Just when you thought the Porsche Cayenne story couldn't get any more tawdry or base, along comes the third Cayenne, this one powered by a Volkswagen V-6. But as much as we would like to get worked up about this ultimate VolksPorsche degradation, it turns out that the base Cayenne makes a surprisingly strong case for itself.
First, it chose its engine wisely. If any six-cylinder can overcome the Cayenne's 4763-pound curb weight, the torquey, 3.2-liter VR6 surely can. The engine itself hasn't been altered from its Touareg application, although it breathes through new intake and exhaust systems, bumping up power by 27 horses to 247 and torque by 4 pound-feet to 229. A real Porsche flat-six was not, as the engineers say, "appropriate for this application," because, er, it wouldn't fit.
Second, the new version finally makes financial sense of Proposition Cayenne. The base price is $42,990, meaning that you can get a cosmetically identical, anatomically correct, steel-sprung version of the Cayenne for the price of a decently equipped Touareg. Sorry, Audi A7, you've just been squeezed out of your price point.
The most compelling thing about the base Cayenne, though, is that it eventually will be available here with a six-speed manual transmission (the Cayenne S V-8 will get a manual, too). Included in the manual option is something Porsche calls Drive-Off Assistant, which is a hill holder that senses if the car is in gear on an incline and depresses the brake pedal-you can feel it come down-until you've given the car enough gas to overcome its resting angle.
Stripped of its eight-cylinder engine, optional air suspension, and automatic transmission, the Cayenne is that rare vehicle that is improved by decontenting. And rumor has it there's more denuding on the way. From talking to Porsche engineers, it's clear that they may have overdone the Cayenne's off-road ability at the expense of curb weight. So, furtive face-saving references were made to an on-road-even rear-wheel-drive-Cayenne, perhaps with aluminum suspension pieces. This could be the basis of a Porsche sedan, possibly within the Cayenne brand sphere. Strange times, indeed.
Porsche will sell about 5000 six-cylinder Cayennes a year here, out of 15,000 to 17,000 total. This means that the U.S. market, not fuel-conscious Europe, will be the biggest consumer of the V-6, even if that, as does so much else about the vehicle, defies logic.