2011 Porsche Cayenne S

2011 Porsche Cayenne S

2011 Infiniti FX50 S

2011 Infiniti FX50 S

These two cars are extraordinary.

There’s just no other way to describe family trucksters that can bomb to 60 mph faster than any readily available sports car could just a few decades ago—and darn near as fast as even the swiftest sports cars on the market today (we’ll presume a similar price bracket for that analogy).

This feat alone wouldn’t be very astonishing—SEMA is ground zero if you want to see Ford F-150s and Escalades ‘roided out with V-8 muscle. Making these respective crossovers corner as if they sat two feet closer to the ground—say, like a 911 or a G37—is why the Porsche and Infiniti are simply astonishing.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S

2011 Porsche Cayenne S

I raced around Porsche’s test track in the Cayenne; and blasted back roads in the Infiniti. Insane. That was the word a friend in the passenger seat used to describe the sensation of the FX carving up blacktop with endless grip, aural V-8 roar, and awe-inspiring confidence. I would use the same word (and several more I won’t type) to describe how splendid—and completely mindbogglingly adept—the new Cayenne feels.

Which is better? Mostly, it depends not on these two vehicles, but on the personality of the buyer.

Lean Red Meat

When Porsche went back to the drawing board on the totally new, 2011 Cayenne, its biggest goal was to shed pounds from what everyone called an overweight vehicle, given its five-seat capacity and (at the time) not huge cargo bay. Unsprung weight (everything below the suspension), which is a huge enemy of handling, went on a big diet, but Porsche also excised bloat from doors, de-porked cabin materials, and took a big chunk out of the AWD system (while also making it more sophisticated for on-road driving). 400 whopping pounds later, the Porsche Cayenne S, which don’t forget still has a 4.8-liter V-8, tips the scales at 4,553 lbs. Not exactly waifish, but that’s nearly 200 lbs. lighter than the Infiniti, and within its class of fleet crossovers (Mercedes, Audi and BMW pose the best competition to this pair) the Porsche is positively flyweight.

In fact, that engine, while smaller than Infiniti’s 5.0 liter V-8, boasts better horsepower (400hp at 6,500rpm vs. 390hp at 6,500 rpm). Torque is dead equal: 369 ft. lbs. at 4,400rpm for the Infiniti vs. the same 369, but at a lower, 3,500rpm. Most buff books say the Infiniti is a little faster to 60mph, with a low five-second time (vs. Porsche’s own, likely conservative figure of 5.6 seconds). You could call that close enough that you might only find the difference on a drag strip.

Key Options
$63,700 buys you the Cayenne S; $62,725 nets the Infiniti FX50S. That FX price includes a $3k Sport package which I would call essential, since it means you get a more lithe, adaptive suspension, called Continuous Damping Control (CDC), and paddle shifters, among other goodies. That said, even with CDC, in both Sport and Auto modes, the FX defaults to a fairly rigid ride. This proves plenty engaging for the driver, but some passengers may grumble, especially if that driver decides to let the FX run hard.

The Porsche is more of a pussycat, though if you want it to show its fangs, buy it with Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), $3,510 and optional Porsche Active Stability Management (PASM; $3,980; price includes the required air suspension). The two Porsche systems do more than Infiniti’s CDC, since PDCC resists bending forces via hydraulically-assisted anti-roll bars on both the front and rear axles, while PASM, with Comfort, Normal and Sport modes, controls the stiffness of the dampers. Compared to the Infiniti’s adaptive shocks, PASM and PDCC allow the Porsche’s suspension to roll, rather than crash over potholes, but, when you want the Cayenne to handle in more Porschelike fashion, you can switch the dampers to their stiffest setting and the Porsche happily corners like a sports car (albeit, a fairly tall one).

A Little Greener

Porsche says its customers are increasingly asking for a greener product, a significant enough portion of the customer base in fact to prompt Porsche to make a hybrid S version //www.thecarconnection.com/review/1047916_2011-porsche-cayenne  Cayenne (for about $4k more than the S), as well as a hybrid version of the Panamera.

Even if you don’t want your muscle-crossover to be a hybrid, you can have one that’s at least middling on fuel economy: The Porsche Cayenne S gets 16 city / 22 highway, while the Infiniti turns in a poorer 14 city/ 20 highway.

One way to milk better mileage out of your Porsche is by using the start/stop function (that automatically shuts down the motor whenever the car sits idle at stoplights, etc., then restarts the engine once you’re ready to motor away). This is precisely the same function you’ll find in hybrids like the Civic and Prius, but here you get it in a non-hybrid that’s capable of outlapping anything that runs on electricity (this side of a Tesla).

In the Porsche the start/stop math wasn’t part of the EPA’s data for tabulating the Cayenne’s fuel economy. The reason is that the default is for start/stop to be in the “off” position. That said, the Cayenne S will save gas if you switch the setting to “on,” especially if your daily commute features lots of stop-and-go traffic.

Tranny vs. Tranny

The FX features a new, seven-speed automatic gearbox but with paddle shifters and rev-matching for downshifts, you’ll hardly miss having a “true” manual gearbox. Downshifts are even allowed fairly close to redline, a feature you’ll find all too rare in most automatics meant to double up as “manual-lite” trannies.

The Porsche also gets a new transmission, and with eight gears, bests the Infiniti in complexity, and is yet another reason (besides a lower weight and smaller-displacement engine) that the Porsche manages better fuel economy. The Tiptronic in the Porsche behaves very similarly to that of its VW/Audi counterparts, and thankfully, shifts are smooth and quick, although there’s no satisfying rev-match for downshifts (a la the FX), and, likely for that reason, the transmission will veto attempts to downshift near redline.

2011 Infiniti FX50 S

2011 Infiniti FX50 S

By the way, both the FX and the Porsche feature very good, accurate steering feel. The effort is a little heavier with the Infiniti, but just barely, and only something you'd notice if you were attempting to draw a distinction.


Which One?

The Porsche doesn’t come cheaply, and the options will quickly see you adding thousands to the total tab, especially if you want the suspension set up as capably as possible. Relatively speaking, the Infiniti can be had with a lot of its goodies baked in.

But with its more compliant ride, the Porsche could be the better choice, especially if you live in the Northeast, with its harsh winters and beat-up road conditions.

Both vehicles feature sublime cockpits that ooze luxury and style, and exterior looks that tend to divide would-be buyers. Women seemed to like the look of the Porsche body a bit more, but, with its ready-for-take-off array of shiny buttons and controls, the Cayenne S cockpit made some women scoff at all the man jewelry, while our (admittedly unscientific) poll of women who actually rode in the Infiniti had them finding the cabin agreeable and cozy.

Confused? Don’t be.

The answer, as always, is to test drive both if you’re actually in the market for these ballsy crossovers. Both are exceptionally sophisticated sports cars in people-mover clothing, with the Infiniti yet faster than the Porsche — and a bit less sheepish about its sporting bias. Then again, if you want, and have the means, you could always opt for the $105,000 Turbo Cayenne, instead.