The route from Los Angeles to our desert testing grounds climbs over the San Gabriel Mountains through 40 miles of corners and clouds that test handling, braking, and power. Pick the right time and traffic is rarer than the smell of fresh-cut grass in L.A., and by the time the road spits you out onto the freeway, your understanding of a vehicle is fully formed. Of our dozens of commutes over these mountains this year, there are a few memorable standouts: the traffic-free run in a Mustang GT, the 911 GT3’s 9000-rpm shriek bouncing off the rock walls, a paradigm-busting drive in an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and this most recent assault in the redesigned Porsche Cayenne.
Even more remarkable: It was the base Cayenne that made this impression. Not the 541-hp Turbo or the 434-hp S, but the version that starts at $66,750 and has a 335-hp V-6. Porsche did spec this one with the optional air springs and adaptive dampers ($4160) and 21-inch wheels wrapped in wide summer tires ($5510). With those extras, this 4720-pound all-wheel-drive SUV clings to the skidpad at a tenacious 0.96 g. The air springs lower ride height by 1.1 inches in Sport Plus mode and help the Cayenne come across as more of a large wagon than an SUV. While the Porsche lacks some of the throttle sensitivity and steering playfulness of the lighter Alfa-and the high center of gravity is inescapably felt in quick transitions-its unerring stability makes reaching for cornering limits easy. Porsche, however, did not spec this Cayenne with its newest available brake set, the so-called Porsche Surface Coated Brakes, or PCSB. This $3490 upgrade promises improved performance and reduced brake dust without forking over $9080 for even more performance and fade resistance with the carbon-ceramic (PCCB) option.
We wouldn’t call the six-cylinder Cayenne quick, but that’s only because quickness is a moving target. Case in point: With launch control, this turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 model turned 4.8 seconds to 60 mph. That’s two-tenths speedier than the original Cayenne Turbo, which had 450 horsepower but also weighed 1000 pounds more than this one.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, we found the view is all Panamera. From the radio to what feel like hundreds of vehicle settings, the driver handles pretty much everything through the touchscreen. And yet, instead of breeding contempt, familiarity with the system has made us more tolerant of its menu structure and logic. Helping to reduce aggravation is a haptic-feedback screen that responds reliably and with an audible click. It also switches between functions instantly.
Set the Cayenne’s suspension to Normal and the road turns into something that happens at a distance and doesn’t require much thought, like a Blue Man Group show. At 70 mph, we measured a low 66 decibels of interior noise. There’s an incredible solidity, too, that feeds the Cayenne’s luxurious side. We’ll use this space to complain a little about the lack of visibility out the rear window, but we’re reaching here. Get the air springs and the summer tires and click it into Sport Plus mode, and the base Cayenne will have you seeking out the roads usually reserved for Porsche’s sports cars.
From the February 2019 issue
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