Let’s delve straight into the facts. The Cayenne represents over 50% of Porsche’s sales with a little less than 300,000 sold worldwide. In the U.S., the track happy luxury SUV has ramped up roughly 89,000 sales (V8 accounts for 60% of mix). So we have a consensus. The Cayenne is the most successful Porsche ever. Think of Tarzan being raised by gorillas, yet still very well regarded. Or better yet, a human running with blue Avatars and then saving their world as if it were his. It’s a confounding paradox — an SUV bred by a German sports car company equates to nothing less than extraordinary. The Cayenne runs laps around tracks like a 911, bathes in shallow waters, slides down muddy sinkholes, and then, hits public roads for a sensational highway tour. Furthermore, Porsche has now added a Hybrid to the stable!
Cayenne hit the public scene in 2003, back when it was more akin to brethren VW Touareg in style and off-road capabilities than as a self-assured standout. The styling was uncharacteristic of a motorsports brand and the interior humdrum. Yet, they sold — and as the years passed the progression proliferated into today’s head honcho, as the chorus chants “you’re the best I’ve ever had!” Improvements include bolder framework, reduced weight (by 400 pounds), more powerful and performance oriented engines, reduced fuel consumption and a grandiose interior taken from the Panamera playbook whereas the driving position feels like a cockpit with a smaller steering wheel and raised center console. The Cayenne’s enhanced engineering is inherited from Porsche Intelligent Performance which is a philosophy studied by all Porsche models: 1) more power on less fuel 2) increased efficiency and 3) lower Carbon Dioxide emissions.
Automotive Rhythms experienced the new Cayenne lineup at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Led by the legendary racer Hurley Haywood, the facility is more like a corporate campus than a track, boasting an off-road course to experience the SUV’s grittier side and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum which houses over 1200 motorcycles and classic sports cars. Porsche also hosts its Sport Driving School at the facility for owners looking to enhance their motoring skills. I was able to drive all of the North American Cayenne models except for the base V6 which starts at $46,700 and offers a 300-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine. The $63,700 Cayenne S is enhanced with a 4.8-liter V8 and 400 horsepower. The showstopper is the $104,800 Cayenne Turbo which adds an additional 100 horsepower (500 total!) to the 4.8-liter due to twin-turbocharging. With 516 pound-feet of torque available from 2,250 rpm, the turbo is able to run from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Top speed is capped at 172 mph. Both V8s are 23% more fuel efficient than their forerunners. Reason being includes the Auto Start Stop button also borrowed from Panamera and a new 8-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission. Moreover, a new active and lighter AWD system, Porsche Dynamic Light System (PDLS), Lane Change Assistant (LCA) and Adaptive Cruise Control brings the 2011 Cayenne up to par with competitive industry protocol.
Here in the U.S., Hybrids are becoming the norm while diesels are seriously misunderstand, the reason the Cayenne Diesel remains overseas. Electric vehicles are for early adopters and not ready for mass production due to lack of infrastructure to support the technology. It only makes sense for Porsche to offer the Cayenne as a Hybrid model, representing the cleanest vehicle the company produces. And Porsche introduced two other hybrid models this year including the 911 GT3 R Hybrid and the 918 Spyder supercar. This technology is nothing to the performance brand since their founder Ferdinand Porsche introduced electric automotive technology in the Lohner Electromobile the summer of 1898. The partnership with Viennese coachbuilder Ludwig Lohner would lead to several successful iterations of Porsche’s innovations including electric motors installed in the wheel hubs. Later, in 1900, Porsche implemented an internal combustion-engine to supply the battery-powered wheel hub motors with electric current. The vehicle, Semper Vivus, became known as the world’s first full hybrid car. The gasoline engine was used only to power an electrical generator, not to drive the axle.
Today’s $67,700 Cayenne S Hybrid keeps the original purity of Porsche’s DNA, yet adds an Audi S4 3.0-liter V6 rated at 333 horsepower. The electric motor adds 47 horsepower (34 kW) for a combined total of 380 horsepower and 427 pound-feet of torque starting at 1000 rpm. The hybrid embodies the metabolism of a Cheetah — lean, agile and blazingly quick. A Hybrid Manager oversees the interaction of the electric and gasoline motors which can both operate the Cayenne independently or jointly. A high-voltage Nickel Metal-Hydride battery is in a special storage area and along with regenerative braking provides energy to the electric motor. The vehicle’s “sailing” or “coasting” feature saves fuel by cutting off the gasoline engine when the driver lets off the gas pedal at highway cruising speeds. And on the runway, the hybrid is just as capable as its brothers, keeping intact the Cayenne S performance which allows the vehicle to see a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.1 seconds.
Our Barber Motorsports course was very technical, yet fun. Going into turns at high speeds in an SUV can be a bit daunting, yet the Cayenne manipulates the roads like a sports car. Such technologies such as Porsche Torque Vector (PTV) plus is befitting for a 4,784 pound vehicle. When steering into curves, PTV adjusts, and the vehicle’s reactions are more direct. Off-road we dipped in dirty streams, climbed hills, and skirted on slanted embankments. It was all phenomenal.
After the long and exciting day it was time to catch my breath in Porsche’s new Boxster Spyder. I pondered the magnificence of their German technology and only wondered what was next to come. Ferdinand would be proud!