First Drive: 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6

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Weight loss can be transformational.

In the case of the 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6, it's enough for a bit of a personality change. Through body structure changes, a greater use of aluminum, a new instrument panel and interior components, and all sorts of other means—but most notably by doing away with the old transfer case and low range—Porsche has cut nearly 400 pounds from the Cayenne.

That loss of weight makes a big difference—a difference that we could feel in the V6 especially.

The Cayenne still doesn't feel quite as nimble and responsive as the Infiniti FX35, the vehicle that's in our opinion the Porsche ute's closest rival. But then again, the FX35 doesn't offer anything close to the Cayenne's off-road ability—which is still very much present, as we recently experienced traversing an especially mucky path in Alabama, just managed by electronics.

Over the past several years, the base V6 model has made up nearly 60 percent of Porsche Cayenne sales in North America, so the base offering is definitely here to stay. Porsche says that it has worked to maintain both the Cayenne's off-road ability while improving its performance and focusing on "everyday driving qualities," and it's paid special attention to the V6.

Not this V-6, that VR6

However, in the Cayenne, that means not going with Porsche's new 90-degree V-6, as featured in the Panamera, but instead tweaking Volkswagen's iron-block VR6 engine. A few years ago, Porsche began installing the 3.6-liter version of this engine, and for 2011 it makes 10 more horsepower, for a total of 300 hp.

The VR6 has never been short of character—almost as smooth as a straight six, with a distinct velvety purr at the higher revs. Aside from a Porsche-exclusive intake manifold and specially tuned exhaust, it's the same engine that's been used in a wide range of VW products—and no doubt a way to make the numbers work and offer the base Cayenne at such a competitive price. Our only complaint is that you could feel engine vibration through the steering wheel, in a pronounced way, in a pre-production test car.

The 2011 Porsche Cayenne V6 can now accelerate to 62 mph in 7.8 seconds. That's a few tenths of a second faster than before. It's still no speed demon, but the new eight-speed automatic does help it feel more responsive for passing as well as more fuel-efficient.

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