Driven: 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Eight years ago, when the first Cayenne was introduced, the concern among the sports car community was whether an SUV should wear the prestigious Porsche badge, whereas Porsche's main concerns seemed to be making sure the Cayenne had Porsche-like performance and real off-road capability. Today, we've either accepted or become inured to the idea of a Porsche SUV, and Porsche's focus for the Cayenne also has changed. Its buyers don't care about off-roading, so for the second-generation Cayenne, Porsche's aim was to improve efficiency while enhancing performance.

Thus, the two recently added powertrain offerings are a diesel (unfortunately not coming to the U.S. market) and a hybrid. The latter combines Audi's supercharged 333-hp V-6 with a 46-hp electric motor. The base six is, once again, the Volkswagen Group's 3.6-liter narrow-angle V-6, which now produces 300 hp with a claimed twenty percent improvement in fuel efficiency. That would put the Cayenne's combined economy rating at 19 mpg, although no EPA figures are available yet. The V-8s, both normally aspirated and turbocharged, provide a 23 percent increase in fuel economy thanks to a new eight-speed automatic transmission and substantial weight savings. The Cayenne S now delivers 400 hp (up from 385 hp) and 369 lb-ft of torque - enough, Porsche says, to beam itself from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and on to a maximum speed of 160 mph.

We drove the top-of-the-line Cayenne Turbo. Its 4.8-liter V-8 is rated at 500 hp and 516 lb-ft, and according to Porsche, it can propel the Cayenne to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 173 mph. In theory, the Turbo will average 17 mpg, but in reality, our hard-driven test car barely achieved 10 mpg.

Compared with the old Cayenne Turbo, which felt like a fast castle on wheels, the new model is more lithe at speed and less ponderous through corners. The front end of the Cayenne is still as big as a small country mansion, but the vehicle has lost 408 pounds. It now weighs in at 4784 pounds, which about matches a Buick Enclave. Redline for the 500-hp twin-turbo engine comes at 6700 rpm with peak torque on tap from 2250 to 4500 rpm, so you have 516 lb-ft of punch where and when you need it most. The new eight-speed automatic transmission is supplied by Aisin and offers a slightly wider ratio spread (7.1:1) than the ZF box being used by BMW and Audi. Seventh and eighth are long-legged overdrive ratios that drop the revs dramatically at interstate speeds. Also new is the start/stop system, which automatically cuts the engine when the vehicle is stationary and your foot is on the brake. Other green items are a more efficient engine and transmission cooling circuit and a brake-energy regeneration system. Last but not least, the new Cayenne is equipped with an on-demand four-wheel-drive system that supplies power only to the rear wheels unless the electronics call upon the multidisc wet clutch to add some front-wheel traction.

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