First Drive

2015 Porsche Cayenne S First Drive

Turbo V6 Makes Best-Selling Porsche More Potent Than Ever

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  • Engine
    Twin-Turbo 3.6L V6
  • Power
    420 HP / 406 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Auto
  • 0-60 Time
    5.1 Seconds (0-62)
  • Top Speed
    161 MPH
  • Drivetrain
    All-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    4,567 LBS
  • Towing
    1,653 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    62.9 CU-FT (max)
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
Oh, Porsche.

Just as the dust settles over the 911 GT3's no manual gearbox kerfuffle, the Germans have gone and yanked the yummy naturally aspirated 4.8-liter V8 from the Cayenne S and replaced it with a twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6. Is nothing sacred in Porscheland?

Perhaps not... but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Porsche famously once said they'd never build a diesel, but when they did, it was actually rather stellar.

All 2015 Cayennes get subtly reworked front and rear ends, with a wider looking nose and bladed intakes feeding intercoolers, while reworked headlamps and taillights emphasize a family resemblance to the Macan. New suspension bushings and bearings combined with reworked shock internals provide sharper handling and a greater range of damping adjustability, while the standard equipment list gets a much needed boost, so to speak, with features like auto stop/start and bi-Xenon headlights. New options include rear seat air vents and smart cruise control, among others. But apart from the S E-Hybrid's new plug-in configuration and its lithium-ion battery, the most notable change in the lineup is the Cayenne S's jettisoning of the V8.
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420 hp and 406 lb-ft push the Cayenne S to 62 mph in as little as 5.1 seconds.

On paper, the Cayenne S' new turbo V6 beats the V8 by a kilometer. The engine, sourced from the Macan Turbo, has been coaxed to produce 420 horsepower (20 more than the previous-gen S) and 406 pound-feet of torque – twist that's identical to the torque-tastic Cayenne Diesel. Even better, the latter's plateau starts 500 rpm earlier than the glow plug-equipped model, at a loping 1,350 rpm. Compared to its predecessor, specific output climbs 40 percent to 117 hp/liter, and 0 to 62 mph comes 0.4 seconds quicker, arriving in as little as 5.1 seconds with the optional Sport Chrono package (5.2 seconds without). Oh, and the new powerplant is also more fuel-efficient.

What does the right brain (seat of the pants) make of the Cayenne S' left brain (spec sheet) upgrades? Upon sliding into the Cayenne's snug driver's seat, you're met with a new, 918 Spyder-derived steering wheel and Porsche's big, familiar, in-your-face analog tachometer. Flanking the tach are two smaller gauges on either side. In other cabin news, the array of buttons along the center stack and overhead cluster offer something of a jarring contrast against the Nordically sparse periphery, while the "Oh $#!+!" grab handles astride the transmission tunnel offer a not-so-subtle hint at the Cayenne's capacity for torso-tossing G-forces.

2015 Porsche Cayenne S

Porsche's claimed 4,597-pound tonnage simply does not compute when this utility vehicle is tossed around switchbacks.

The V6 fires up relatively quietly, and unlike the 911, Boxster, or Cayman, the Cayenne S doesn't have a sport exhaust option – though dipping into the throttle makes it a forgivable offense. Jabbing the gas squirts the Cayenne ahead, pushing you back with a satisfying shove into the relatively firm seats. There's a subtly modulated induction sound as the engine winds up, but the powerplant generally delivers a relatively racket-free driving experience as the small orange speedometer needle climbs upward. Though the eight-speed Tiptronic transmission generally shifts smoothly and quickly, some gear changes were unexpectedly abrupt in Sport mode – perhaps a remnant of the adaptive shift program that had calibrated its responses to a previous, more lead-footed driver.

Curb weight is virtually identical to the outgoing model – more standard equipment counteracts the lighter powerplant – but that said, Porsche's claimed 4,597-pound tonnage simply does not compute when this utility vehicle is tossed around switchbacks, as I did in the hilly region north of Barcelona, Spain. The Cayenne S turns easily, intuitively, and with grip that belies its footprint, which feels especially considerable with the Macan now crashing the Porsche party. Though the S model's air suspension option doesn't deliver quite the same "skyhook" effect as the Turbo's does – the Turbo seems to glide effortlessly over rough terrain – the S doesn't lack in responsiveness or steering feel, and certainly not in power.

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Our tester was straddled with a startling $37,220 in options.

A sampling of other 2015 Cayenne strains revealed an impressive breadth of abilities: A highway stint in the Turbo delivered wickedly quick acceleration, aided by its power boost to 520 horsepower, while an off-road jaunt in the surprisingly capable Diesel offered stunning proof that these seriously rugged sport utes are wasted on city-slicker sports-car types.

Back to the premium SUV in question, our Cayenne S tester was straddled with a startling $37,220 in options. Some of those items are downright superfluous (like $8,520 ceramic brakes), while others are nothing short of surprising in a vehicle that starts at $74,100 (e.g., the cheapest way into a real leather interior requires a $3,655 seating package).

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The SUV lineup constitutes about half of all Porsche sales, outselling every other type of Porsche combined.

Considering its real-world potential for stratospheric MSRPs, it's easy to see why many view the Cayenne – and virtually any new Porsche, for that matter – as an out-of-reach symbol of excess. But while it will never sell like a Ford Explorer or Honda CR-V, the Cayenne has struck a chord with a slew of well-heeled buyers – more than 276,000 in its first generation, plus a further 303,000 and counting in its second. More crucially, the still-controversial SUV lineup constitutes about half of all Porsche sales, outselling every other type of Porsche – 911, Boxster, Cayman, Panamera and, of course, 918 Spyder – combined. As one Porsche executive suggested, Cayenne sales help divert investment back into the brand's sports cars, a noble redistribution of wealth if ever there was one.

The bottom line for the 2015 Porsche Cayenne S is simple: Brand purists may bemoan the lack of a big, free-breathing V8, but the smaller turbocharged V6 packs a winning punch with its urgent torque and ballsy thrust. With power output that surpasses that of the first-gen Cayenne Turbo, the new S appeals less to utility seekers and more to bona-fide drivers making the leap into an SUV, especially one that handles like something half its size.

2015 Porsche Cayenne S

Porsche is building a future that all but the most stubborn enthusiast can look forward to.

Interestingly, that transition into uncharted territory is a theme that extends to the bigger picture of the Porsche brand, whether it's the emergence of diesels, the slow death of the manual transmission, a hybrid hypercar, or the phasing out of the V8 engine. When asked whether the twin-turbo V8 might go extinct within the Cayenne lineup, one executive responded, "For the time being, we are happy with our eight-cylinder turbo." It's a telling answer that hints that "the time being" might end when the Cayenne's current generation cycle goes kaput.

If that means smaller, lighter, and more powerful engines that also happen to suck less fuel, Porsche is building a future that all but the most stubborn enthusiast can look forward to.

Porsche Cayenne Information

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