As much as I love being behind the wheel of a Porsche, I’ve long felt that the company has struggled to bring the overall quality of its interiors up to the level of the rest of the car. There had been more plastic than a car of this caliber should wear, strange control layout — especially for things like HVAC — far too many buttons and an overall lack of visual inspiration. Finally, Porsche has begun to figure it out, and this Cayenne — even in base guise — is a testament to that. Not only is it roomy, comfortable and sufficiently ergonomic, it’s highly attractive. Every time I looked around, I’d notice another thoughtful detail. Perhaps the most compelling example of that is the consistent look and feel across major touch points. Look at the air vents, the temperature toggles, the volume control, the rotary control for the infotainment and the sunroof button. They’re all the same texture and color. Even the little stopper for the 12-volt outlet has the same finish. There are other controls, like the thumb scrolls on the steering wheel, that were a different color — black, to match their surroundings — but even they had the exact same texture.
Porsche customers love customization, and the amount of different features available meant lower-specced cars often had a lot of dead buttons as placeholders. This always drove me nuts from an aesthetic standpoint. This Cayenne, though, has moved away from so many physical buttons, incorporating them into smooth, piano black control panels with light-up elements, giving it a much more clean and polished look. If you peer closely, though, you can see the placeholders for the features that aren’t in this vehicle under the plastic, which lets you know what you’re missing out on. In this case, it’s things like ventilated seats, adjustable suspension and an “E-Power” function that’s available in the plug-in hybrid version of the Cayenne. Still, I like this a lot better, even if it is prone to fingerprints.
— John Snyder (@jbeltzsnyder) March 18, 2019
My son was happy in the backseat. He was eager for me to put his car seat in the back (the Britax Frontier ClickTight being my choice for easy swapability among various press cars), and then kept asking for rides around the driveway. When we did finally strap in to run some errands, I was happy he had the space to swing his legs around when an impromptu backseat dance party broke out as we cruised the streets of Ann Arbor.
And it really is fun to drive. Wringing all 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque out of its turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 is an entertaining ritual worth repeating, and the rear-biased all-wheel drive system makes sure it’s put to the ground solidly. I had to chuckle when my son warned me not to drive too fast as I got a little enthusiastic accelerating onto the highway. The inclusion of the Sport Chrono package on this tester helped, allowing me to put the powertrain into sportier settings or even press what is essentially a push-to-pass button that puts it in its most aggressive settings for 20 seconds. Though in the past I’ve always thought the Cayenne was a little too bloated, this still felt solid but not at all unwieldy. It used to be that the Cayenne couldn’t hide its own bulk behind higher outputs and dynamic upgrades, at least not to my satisfaction. I think I can finally discard these notions with the new Cayenne. Even in its base guise, the Cayenne feels amply powerful, and even something approaching nimble despite the lack of the more expensive chassis upgrades. I was happy to oblige when Wollie asked me to take the long way home, cruising backroads north of town.
— John Snyder (@jbeltzsnyder) March 21, 2019
While this definitely feels — and especially sounds — like a Porsche, one thing is clearly missing from the driving experience: the quick, crisp shifts of a PDK transmission. The Cayenne forgoes the dual-clutch for the sake of towing capacity, and instead uses an eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic gearbox. Shifts are quite noticeable, and not particularly quick. The Cayenne takes its sweet time downshifting before you can take advantage of the power on tap — especially when choosing to make a quick passing maneuver at wide-open throttle — which means you have to plan your moves further in advance. That’s the only time we really minded the lag, though. Feeling the shifts in the rest of normal driving mostly just serves to draw your attention to the sounds of the motor under the hood, and that’s a good thing.
In the past, I would have overlooked the Cayenne as my choice for a luxury ute. I’d have rather had something from SRT, one of the Japanese automakers or even BMW. Now, though, the Cayenne moves to the top of my list for the segment. It’s at the top of my son’s list too.