If the looming European financial crisis has an upside for Americans, it may be that we'll get to drive models the Europeans used to keep all to themselves. A case in point is the subject of this first drive, the 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel. Since 2009, Porsche had a brisk business selling it to diesel-happy customers on the Continent. Now with dark financial clouds gathering over potential Draconian purse-tightening measures in many European countries, Porsche has decided to diversify its portfolio and share the joy with its U.S. customers.
Not that long ago, the thought of combining the words "Porsche" and "diesel" would have been oxymoronic. But that was before diesels dominated in the LeMans 24 Hours. Then there's the little-known trivia that Porsche sold more diesel-powered farm tractors in the 1960s than they did cars back then.
OK, so the Cayenne isn't a sports car. Porsche settled that ten years ago when the sports-car maker introduced its first Cayenne SUV. You could argue that the Cayenne is the Porsche of SUVs, with the appropriate natural balance and go/stop/turn capability to be considered one of Weissach's own in a modern sense. Anyway, the argument became moot as buyers who didn't necessarily spend their formative years drooling over 911s and Boxsters snapped up Cayennes in sufficient quantities to make it the best-selling Porsche model in North America.
How Porsche-like is it? The Cayenne Diesel's hydraulic-boosted variable-rate steering is wonderfully communicative with just the right effort and precision for good lane control. The steering column is dead quiet and conveys a solid structural feel. The optional three-position dampers can be driver-selected to deliver slightly jouncy Sport, a bit floaty Comfort or just-right Normal ride control.
The Cayenne's 3.0-liter DOHC oil-burner launches Porsche's SUV effortlessly and has torque to spare in virtually any driving situation. Merging onto a freeway or overtaking another vehicle can often be accomplished by just squeezing the throttle a little harder -- without the need for the velvety smooth, quick-shifting 8-speed automatic to downshift. The variable-geometry turbo quickly spools, muscles tighten in the drivetrain and the Diesel Cayenne surges ahead as if it was pulled by some giant unseen tractor beam. All the while, the cabin is hushed. There's just a hint of distant thrumming under road load, like the slow-turning, big-inch engines in an ocean-going ship. About 90 percent of the diesel's prodigious 405 lb-ft of torque is available at just over 1200 rpm. That makes the Cayenne Diesel none too particular as to what gear it's in. But if you do choose to shift on your own, the 8-speed Tiptronic S will oblige your commands with paddle shifters on the steering wheel or an H-gate at the shifter.
Though the 3.0-liter turbodiesel has already appeared on these shores in its Audi Q7 and Volkswagen Touareg corporate cousins, Porsche did some induction work to increase output from 221-225 hp to 240 horsepower. Porsche also got the engine to meet tough Tier 2 BIN 5 emissions requirements with an after treatment system that injects AdBlue urea fluid into the exhaust gas stream to reduce NOx. A 5.5-gallon tank under the spare tire holds enough fluid to go about 10,000 miles before refilling, which would be about every other oil change. Just be careful not to spill any as it's smelly and can remove paint.
Drop the hammer and the near 2-1/2-ton Cayenne Diesel will scamper to 60 mph from rest in just over seven seconds, a couple of tenths quicker than the base 300-hp 3.6-liter gas V-6 Cayenne. Yet driven like you're the one who pays the monthly fuel bill, this diesel has velvety throttle response. Checking fuel consumption on the wide-open state highways around Anchorage, Alaska, we had no difficulty meeting or beating the EPA 29-mpg highway estimate, ending the day with an average 28.6 mpg that included some idling with stop-and-go city traffic mixed in. At 26.4 gallons the Diesel's fuel tank is almost 20 percent larger than those in other Cayennes. Combined with the EPA-estimated 29 mpg number, that tallies out to a theoretical 765-mile driving range. Although you might have other reasons to stop at service stations, fuel won't always be one of them.
At least it's now easier to know when to stop courtesy of a new, tasteful chronometer-style clock situated atop the instrument panel on all 2013 models. Also new are armrest-mounted power door lock controls and a 10-speaker audio system with 7-inch touchscreen control.
Our test Cayenne Diesel optioned out north of $80,000 with all the bells and whistles, including adjustable air suspension, Porsche's Communication Management infotainment system with navigation, full-leather interior, 19-inch wheels, adaptive sport seats with memory, bi-xenon lighting and more. But a crafty buyer could bring home one with a few key options, like Bose surround sound, power sunroof and SiriusXM HD radio for less than $60,000 and have one spicy Cayenne. So other than the 300 pounds of added weight, we conclude from a driving dynamics standpoint that plunking the 3.0-liter turbodiesel into the Cayenne has had no deleterious effects, while improving low- and midrange responsiveness, fuel economy and driving range substantially. It's the first road-going Porsche ever to use diesel power and we don't think it's the last. In fact, the Cayenne Diesel makes so much darn sense that we wonder how long it will be before the engine finds its way into the Panamera.
2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel
Base price: $56,725, including $975 destination and delivery
As tested: $81,730
Engine: DOHC 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6
Power: 240 hp @ 3500-4000 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 1750-2500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: Full-time all-wheel with Torsen differential
Steering: Variable-ratio rack-and-pinion
Suspension, Front: Independent double wishbone, stabilizer bar
Suspension, Rear: Independent multilink, stabilizer bar
Brakes: Four-wheel disc, internally vented and cross-drilled rotors, ABS
Tires: P255/55R-18 all-season
L x W x H: 190.8 x 76.3 x 67.4 in.
Wheelbase: 114.0 in.
Track F/R: 65.2/65.7 in.
Weight: 4795 lb
Cargo volume (rear seats up/down): 23.7/62.9 cu ft
0-60 MPH: 7.2 sec
Top Speed: 135 mph
EPA Mileage: 19/29 mpg city/highway