WALLBERG, Germany — “Right after start, then right again, narrows slightly, crest, long slight left. Caution! Road goes right, drops on left and right. Dip! Hairpin left, closes.”
These co-driver bullet points describe the first 2,000 feet of the Wallberg hillclimb. Never heard of the mountain famous for its exclusively black downhill pistes? Then you’re probably not familiar with classic motorsport pilgrimage sites such as Ollon-Villars, Monte Bondone, or Gaisberg, either. But in the 1960s and ’70s, the highly popular European Hillclimb Championship ran on these and 15 other cordoned-off mountain passes. The events were dominated during a 10-year timespan by Gerhard Mitter and Sepp Greger, who competed in a variety of Porsches, from the 718 RS 60 to the 910. So, we thought, what better place to start our tour de force in the 2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo than this poorly paved wriggle on which the past half century has barely left any traces?
The posted speed limit is all of 30 mph, which you think is ridiculously slow until you actually drop the hammer and hit the narrow, uneven road with rock face on the left and the occasional wooden cross on the right. The new Cayenne immediately feels at home on this curvy terrain sprinkled with wet leaves. It takes at least two runs to familiarize yourself with this ’till-death-do-us-part stage. But once the tricky sequence of corners, crests, and climbs is stored inside your head, nothing should stop you from putting in a performance strong enough to make the curbside fir trees bow and applaud, and they have indeed witnessed many wild rides. Porsche’s trademark “driver steers, vehicle thinks” philosophy is evident and extends all the way to the fringe when the electronic helpers intervene. Dial in PSM Sport, and the broad barge will even perform an occasional four-wheel slide, clipping apexes as if they were buoys, allowing the odd dash of weight transfer to bring the rear end back in line. Nice.
The connecting stage to the Sudelfeld pass contains a mixed bag of challenges, from the autobahn to slow rush-hour traffic. Given half a chance the Cayenne turbo will max out, in sixth gear, at a rather swift 179 mph. Responsible for the 550 horsepower and 567 lb-ft of torque is a 4.0-liter V-8 with two turbochargers. While the all-new eight-speed automatic transmission will happily slip into coast mode under trailing throttle, it does not yet incorporate the componentry needed for a plug-in hybrid upgrade. The 0-60-mph stint takes a dragstrip-inspired 3.7 seconds (with Sport Chrono Package), while the sprint from 0 to 100 mph is accomplished in only 9.2 seconds. Impressive numbers, but the best is yet to come, namely the Turbo’s ability to beam itself from 50 to 75 mph in a mind-boggling 2.7 seconds.
Unlike Wallberg, the Sudelfeld road is a fast stretch of tarmac. No surprise then that the Cayenne starts its first ascent with total calm, riding the torque surf in fourth, fifth, and sixth gear. This low-to-mid speed urge in combination with the ability to spin beyond 6,000 rpm makes the new V-8 a remarkably balanced high-performance engine. Massaging the throttle briefly is all its takes to flatten any gradient and to build speed almost as fast as you can turn up the stereo’s volume. Select Sport mode, and the gearbox increases the pace and ramps up the rhythm.
On the back roads to Austria, driver and passenger wrestle with the infotainment system first introduced in the Panamera. The latest in-dash electronics are to a novice like a door with seven locks. What may be a dream come true for videogame nerds is a pain in the rear for an older person who misses, first of all, a knob to turn up the music. Everything is touchy slidey, and the menus and submenus often need several steps to access. It takes a long, straight road or a parking place to come to grips with what all those bits and bytes can do for you. But as soon as you encounter a corner or a couple of potholes, the eyeless index finger typically takes three attempts to perform one command. It’s all a bit of ergonomic overkill.
On the three-lane Munich-Salzburg autobahn, the Cayenne Turbo acts like a rather big fish in a relatively small aquarium. After all, there is a lot of it, and all that mass wants to be sped up and slowed down recurrently in a demonstration of what a sporty cottage on wheels can do. Without siding with the eco crowd, it somehow goes against the grain of your green conscience to drive the SUV like a 911, which is of course exactly the attraction of buying an SUV from Porsche in the first place. Still, if fast isn’t fast enough, just hit the black button in the middle of the drive-mode selector and relish a 20-second overboost fest: Between 125 and 150 mph, we’re in the zone that sifts the would-be heroes from the real superachievers. Just as satisfying, the Cayenne corners almost as flat as a Panamera, brakes almost as urgently as a Macan, and handles with almost the same precision as a Cayman.
That said, we have yet to drive a no-frills base-model Cayenne. Our test car was fitted with 21-inch wheels and tires, dynamic chassis control, rear-wheel steering, torque vectoring, Power Steering Plus, and the Sport Chrono pack. The standard triple-chamber air suspension provides a wider spectrum of damper tuning and ride-height adjustment. Dynamic Chassis Control is Porschespeak for active sway bars that can decouple or twist when the off-road going gets tough. Another novelty is the self-adjusting roof spoiler, which can increase downforce up to the point when it becomes an airbrake. Together, these elements warrant a high-speed composure that is second to none. Since each wheel is individually masterminded, unsettling chain reactions are a thing of the past. Body control is exemplary, and the roadholding is untouchable even when the g-force meter slides past the 1.0 mark.
Aided by torque vectoring and the limited-slip rear differential, the Cayenne Turbo accelerates out of tight uphill corners with unreal verve. With all safety nets deactivated, the 315/35R-21 Pirellis paint two short black stripes on the road. On this tricky terrain, you want the suspension in Sport for sufficient compliance and the transmission in Sport Plus for aggressively late upshifts. On the approach to hairpins, however, changing gears is a job for the driver who must synchronize the downshift and the braking point. In summer, front tire temperatures can be a limiting factor, but in autumn you have all the downforce in the world, so make full use of it. We did, grinning from ear to ear. Despite its bulk, the Porsche manages not to understeer excessively through tight blind bends, and it does a fine job controlling its considerable moment of inertia through quicker sweepers. The brakes are quite grabby and not especially intuitive to modulate, but when you hit the pedal hard, they deliver serious stopping bite. Standard on the turbo and optional on lesser models are steel discs coated with tungsten carbide for increased friction and reduced wear and dust. Wheels, rotors, and the white brake calipers were indeed still super clean at the end of our two-day trip.
Although this is a completely new vehicle, the key innovations are semiconductor-driven. The 2019 Cayenne is permanently online, and it hooks up with streaming services like Amazon Music and the smart-home specialist Nest, and its Wi-Fi hotspot ensures consistent reception of your favorite radio stations no matter where you are. The so-called Risk Radar taps the swarm of intelligence stored in the cloud for critical real-time data such as black ice, out-of-the-blue traffic congestion, or a crash that just occurred up ahead. The Voice Pilot who lives at the end of a column stalk allegedly understands more than 100 different commands, from “I’m cold” to “take me to the nearest Italian restaurant.” Also new are five different off-road settings including Gravel, Mud, and Rock, all backed up by accordingly scalable driving dynamics systems. The driving, though, is what stands out. After 360 miles and what must have been 1,000 corners, there is no doubt about it: This SUV is, together with the 400-hp Macan Turbo, a more complete go-anywhere sports car than any of its rivals, and it covers the full spectrum from thundering down the autobahn to climbing up a rutted track to the snowed-in ski chalet.
2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo Specifications
|ON SALE||Now for delivery fall 2018|
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/550 hp @ 5,750-6,000 rpm, 567 lb-ft @ 1,960-4,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|L x W x H||193.9 x 78.1 x 65.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.7 sec (with Sport Chrono)|
|TOP SPEED||177 mph (electronically limited)|