The text was suspicious. “Make sure you have a car this weekend,” my father’s message said. “Even better if it’s an SUV!” This was the same week of my birthday weekend, falling a scant three months after I moved to Los Angeles. Under the pretense that my parents might pop in to surprise me, I grabbed a white 2017 Porsche Cayenne S for the weekend, very much looking forward to enjoying a few days with one of Stuttgart’s very best, regardless of surprise guests.
Good thing I heeded his cryptic advice. As it turns out, they indeed made the trek from Dallas, Texas to ring in my 26th year, and I was tickled at the idea of playing chauffeur in the gleaming white Porsche.
Visually, the Cayenne is dichotomous. From the front three-quarter view, it’s a striking, aggressive translation of Porsche’s sports car design language. From the rear, it’s amorphous, possessing none of the front-end’s bravado. For those worried about public image, (or lack thereof), don’t worry. Thanks to large Porsche script on the rear hatch, massive 21–inch wheels lifted from the 911 Turbo, and muscular stance, onlookers can’t help but notice the car. It’s not perfect, but it works.
The interior is a familiar sight if you’ve spent time with the rest of the Porsche lineup. All of the controls and components are lifted straight out of a well-appointed 911, including the fabulous-to-grip steering wheel. While it may be a piece of corporate switchgear found across the Porsche range, even on the basest of Boxsters, it feels extremely satisfying to interact with and fits in even at the top-end of Porsche’s model range.
The options list certainly reads like that of a Porsche. The Cayenne S starts at $76,200, but ours carried a hefty $106,630 price tag thanks to a kit list that included $6,600 worth of leather interior upgrades, $800 soft close doors, $1,100 privacy glass, and the $7,500 Premium Package Plus. This added a grab bag of convenience goodies, including panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, power sunshades, and upgraded LED dynamic headlights.
Powering the Cayenne S is a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6 that offers up 420 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, enough to reach 0-60 mph (and upset my passengers) in 5.1 seconds. It isn’t nearly as sonorous as the bygone V-8, but the turbocharged V-6 offers a fat torque band that the eight couldn’t. Where the old 4.8-liter V-8 pushed out 369 lb-ft at a midrange 3,500 rpm, the V-6 manages 406 lb-ft, available from 1,350 – 4000 rpm. The copious power is routed to all four wheels through Porsche’s eight-speed automatic transmission.
Though the auto is not as crisp as the PDK, Porsche appears to have mastered the art of transmission tuning even with the torque converter. The Cayenne’s is one of the better gearboxes I’ve used in an SUV. Around town, it’s smooth and inoffensive; when barreling through mountain roads, it’s sharp and almost always in the proper gear.
We spent the first morning slogging through traffic up to Azusa and the scenic State Route 39 to grab some photos. In the San Gabriel Mountains, the Cayenne proved to be surefooted and very intuitive. Unlike top-tier performance SUVS like the X5 M and Range Rover Sport SVR, the Cayenne’s comfort and usability wasn’t compromised by its higher performance envelope; the BMW trades a sub-four-second 0-60 mph sprint for a harsh ride and touchy brake pedal feel, while the Range Rover’s ride is relatively soft for its 550-hp output.
After the short sprint through Rt. 39, we returned to LA freeway congestion, where my jet-lagged passengers stretched out in the spacious, leather-wrapped cabin and enjoyed a few moments of much needed shut-eye. Once downtown, the Cayenne’s sharp steering and impressive brakes made darting in and out of traffic a breeze.
Our tester was equipped with the regular, steel non-adaptive suspension; while it didn’t feel as composed as the optional adaptive setup, the Cayenne complied in nearly all situations. Only when you hit a deep pothole or speed bump do you feel the stiffness. Over regular LA roads, it was as pleasant as a regular X5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE.
When it was time to ship my parents back to Dallas, the Cayenne’s cavernous cargo area swallowed their bags and accouterments with room to spare. I dropped them off at LAX late Monday afternoon and pointed the Cayenne S back into traffic.
Still, if you want something that can still haul stuff and handle itself in the canyons, get a hatch or a wagon, full stop. Avoid the siren song of the uber-SUVs and “make do” with a similarly priced Mercedes-AMG E63 wagon or the forthcoming Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. However, if you absolutely, positively have to have an SUV, the 2017 Porsche Cayenne S is as close to a perfect compromise as there is. Porsche has created the perfect sporting SUV, meeting in the middle to provide the right balance of performance and driver comfort.
2017 Porsche Cayenne S Specifications
|PRICE||$77,250/$106,630 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.6L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/420 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 406 lb-ft @ 1,350-4,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||17/24 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||191.1 x 78.7 x 67.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||160 mph|