5,500 for the 21-inch Exclusive Design wheels, $1,900 for 14-way power seats, $2,730 for matrix-design headlights, $530 for heated seats and much, much more. All of a sudden, your $65,700 base Cayenne costs $86,670. But that's the story with every Porsche.
What I like best about the base 2019 Cayenne is how it in no way feels like a compromise. You get the same levels of luxury and onboard tech as any other Cayenne, and even in its least-powerful guise, this SUV really scoots. I'm willing to bet the more powerful Cayenne models will be plenty enjoyable to drive, too. But for folks who don't want to shell out for S and Turbo kit, this base variant is impressive stuff.
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