2019 Porsche Cayenne first drive review: an epoch-ending SUV Page 2

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Rutting around

The Cayenne’s basic under-drag includes a basic strut-and-link steel suspension, 19-inch wheels and tires (staggered at 255 front, 275 rear), and electric power steering. It dresses up with three-stage air springs and dampers, 20- or 21-inch wheels with Michelin Latitude Sport 3 tires, rear-wheel steering, and active roll bars that firm up to neutralize some body lean.

The three-chamber springs and the twin-tube shocks are driver-adjustable, same as the steering and transmission. On Cayennes with the Sport Chrono package, a round dial toggles the Cayenne’s personality through those drive modes, from comfortable and composed cruiser to heavy-breathing lead foot.

MORE: Take a deep dive in the 2019 Porsche Cayenne’s technology

We drove on the rumbly roads here on the island of Crete, and went for miles off-road as the Cayenne picked its way through sharp-edged rocks. All three drivetrains were available, but all vehicles had the pricey ride and handling bits: rear-wheel steering, air suspension, torque-vectoring rear end, and 21-inch wheels with low-profile summer tires. The air springs come in handy; they can lift the ride height from 7.5 inches to 9.6 inches, and can cycle in concert with traction models to traverse rocks, sand, mud, and gravel.

On the road, the base Cayenne sets a slightly mellower mood, but flip it into sport modes and paddle through the gears and it responds briskly, with good steering feel and tight corner lines. Porsche’s rear-steer system can turn the rear tires up to 3 degrees in the opposite direction of the front tires at low speeds. That makes the Cayenne feel small–though it hardly squeezes its wider but lighter body through some cramped Greek villages.

Porsche’s adapted to the new world of electric power steering. The Cayenne’s setup has a quicker ratio than in the related Audi Q7, and it builds up with a distinct heft off-center, as if it clipped on a half-pound-weight. It’s steady and scrutable, quick enough to play with the Cayenne’s rear end through multiple 20-mph hairpins even when the road’s guarded by a series of wandering goats.

The Cayenne’s all-wheel-drive system hardly needed any attention through a rubbly path strewn through dusty granite hills eroded into Crete’s rugged terrain. We barely slipped the wheels, even without putting it into advanced traction modes it offers for gravel and mud. We worried more that we’d tread upon some undiscovered and priceless Minoan ruins.

Porsche favors very firm steering and suspension–because of course they do. That gives the big-wheel Cayenne a lot of lateral stiffness, even in the softest and most compliant modes. Roll resistance is almost entirely obliterated with the active stabilization system. So while it rolls over clunky cretinous roads with good compliance, the Cayenne’s stiff damping sets up a fair amount of head toss.

Whether it’s shod with the standard brakes or the faultless surface-coated brakes new this year, the Cayenne’s stopping power is unquestioned. Just ask the goats. Carbon-ceramics are a $9,080 option, if you must. (The goats are mute on that topic.)

2019 Porsche Cayenne S

2019 Porsche Cayenne S

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2019 Porsche Cayenne S

2019 Porsche Cayenne S

Enlarge Photo
2019 Porsche Cayenne S

2019 Porsche Cayenne S

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2019 Porsche Cayenne S

2019 Porsche Cayenne S

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Comfort and utility

Spawned from the same architecture as the Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayga, and upcoming Lamborghini Urus, the Porsche Cayenne has two rows of seats.

Yes, that makes it a five-seater just like the smaller Macan, but the Cayenne flaunts far more generous space inside. It’s bigger than the last-generation Cayenne by about an inch in width, 2.5 inches in overall length, and sits a third of an inch lower.

By the numbers, it’s 193.6 inches long, 78 inches wide, and rides on a 113.9-inch wheelbase.

About three inches longer in wheelbase than the Macan SUV, the Cayenne has a few inches of extra space in all directions for six-foot-tall front passengers, and fine space for three adults in back. Porsche fits at least 8-way power front seats on the Cayenne; 18-way seats with thigh cushions and heating and cooling are on the exhaustive options list.

Passengers have three grab handles, which should send the proper message to anyone contemplating a ride-along as you charge up the highest peaks on Crete or the dustiest ones. Elsewhere the Cayenne’s more soothing console has cupholders, a deep center console, and a smartphone bin that couples with an antenna booster to improve reception.

Two or three adults can slip easily into the Cayenne’s back seat. It’s not that much narrower than a modern-day minivan, after all. The bolstering is less pronounced, but Porsche will heat the rear bench, and it fits an 11-position recline mechanism, which would resolve headroom issues if there were any. The Cayenne’s big, and lacks for nothing in the areas of head and knee room.

Cargo space is up by 3.5 cubic feet. It’s 27.2 cubic feet behind the back row. Split-fold the rear seatbacks along their 40/20/40 seams and the Cayenne can stow more than 60.3 cubic feet of goods (slightly less on Turbo models).

2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo

2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo

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Safety, features, and infotainment

Porsche offers all its latest active-safety technology with the Cayenne, including surround-view cameras and camera views available in off-road drive modes.

All Cayennes get LED headlights, power front seats, leather, navigation, 10-speaker audio, satellite radio, and at least 19-inch wheels. Cayenne S models add 20-inch wheels and tires, the adaptive suspension, and a glass roof. Cayenne Turbos get 21-inch wheels, heated front and rear seats, and an active rear spoiler.

You’ll spend more time reading the Porsche options and custom-trim list than you might reading owner’s manual. Options go on and on, from LED-matrix headlights, to thermal and noise acoustic glass, soft-close doors, ambient lighting, adaptive sport seats, night vision, lush leather and wood, and a $7,000 Burmester sound system that’s one of the best we’ve heard.

The latest infotainment system has a beautiful 12.3-inch high-resolution screen and a much improved user interface. Like the unit in the latest 2018 Porsche Panamera, it pairs with touch-sensitive controls on the console that have replaced all but a handful of switches, toggles, and buttons. The touchscreen environment and particularly, the voice commands work better here than in so many other infotainment systems, we’d cautiously describe it as one of our favorite interfaces.

Prices start at $66,750 and zip easily past the Turbo’s base price of $125,650. Deliveries start in mid-2018, while Turbos arrive late in the year.

The bottom line? The Porsche Cayenne made stark sense 15 years ago. Now even the haters have to agree: it’s a thrilling, capable vehicle that bridges the gap between Porsche and SUV perfectly.

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