2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe Driven: The Hulked-Up Hot Hatchback

Where evolution has taken the SUV.

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe offers a handy guide to the evolution of SUVs. The provocative 2003 Cayenne saw Porsche reimagine itself, but that imagination was still bound by the era's literal, truckish conception of an SUV. Flush with that Cayenne's global success, Porsche realized it had no need to apologize. So the second-gen Cayenne prioritized emerging "crossover" ideals of carlike design and on-road performance. For 2020, this offshoot of the third-generation Cayenne belatedly follows the trend set by the hit BMW X6: The Cayenne Coupe would rather not be an SUV at all, if it weren't for customers' non-negotiable demands for a tall stance, a liftgate, and all-wheel drive. The Coupe's handsomely sweeping roofline, broadened rear fenders and motorized rear spoiler try their damndest to echo the 911 sports car. But like BMW's "SAV's" and Mercedes' crossover "coupes," the Cayenne Coupe is effectively a hot hatchback, albeit in Frankenstein form with platform shoes, frightening size and strength, and prices that only a biotech creator could afford.

And while the Cayenne Coupe has some Porsche villagers again setting torches alight, those purists must realize how silly they look in 2019, still howling at the neighbors to get those SUVs off their lawn. If you're part of that mob, the science may be on your side—obviously, a Cayman coupe is still more fun than a utility "coupe" that weighs 5,024 pounds in Turbo form—but the neighbors long ago dismissed you as a crank.

At the Cayenne Coupe media drive in Austria, this Porsche demonstrated the Stuttgart science that makes an SUV flash to 60 mph in as little as 3.7 seconds, cover a quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds, and achieve a 177-mph top speed. Those bracing numbers, achieved with childlike ease via automated launch control, describe the Turbo and its twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8 with 541 horsepower and 567 lb-ft of torque. That model races as quickly to 911 heights of monetary largesse, starting from $131,350 and reaching at least $166,400 for the option-rich version we drove. (You can push the Turbo to nearly $180K if you manage to exhaust the options list.)

Fortunately, as addictive as the Turbo's acceleration and V-8 bark proved, only the status-conscious (and price-unconscious) buyer will need to go there. This SUV's class-topping agility, steering and braking are as compelling as any straight-line feats. As a result, "settling" for the standard Coupe (at $76,550) or Coupe S (at $89,850) won't feel like settling at all.

First, those versions are substantially lighter than the 5,024-pound Turbo, at 4,663 and 4,725 pounds. Secondly, while the Turbo brings more standard performance gear, the Porsche technical magic that makes these fluffy rabbits run best can all be had on more affordable models. Those include the 48-volt, active anti-roll stabilization known as Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control; Torque Vectoring Plus; rear-axle steering; and ceramic-composite brakes. Alternatively, Porsche claims its new Surface Coated Brakes boost brake friction, reduce dust by 90 percent versus conventional stoppers, and shine rotors to a mirror-like finish after about 375 miles of driving. Base and S models can add the Turbo's adaptive, three-chamber air suspension. And every Coupe gets the multi-mode Sport Chrono package, Porsche Active Suspension Management damping, speed-sensitive and variable-ratio electric steering, and multi-plate Porsche Traction Management to divvy power between front and rear axles. Don't forget the latest eight-speed, paddle-shifted Tiptronic transmission, whose amazingly brisk, precise gear changes top even ZF's lauded eight-speed among today's torque-converter automatics. That otherwise brilliant transmission was responsible for a rare performance stumble: Its chunky, somewhat awkward electronic lever didn't always summon reverse on our first attempt.

Porsche says its esteemed dual-clutch PDK transmission isn't suited to the Cayenne's towing and off-roading abilities. The latter is enhanced by screen-selectable Gravel, Mud, Sand, and Rock modes, which most Porsche owners will dial up as regularly as Scandinavian Black Metal compilations. However rare, those off-road headbangers can choose a package with mild underbody armor, along with screen displays for steering angle, transverse gradient, and incline measurements.

Porsche made much of its Lightweight Performance Packages, but we found them best for lightening wallets, including one priced at $14,400. Along with 22-inch GT Design wheels, carbon-fiber/Alcantara interior trim and (admittedly awesome) houndstooth-check seat fabric, the key feature is a carbon roof that is an actual weight-saving piece and lowers the center of gravity. Three available Lightweight Packages save from 39 to 48 pounds, in large part by replacing the standard, enormous fixed panoramic roof. But for this hefty Porsche, they reminded us of the 250-pound bicyclist who decides that a pricey titanium seat post is going to turn him into Lance Armstrong.

Far more cost-efficient is the "basic" Coupe, which makes 335 horses and 332 lb-ft from a single turbo, 3.0-liter V-6. That Coupe never felt remotely underpowered through Austria's verdant, Von Trapp hills, and it is said to return a 5.7-second dash to 60 mph and a 151-mph top speed. But speed junkies should find that S marks the lineup's sweet spot. With 434 horses and 405 lb-ft from a twin-turbo, 2.9-liter V-6, the S Coupe trims a full second off the base model's zero-to-60-mph dash at 4.7 seconds, and it reaches a 163-mph peak. Its dual-turbo V-6 responds to throttle more alertly than does its single-turbo cousin. It sounds crisper, and its muscular powerband brings out the best of the Coupe's remarkably athletic chassis.

As with BMW's X6 versus X5, the subtraction of cargo space and a skosh of rear-seat comfort is the biggest calculation for shoppers weighing the Coupe versus the standard Cayenne. With 22 cubic feet of space behind its rear seat, and 54.3 cubes overall, the Coupe and S Coupe stow roughly as much gear as a VW GTI—again making it more hot hatch than true SUV—and about 20 percent less than a standard Cayenne. (The Turbo Coupe's cargo hold is about 1 cubic foot smaller.) There's plenty of headroom in back for six-foot passengers, in part because seats are lowered by 1.2 inches versus a Cayenne's, but the Coupe's rear seats don't slide fore and aft. A two-plus-two seating arrangement is standard, with a folding armrest and storage between rear seats. A three-passenger rear bench is a rare no-cost option from Porsche. Up front, idyllic sport seats top out with 18-way adjustments that include separate bolsters for torsos and thighs.

The Coupe does fulfill its mission to look racier and less utilitarian than the suburb-trawling Cayenne. Where BMW's X6 appears armored and confrontational, the Porsche is more demure—a people-pleaser, from its streamlined nose to the slim barrettes of LED taillights that bisect its flanks. Extroverts can make a more colorful statement with Lava Orange paint that adorned several test models. Forward of their A-pillars, the respective Cayennes are nearly identical. But the Coupe's roof sits 0.8 inch lower, and plunges faster to marry those wide flanks. Redesigned rear doors and fenders broaden the Coupe by 0.7 inch. The license-plate bracket moves from the liftgate to the bumper, drawing the viewer's eye downward. And a jutting rear spoiler atop the hatch joins a new adaptive, lower spoiler that extends by 5.3 inches at speeds above 56 mph to add rear-axle downforce.

An impeccable, leather-lined cabin underlines the "You get what you pay for" mantra of luxury cars. First seen in the Cayenne and Panamera sedan, the Porsche Advanced Cockpit surrounds a central analog tachometer with dual 7.0-inch, HD driver's displays, including navigation mapping. Its 12.3-inch center touchscreen offers customizable widgets and shortcuts; it can also be controlled via voice, a rotary console dial, and flush-mounted capacitive controls that respond to touches with haptic clicks. An LTE-compatible SIM card makes every Cayenne Coupe network-connected, allowing integrated services through the touchscreen, including Amazon Music and smart home devices through Nest. Naturally, the Porsche is chockablock with driver-assistance systems, including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, and a lane-keeping system with steering assist. Porsche's InnoDrive function uses navigation, radar, and camera data to calculate optimal acceleration and deceleration for each 1.8 miles of travel. It then automatically adjusts the engine, transmission, and brakes to account for real-time traffic, upcoming corners, gradients, speed limits, and even roundabouts. Selecting Sport mode elicits a more dynamic map and sportier semi-autonomous behavior.

Cayenne Coupe drivers will likely prefer DIY methods, especially if they go wild on the Turbo. It's a real freak show: Strong enough to challenge even its corporate cousin, the 650-hp Lamborghini Urus, on any public road. That includes 10-piston-caliper front brakes that match the Lambo's count. (The S Coupe has six-piston front calipers, the Coupe four-piston fronts.) Slinging the Turbo from apex to apex on serpentine Austrian roads, submitting to the hammering violence of its V-8, it was easy to forget that this was an SUV by any definition. What made me remember was the fact that the Coupe seemed to take up every centimeter of these skinny, no-shoulder European lanes.

Again, unless you're determined to hunt for the the rare and elusive Urus, the S Coupe or even base Coupe should satisfy your performance hunger. Equipped with the optional PDCC system, those models cornered flatter than a CrossFit instructor's tummy. Close your eyes in any version (not recommended), and you'd know you were driving a Porsche. From the Rodin sculpting of the steering wheel rim, to its genius weighting and sensitivity, it's what makes a Porsche a Porsche—far more than overkill horsepower that only demands money and a lead foot.

Even for most Porsche fans, the Turbo's $131,350 base price—about $24,000 beyond an X6 M, and $17,000 more than a Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe— will persuade them to choose finesse over pure brawn. A thoroughly equipped, 434-hp S Coupe (starting from $89,850) can be had for about $110,000. A dead-stripper, 2020 911 Carrera 4S costs $12,000 more. And that one doesn't even come with a liftgate.

2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe Specifications

ON SALE Fall 2019
PRICE base, $76,550; S, $89,850; Turbo, $131,350
ENGINES 3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6, 335 hp, 332 lb-ft; 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6; 434 hp, 405 lb-ft; 4.0L twin-turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8, 541 hp, 567 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 4- or 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 15-19/19-23 mpg (city/hwy, est)
L x W x H 194.2-194.5 x 78.1-78.7 x 65.1-66.0 in
WHEELBASE 114.0 in
WEIGHT 4,663-5,024 lb
0-60 MPH 3.7-5.7 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 150-177 mph (mfr)
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