But go out and drive the base Cayenne, and any negative preconceived thoughts will likely evaporate after just a few minutes behind the wheel. The third-generation Cayenne's rock-solid performance chops, fresh styling and great tech are found at every single price point.
At the foundation of the new Cayenne is a stronger platform, and the SUV is 2.4 inches longer and nearly an inch wider than its predecessor. More aluminum is sprinkled in throughout the body-in-white in order to improve rigidity, while also helping to shave 120 pounds compared to the outgoing model.
From the front, the new Cayenne's design doesn't excite or disappoint, with a trio of horizontal chrome air dam slates that remind me of a Gillette Mach 3 Turbo razor head. There is, however, much more styling personality at the rear with slimmer, full-width LED lights, bringing the Cayenne in line with the rest of the Porsche lineup. It's the most attractive aspect of the exterior that, along with the integrated tailgate spoiler and dual-exhaust outlets, have the Cayenne strike its sportiest pose from a rear three-quarter view.
The most noteworthy Cayenne styling alteration happens inside, where you'll note the much cleaner appearance. Porsche's Direct Touch controls on the center console eliminate the visual clutter caused by the bombardment of individual buttons in the previous model. The flat surface panel delivers a sleek look with backlit buttons and haptic feedback to control vehicle, climate and infotainment functions, but the glossy panel does get smudgy and dusty in a hurry. Mercifully, Porsche didn't go overboard with the flat buttons, leaving vital things like audio volume, climate temperature and fan speeds to physical knobs and rocker switches -- just like they should be.
Overall comfort is on point with quality materials such as soft, stitched black leather covering the dash, center console, door panels and seats. The heated front buckets are comfy with just the right amount of side support, and keep me toasty on brutal, single-digit-temperature winter days. Space in both rows is sufficiently comfortable, even with three adults across the back.
There's also a generous 27.2 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk area that expands to 60.3 with the rear seats folded. That's not as impressive as the BMW X5 (72.3 cubic feet), but betters the Land Rover Range Rover Sport (56.8). I didn't get a chance to stuff the Porsche to the gills with cargo, but I did easily transport a pile of 8-foot-long lumber from Home Depot.
Another big interior improvement comes via the 12.3-inch Porsche Communication Management infotainment screen -- every Cayenne gets this tech. PCM comes standard with navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and the Connect Plus package letting you use apps such as Amazon Music and even Nest to adjust climate settings at home. PCM also offers Apple CarPlay, but frustratingly still doesn't support Android Auto.
Image quality on the huge center screen is crisp and vibrant, making it easy to read when rolling down the road. The system boots up in short order, responds instantly to commands and never trips up while switching between different menus. Getting the hang of everything doesn't take long with the most commonly used screens always easily accessible on the shortcut bar to the left of the display or through center console Direct Touch Control buttons. You can even customize the home screen layout to show the things you use most often.
To charge phones and tablets, passengers will find two USB ports and a 12-volt outlet available in both the front and back. If somehow all of those aren't enough, there's an additional 12-volt supply in the trunk.
While front and rear parking sensors and a backup camera are standard issue items on all Cayennes, things like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, a 360-degree camera, night vision and head-up display are almost all available individually. Each item tacks an additional $1,000 to $2,000 onto a Cayenne's bottom line that can potentially inflate the price to alarming heights if you get carried away. Par for the course with Porsche's options list, of course.
Safety features aren't the only pricey piecemeal options offered on the Cayenne. Performance add-ons are also plentiful including an air suspension, rear axle steering, adaptive anti-roll bars and brake upgrades. No doubt, things like that will create a more tenacious handling SUV, but they come at a hefty price. For anyone worried about missing out if you don't spring for any of those items, don't worry, because even the most basic Cayenne with a steel suspension, standard brakes and 19-inch wheels is still an impressive driver.
On clear roads the Cayenne displays a nearly perfect mix of ride comfort and handling reflexes. Comfort mode features light on-center steering feel before tightening and providing nice feedback in turns. The suspension gives way to some controlled roll that is magnified by the softer sidewalls of the Michelin Pilot Alpin winter tires installed on my tester. Around expressway interchanges it still hangs on well, only being limited by the gummier rubber. A quality all-season or performance tire will definitely go a long way toward enhancing handling prowess.
The Pilot Alpins do end up paying off in spades during a snowstorm that brings 8 inches of winter slop to the Midwest. Winter tires, all-wheel drive and a well-tuned stability control system make the Cayenne unstoppable, plowing through the white stuff with ease and staying surefooted around corners without annoying abrupt power cuts.
In all situations, the new 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 is a sweetheart. It's punchy off the line with 332 pound-feet of torque available from just 1,340 to 5,300 rpm, and pulls hard all the way to the 6,500-rpm redline. It works with an improved, eight-speed automatic gearbox that goes about its business imperceptibly, carrying out smooth, well-timed shifts. If you're a fan of changing your own gears, I'm happy to report that the Cayenne's paddle shifters are excellent.
Porsche says this base drivetrain gets the 4,377-pound Cayenne to 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds and returns an EPA estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. Extended warm-up periods and slow-going through bad weather only got me an observed 17.7 mpg, though.
For a Porsche, my test car's $80,500 price tag, including $1,250 for destination, isn't too obscene of a jump from the $65,700 base price. That's still a little rich for my blood, which is why my ideal 2019 Cayenne undercuts it some.
My car will begin with an $800 Moonlight Blue Metallic paint job and the $600 19-inch Cayenne S wheels, only because the base wheels are way too boring. Since I'm a fan of the leather-wrapped dash, I need to add the full-leather interior for $3,750 and heated front seats for $530... because winter. And finally for tech, I'll pony up for the $1,200 Bose audio setup and $950 blind-spot monitoring system. That brings the total cost of my Cayenne to $74,780, again including destination.
Given the choice, I'll take the Cayenne over the aforementioned X5 and Range Rover Sport based mostly on the fact that the Porsche is a much better driver and boasts a nicer cabin. The Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class are other noteworthy competitors, but again the Cayenne outshines both behind the wheel.
While I'm sure the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo are hoots with their more potent engines, the reality is that their $82,900 and $124,600 base prices respectively simply may not be in the cards for some folks. However, if a base Cayenne can work for someone's budget, there's absolutely zero shame in it. It's still a stellar car that sits at the front of the class dynamically and is near the front when it comes to tech.