The sticker price on our 2012 Porsche Cayenne S test car was a jaw-dropping $111,000. That’s almost triple the price of the 2011 BMW X3, the best driver’s car of any sport-utility vehicle we’d driven — until now. Despite a couple relatively minor irritants (and the not-so-minor matter of price), the Cayenne delivers peerless on-the-road performance.
The exotic price of our test car is avoidable. The base Cayenne starts at $48,200; the Cayenne S, $65,000. (There’s also a hybrid model that starts at $69,000.) Those numbers are competitive with the sweet-handling, luxurious SUVs produced by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. But our Cayenne’s options list added more than $50,000 to the sticker price — and it didn’t include satellite radio ($750) and a DVD entertainment system ($650). We were, to say the least, flummoxed. In March, we drove a Kia Rio EX, a subcompact economy sedan, that had Sirius satellite radio (with free three-month subscription) as standard equipment.
OK, we get it. Porsche couldn’t resist the urge to get into the lucrative SUV business, but it couldn’t very well put its prized label on something that cornered like a 1988 Chevrolet Suburban, could it? So Porsche had to make enormous investments in engineering and design just to put the round peg of the Porsche personality into the square hole of the sport-utility platform. Thus, the dauntingly long list of options.
What the Cayenne S does have is a 400-horsepower V-8 engine linked to an eight-speed transmission. They combine for 22 mpg on the highway. One reason for the comparatively good fuel economy is the automatic stop-start feature, which behaves like a conventional hybrid car — shutting down the engine at stop lights and restarting it rapidly after the driver removes his foot from the brake. Trouble is, there’s a bit of a delay as the Cayenne’s big power plant spins back to life. (Drivers who don’t care for this feature can switch to the Sport mode.)
Many comfort features are standard as well: eight-way power front seats, Bluetooth hands-free phone interface, electric moon roof, power liftgate.
The cabin is drop-dead gorgeous, more like a multimillionaire’s private jet than an SUV. Indeed, the layout of lights and switches is as daunting, in its own way, as the options list. Obviously, people who buy Cayennes become acclimated to the complexity of the layout, but the array of lighted buttons and switches extending back from the top of the windshield is problematical because tall drivers can’t read them.
Apologists for SUVs often point out that what really attracts people to them is potential, especially in an emergency. Viewed from this perspective, the Cayenne — moderately fuel-efficient, off-road capable, faster and more athletic than many sporty cars, with a big fuel tank and nearly four-ton towing capacity — begins to make sense, even at the stunning price point that marked our test car.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 4.0-liter V-8, 400 horsepower, 369 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 4,553 lb.
Suspension: double wishbone front, multi-link rear
Ground clearance: 8.5 inches
Wheels: 21-inch alloy (optional)
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 23.7 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 62.9 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 7,716 lb.
Fuel capacity: 26.4 gallons
Fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded