The biggest knocks on the original Cayenne were, first and foremost, that it was an SUV, which many critics and Porsche aficionados claimed the renowned sports-car maker should have never built, and second, it was deficient in Porsche DNA. No question, the first-gen, of which Porsche has sold around 90,000 in the U.S. since it debuted in 2003, was -- and still is -- a capable SUV, whether on road or off. From the base V-6 all the way up to the twin-turbo V-8, the 2003-10 Cayenne stood near or at the top of its class in capability and, more notable, dynamics. Still, auto analysts, including us, as well as the Porsche faithful carped that Stuttgart's SUV lacked, well, Porscheness -- even though the Cayenne was a tall, heavy sport/ute, it should nonetheless come across more like a 911 or even the new Panamera, be it in feel or perception.
After driving three of the four U.S.-bound 2011 Cayenne models in and around the lovely confines of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama -- including the highly entertaining and technical 2.4-mile road course -- we're pleased to report that Porsche's second-generation sport/utility indeed possesses genuine Porscheness. Sure it's still the tallest and heaviest vehicle in the lineup -- depending on the model, height is down from 0.3 to 0.5 inch and weight is down around 400 pounds -- but the sensations from behind the wheel, for the most part, now belie its SUV classification. The Cayennes feel - and are - quicker, more agile, and more thrilling to drive. Further, they're more exciting to look at, thanks to remolded sheet metal draped over a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase. The hood now features a power dome similar to that on a Panamera and the rear shoulders are more pronounced, imparting a muscular, fast-forward stance. Don't let the smooth, sporty lines fool you, though -- the Cayenne remains a workhorse. Towing capacity maxes out at 5952 pounds for the V-6 and 7716 pounds for all other models.
The aforementioned weight drop comes from extensive use of aluminum in the doors, hood, and chassis as well as a new electronically controlled multi-plate-clutch all-wheel-drive system that, in conjunction with Porsche Traction Management (PTM) and a new Aisin eight-speed automatic, does without a reduction gearbox, saving 73 pounds. Moreover, the engines are lighter, as are the radiator, exhaust, parking brake (now electronic), electrical system, and wheels and tires. Even better, the Cayenne's more feathery structure is 15-percent stiffer than before. This newfound weight loss contributes in part to a maximum 23-percent increase in European fuel-economy tests, according to Porsche. Other petrol-saving factors include enhanced engine and thermal management, and Automatic Start Stop (shuts off the engine when the vehicle is stopped) with the eight-speed, a technology that debuted in the Panamera.