Test Drive: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S & Cayenne Turbo car test drives porsche luxury cars
Test Drive: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S & Cayenne Turbo car test drives porsche luxury cars
2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo (top); 2011 Porsche Cayenne S. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo Gallery:
2011 Porsche Cayenne

If I had to come up with the ultimate definition of a “hard sell,” I’m guessing it was the day that someone stood before the bigwigs at Porsche and suggested they build an SUV. Of course you know the rest of the story: the Cayenne skyrocketed to success and still remains the company’s best-selling model in Canada.

For 2011, the Cayenne morphs into a new generation, with sexier styling (especially at the rump), new grille, more interior space, and of most interest to drivers, a substantial drop in weight. Wait for it – this would make Jenny Craig’s jaw drop. Rather than the 20 or so kilos that would normally send automakers crowing about their weight loss, the S shaves off a startling 180 kilograms, the Turbo 185, thanks to a new all-wheel drive system and considerable use of lighter-weight materials. It translates into much more lively handling, as you’d expect, along with better fuel economy. Between the styling and the weight, it both looks and drives smaller than its predecessor even though the new one is slightly larger. I test-drove two of the 2011 variants, the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo, which were alike enough in their styling and interior appointments that I’ve combined them here into a single story. Buyers can choose from four Cayenne models overall: the 3.6-litre V6 Cayenne; 4.8-litre V8 Cayenne S; Cayenne S Hybrid with supercharged 3.0-litre V6 and electric motor; and the Cayenne Turbo, with twin-turbocharged 4.8-litre V8.

Test Drive: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S & Cayenne Turbo car test drives porsche luxury cars
Test Drive: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S & Cayenne Turbo car test drives porsche luxury cars
2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo (top); 2011 Porsche Cayenne S. Click image to enlarge

Earlier this year, Porsche announced that favourable exchange rates would allow price reductions in both the vehicles and in their options. My Cayenne S originally started at $76,000 and was optioned to $110,720, but is now $72,700 and $101,790. The Turbo initially started at $123,900 and was outfitted to $140,210, and is now $118,700 and $132,370. (The V6 Cayenne now starts at $55,300, while the Hybrid begins at $77,500.) Of course, it’s easy to take all models much higher, as Porsche is extremely fond of offering a mind-boggling assortment of packages and stand-alone options, and often at prices that are just as breathtaking.

The secret to the Cayenne’s smashing sales success lies in two factors. First, it’s an SUV for those who want the Porsche badge and cachet enough to pay for it, but need something larger than a sports car. Secondly, it’s just a really nice vehicle. And if you argue that its niceness shouldn’t be enough to get buyers into an expensive Cayenne when some less-costly other SUVs work just as well, then go back and see factor number one.

Both the S and Turbo use a 4.8-litre V8, fortified with twin puffers in the Turbo. In the S it meters out 400 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, which peaks at a respectable 3,500 r.p.m. In the Turbo, it’s 500 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque, hitting its torque crest at a mere 2,250 r.p.m. Both are hooked to an eight-speed automatic that replaces the six-cog version that was used in 2010. It was super-smooth on the Turbo, but on the S, shifts could be a harsh when driving at low speeds with the system set into Normal. They smoothed out when put into Sport mode. The manual mode paddles are sinewy metal slivers that tuck in alongside the steering wheel’s rim, although they’re redundant push-pull rather than my preference, upshift on one and downshift on the other. A manual transmission is available only on the V6.

Test Drive: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S & Cayenne Turbo car test drives porsche luxury cars
Test Drive: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S & Cayenne Turbo car test drives porsche luxury cars
2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo (top); 2011 Porsche Cayenne S. Click image to enlarge

For all its power on paper, the naturally-aspirated V8 feels more like a healthy V6 when it’s driven moderately, and only really displays its animal nature when the system is toggled into Sport mode. The forced-air engine, on the other hand, is a tiger whenever your foot’s near the long pedal. There’s no turbo lag, just pure power anywhere along the throttle, matched with a delightful growl from the four exhaust tips out the back. That said, the regular V8 had a smoother tip-in and was far easier to modulate when making one’s way through downtown traffic. Fuel mileage is vastly improved from the 2010 models as well, helped along by a start-stop function that works similarly to that of a hybrid: stop at a light with your foot on the brake and the transmission in Drive, and the engine shuts off for extra fuel savings and zero emissions. It’s a great system for crowded city streets, when it makes little sense to burn fuel while you’re sitting, and can be deactivated at the touch of a button if green’s not your colour that day.