It looked like heresy when Porsche released its first SUV in 2002, but it turned out to be a brilliant move. The Cayenne quickly took the mantle as the brand’s best-seller, and it became an adage that the Cayenne enabled Porsche to keep building sports cars.
The move also turned out to be prophetic. While BMW and Mercedes had already offered SUVs, the Porsche was something more. The concept of an SUV from an ultra-luxury brand hadn’t been considered until then, and now brands such as Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Rolls-Royce have built their own.
The Cayenne enters its third generation for 2019. While it’s still closer to traditional luxury than ultra-luxury, the Cayenne is moving upmarket this year, especially the base model.
I recently spent some quality time in a couple versions of the base 2019 Porsche Cayenne in Napa Valley, California, and learned four ways the Cayenne is moving upscale this time around.
2019 Porsche Cayenne
Better power for base buyers
The base engine for the 2018 Cayenne was almost an insult. It was the tried-and-true Volkswagen VR6 3.6-liter V-6. It’s a fine engine in a VW, but it’s hardly premium. With 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, it motivated the Cayenne from 0-60 mph in 7.3 seconds. That’s VW Tiguan territory, and hardly worthy of anything wearing a Porsche badge.
The new engine is a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 that churns out 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. The twin-scroll turbo mounted between the cylinder banks helps improve throttle response. Peak torque comes on at a very low 1,340 rpm, barely above idle.
The differences are night and day. Turbo lag is undetectable and the throttle responds immediately. The 0-60 sprint? A tidy 5.9 seconds in standard trim or 5.6 seconds when buyers order the Sport Chrono package. The top speed increases from 143 to 152 mph. This is the same engine that’s in the Macan S, and it makes the base Cayenne a much better buy. It makes it feel like a Porsche.
2019 Porsche Cayenne
2019 Porsche Cayenne body in white
2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo front axle
Improved body rigidity and suspension systems
The 2019 Porsche Cayenne drops weight thanks to greater use of aluminum in the body (now up to 47 percent). The body cuts 297 pounds and Porsche saves another 22 with a lithium-ion battery, but additional equipment means the vehicle loses a total of 120 pounds. Additional welds stiffen the body by 20 percent.
The front suspension changes from double wishbones with a steel subframe to a multi-link MacPherson strut design with an aluminum subframe. Porsche also adds new three-chamber air springs as an option versus last year’s two-chamber air springs, switches to staggered tire sizes for improved agility and comfort, upgrades to a 48-volt system to control the active roll bars for quicker response, and adds rear-axle steering for the first time as an option.
CHECK OUT: 2019 Porsche Cayenne deep dive
Porsche offers three suspension setups. The base version has steel coil springs and a rather tall ride height that is 8.3 inches off the ground. Spend $1,130 for the Sport Chrono Package and you get adaptive dampers. The top suspension runs $4,160 and includes both the adaptive dampers and the aforementioned air springs. It also comes with a standard ride height of 7.4 inches that drops to 6.7 inches in the Sport + mode or when the driver chooses the low setloting from the center screen. For aerodynamic purposes, an even lower 6.3-inch setting is triggered when the Cayenne reaches 130 mph, and a 5.2-inch kneel position can be set from the rear hatch to make it easier to load cargo into the Cayenne. Porsche also offers two taller settings of 8.4 and 9.4 inches for off-roading. The air springs are versatile.