Driven: 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Full praise is due the thick-rimmed, smaller-diameter steering wheel; the much-improved ergonomics; and the more flexible packaging. I also love the supportive power-operated seats - with one exception - the fixed headrest that sports a bulge exactly where my neck wants to rest.

Time to hit the road and burn some rubber, which isn't easy with the congestion around Stuttgart. After about an hour, the autobahn is finally clear enough to let the turbos swirl. Zero to 100 mph is a swift exercise, 125 mph comes and goes in a flash, and even at 150 mph the Cayenne still feels like it's attached to the horizon by a tightly strung rubber band. Top speed is 173 mph, but we briefly see an indicated 185 mph on a long, downhill slope. Try that in a Chevy Tahoe.

Thankfully, high-speed roadholding combines strong cornering grip with impeccable stability. The meaty steering never feels vague or rubbery, and the performance of the composite brakes is quite simply sensational. Their strong initial bite and communicative pedal feel are second to none. The energy-squashing deceleration goes from reassuring to riveting with only a modest increase of pedal pressure.

Among the very few complaints we have after the fast bit of a half-day journey are a fair amount of tire and chassis noise and the air suspension's tendency to respond to transverse irritations with a low-frequency drumming motion. It's nothing serious, only an idiosyncrasy that may well be absent in the steel-sprung Cayenne.

On traffic-free back roads, the 500-hp crossover feels a full size smaller and about two weight classes more agile than its predecessor. This vehicle seemingly neutralizes the laws of physics. It has amazing cornering capability and steers with exceptional precision. It accelerates as if it were launched by a built-in catapult and it is at the same time both incredibly maneuverable and absolutely rock solid.

Of the three suspension-tuning options - sport, normal, and comfort - I prefer the softest calibration in combination with the sharpest engine and transmission setting. This yields all the compliance you need on the rough stuff, all the throttle response a steady right foot can handle, and all the torque you'd ever want.

Having lost weight and gained mechanical efficiency, the Cayenne now handles and rides like a top-notch sport sedan. In some markets, it can even be specified with a couple of green fig leaves - the hybrid and the diesel - to cover up a guilty conscience. Despite these improvements, the tallest Porsche is still stuck with the off-road-compromised architecture originally developed with Volkswagen. We won't see a thoroughly reworked version until the third-generation Cayenne appears in around 2017. That model will almost certainly boast an aluminum spaceframe that will allow a further weight reduction of at least 500 pounds. That should let the Cayenne continue what's been started: making an SUV more acceptable to Porsche purists.

The Specs
On sale: Now
Price: $105,775
Engine: 4.8L twin-turbo V-8, 500 hp, 516 lb-ft
Drive: 4-wheel

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