2019 Porsche Cayenne Review: SUV, Thy Name Is (Finally) Porsche

The Cayenne's third generation delivers the proper Porsche SUV we've long been waiting for.

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The 2019 Porsche Cayenne, By the Numbers

  • Base Price (as Tested): $65,700 ($82,780)
  • Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbo V-6, 335 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel-drive
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 23 mpg highway 
  • 0-60 MPH: 5.9 seconds (5.6 seconds with Sport Chrono package)
  • Top Speed: 152 mph
  • Cargo Space: 27.1 cubic feet, 60.3 cubes with the rear seats folded
  • Towing Capacity: 7,700 pounds
  • Quick Take: The Porsche Cayenne is finally living up to the badge on its nose.

A Porsche is a Porsche, of course of course, unless the Porsche is an SUV. So goes the lament of the unappeasable purist, who sees every stilted hotcake built by an exotic automaker as an affront to history. Time for a reality check: Today's performance car market mostly rides on the subsidies provided by booming SUV sales. If you're a 911 fan, that means you, by definition, also better be a fan of the company's crossovers if you know what's best for the fabled sports car; you better hope that the all-new 2019 Porsche Cayenne has advanced enough to fend off the new crop of zippy cargo-carriers that's emerged since its second generation landed in 2012.

Thankfully, the third iteration of Stuttgart's spiciest SUV is a proper Porsche through and through. Like the 911, the Porsche Cayenne seems to be settling into an established design profile; most of the visual changes are minimal enough to go unnoticed at first glance. But the company's trademark reserved style masks a complete departure for the model. A new chassis, a new 335-horsepower V-6 engine, and some key 911-derived tech undergird the third-gen Cayenne, making it the most complete vision yet of a factory-fresh soft-road Porsche.

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Porsche invited reviewers to sample the base 2019 Porsche Cayenne (S, Turbo, and E-Hybrid versions are also headed our way) on the twisty byways of northern California's wine country, the very same roads it used to show off the handling prowess of the 911 Carrera T and the reborn 718 twins earlier this year. Comparisons to the company's real stars are inevitable anyway, so kudos to Porsche for setting up about as direct a mental pipeline between the different vehicles as possible.

Of course, chances are the house already knew what we'd soon find out: the 2019 Porsche Cayenne is a rollicking good time, provided you're willing to hike a ways up the steep mountain of pricey à la carte options. But what could be more Porsche than that?

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New Porsche Cayenne Looks the Part

You'd be forgiven if you need a to reference a picture of the old model to spot the visual changes at first. The new Cayenne has sprouted an additional 2.4 inches of length and dropped 0.35 inches of height while maintaining the same wheelbase and width. New aluminum construction techniques have brought the curb weight down by 120 pounds, while a 911-inspired staggered wheel setup adds a subtle touch of athleticism.

Slightly more noticeable (when you're not driving, at least) are the larger air intakes up front—the design verges on maw-like depending on the trim, though the openings are mercifully bisected with horizontal lines on the base model—along with new headlights, a more sloping roofline, and the full-width light bar connecting the new LED taillights. It's a handsome, composed package, one that hides its size better than, say, a BMW X5 or an Audi Q7.

Caning the Cayenne

But a Porsche must be experienced from the driver's seat, and it's there where the company's vision for the new Cayenne comes into sharp focus. The base model is equipped with a 3.0-liter single-turbo V-6 engine making a respectable 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque; it's connected to a traditional eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission and powers all four wheels via Porsche's Traction Management all-wheel-drive system. Those looking for more eye-popping numbers would do well to check out the 440-hp Cayenne S or the 550-hp, V-8-powered Cayenne Turbo. But in many ways, a car's lowliest model is the best for evaluating its basic characteristics.

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The höt-wee turbo V-6 has a low center of gravity and a wide torque plateau that hits peak twist around 1,300 rpm (compare that to 3,000 rpm in the previous, free-breathing base model) and stays there for days. It always feels ready to surge forward regardless of speed, whisking the 4,377-pound SUV through spacetime with gusto. The 2019 Porsche Cayenne will do 0-60 mph in a claimed 5.9 seconds; chop that to 5.6 if you go for the $1,130 Sport Chrono package with launch control.

The powertrain isn't faultless. Porsche went with a traditional automatic transmission instead of a snappy PDK dual-clutch because the former is better for towing, which it claims Cayenne owners do often enough to warrant the choice. That may be true—and 7,700 pounds is an impressive towing capacity—but it leaves something to be desired, with its slushy shifts and insistence on using the top two overdrive gears whenever possible. Should you choose your own adventure instead, the action of the paddle shifters isn't great either.

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Thankfully, the lighter, tighter chassis makes itself known immediately. Coupled with the automaker's typically-great steering feel, the 2019 Porsche Cayenne carries itself with an agility belying its mid-large size. It drives like the Porsche it is despite sharing a modular Volkswagen Group platform with the Audi Q5, Q7, and Q8. You'll never trick yourself into thinking it's a 911—the seating position is just too high—but it's alluring enough to keep you in the moment.

Climbing Options, Climbing Mountains

More impressive are the raft of new chassis systems and controls that you can stack on the Cayenne like a fancy Lego set, all of which deliver on the promise of a plus-sized Porsche. The electromechanical roll bars keep the cabin shockingly level through high-speed turns. The adaptive air suspension offers a comfortable, capable ride, and you can still get Porsche's active damper wizardry on the standard coil springs. None of the test models on hand were equipped with the new rear steering system, but it can only make the Cayenne even more willing to tuck into a curve. And the Panamera's 4D Chassis Control system makes its way over to ensure everything is playing nice together.

Really, you'll want to spring for all of them if you want to drive this Porsche like a Porsche. The difference is that apparent; fully equipped, the Cayenne is infused with a come-hither attitude that's impossible to deny. And don't pass on the new Porsche Surface Coated Brakes—even if you think that mirror finish is a bit of a gimmick, the tungsten carbide coating is engineered to produce 90 percent less brake dust than a normal steel disc, and its stopping power gets close enough to the $9,000 carbon ceramics for the vast majority of drivers. The pedal is a bit touchy under 20 miles per hour, but at speed the PSCB setup is a real gem.

There's also a beefier off-road package that adds skid plates and rock rails to make it the most capable model since the original. Porsche's AWD system runs primarily in rear-wheel mode but can send up to 100 percent of power to the front axle, and its different terrain modes switch up the transmission shift points and throttle response.

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The anti-roll bars can electronically disconnect to offer more articulation, and the adjustable air suspension can raise the Cayenne 9.4 inches off the ground. Pitch and roll gauges are available on the infotainment system; coupled with the optional altimeter in the dashboard clock, the 2019 Cayenne is halfway to being an overland rig. Folding the back seats down will give you more than 60 cubic feet of space for all your boutique survival gear.

Porsche DNA Inside and Out

Of course, it's far nicer on the inside than any off-road toy has a right to be. Like the outside, the cabin features subtle-yet-welcome changes that don't do much to mess with the essential Porsche DNA. The rising center console, center-tach instrument panel, and flat dash have all been seen before. But the new backlit haptic-touch design flanking the gearshift does away with the ranks of blank buttons usually found on a mid-level Porsche, while the instrument panel sees the traditional four flanking gauges on either side of the iconic tach replaced with high resolution, configurable LCD screens. 

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And that familiar dash now holds a 12.3-inch Porsche Communication Management infotainment system that's smooth, clear, and easy to use—once you acclimate to it. The home screen is incredibly customizable with different-sized widgets to take full advantage of the generous digital real estate. Elsewhere, it's a sharp, comfortable place, if a little heavy on the plastic considering the average sale price pushes $80,000. (Any SUV with twin oh shit grab handles for the front passenger gets extra credit in my book.)

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Ultimately, few people will buy the base $65,700 Porsche Cayenne. The options add up quick, and the conversation gets a little more crowded the closer you get to the six-figure mark—at that price, you're bumping up against things like the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, or a loaded BMW X5. But at the mid-$60K mark, the 2019 Cayenne offers an unrivaled experience: a family SUV that actually drives like a Porsche.