Test Drive: 2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo

The German language has a way of using one word where English needs five. "Stimmig," Porsche's director of exterior design and styling Peter Varga uses to describe the 2019 Porsche Cayenne. It invokes a snug fit of disparate elements—a sense of harmony or cohesion that runs from nose to rear. "For me, personally, it's an iconic car," Varga said through a German translator while running his hand over the bonnet of a new Cayenne Turbo during its launch last month in Crete. "For this generation, we looked at what kind of elements we could retain and what new elements dare to take the next step forward."

A drive around the remote Greek island showed that Porsche succeeds, not surprisingly, in fusing the comfort of a touring car with the capability of a legitimate off-roader—while taking driving dynamics and dashboard technology to the next level. Before we were turned loose in each of the SUV’s three versions—the 340-horsepower V6 Turbo; 440-horsepower, twin-turbo V6 Cayenne S; or 550-horsepower V8 Turbo—for a series of short road trips, we were warned, "The locals are not attuned to fast or sporty cars, and they will look at you with bright eyes." The latest Porsche Cayenne, which arrives in July to usher in the third generation of the original supercar SUV, made good on that promise.

To be fair, Porsche never had a fundamental problem melding the design elements of its five-passenger family-hauler. The skepticism it initially attracted when the nameplate launched in 2002 gave way to record-breaking sales, catapulting the mid-size Cayenne to the top of Porsche's line-up, until brand's second SUV, the smaller Macan, surpassed it more than a decade later. But the new Cayenne must now compete—inside, outside, and under the hood—with the spate of rivals it inspired from Bentley, Maserati, and the like.

From the outset, the new Cayenne looks similar to the outgoing one, bearing the typical Porsche face marked by long fenders, a long hood, and a prominent power dome. "As is typical with most Porsche 'redesigns,' it's a whole new vehicle but looks so much like previous models that only a trained eye can spot the subtle differences," offers Tim Huntzinger, a professor in the Graduate Transportation Design Department at the renowned Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

A closer look at the sheet metal with Varga reveals small adjustments that equate to an outsized impact. Designers hewed to the second-generation Cayenne’s proportions but added a dose of "sporty dynamism" by lowering the roof slightly. "A huge challenge was bringing down the roofline by one centimeter," Varga explains. "It may not sound like much, but it’s very difficult to do in the SUV segment."

The new Cayenne’s other fait accompli is its fighter jet-inspired active roof spoiler—the only one on the market—designed to improve downforce and shorten stopping distance. Optional rear-axle steering gives the SUV a 911-like boost when cornering, a feature that helped on Crete's twisty roads high above the Mediterranean. Varga calls the Cayenne’s larger wheels—19 inches for the Cayenne and Cayenne S and 21 inches for Turbos—"a designer’s dream," while the LED headlights resting beneath a single pane of glass are "a work of art." He says, "The work that goes into the headlights is as much as the entire car."

"We’ve also reworked the entire side," Varga continues, crossing over to run his hand along SUV's hips, which boast the same curves seen on the 911. "All of the unnecessary edges have been smoothed out." But a walk around to the rear reveals the most significant stylistic changes: the slim, three-dimensional light strip found on the 911 and Panamera now runs between the Cayenne's taillights, putting the Porsche lettering behind a single sheet of glass.

Inside, a flat, elongated dashboard creates the illusion of larger space, anchored by a crisp 12.3-inch touchscreen that runs the soup-to-nuts Porsche Communication Management system, which features the full slew of connected features including online navigation, intelligent online voice control, four USB ports, and a built-in WiFi hotspot. "We have not planned to develop an iPad on wheels," Porsche research and development head Michael Steiner adds, but "there are only a few mechanic[al] switches left on board."

The Cayenne's designers point out that the cabin's increasingly spartan aesthetic follows the natural evolution of the SUV's founding design principles. Nearly two decades after its launch, form still follows function: The commitment to using one switch where other vehicles need several keeps the Cayenne honest or, as the Germans say, "ehrlich."