The Porsche Cayenne, The Supercar SUV That Started It All, Returns For A Third Generation

The criticism that Porsche attracted in 2002 when it announced it was going to make its first SUV almost seems quaint.

Instead, as history has proved, the Porsche Cayenne became a smash success, vaulting to bestseller status (until the launch of the brand's smaller crossover, the Macan) and igniting a trend for performance SUVs that begat the recent slew of unlikely nameplates including the Bentley Bentayga, Maserati Levante and forthcoming Lamborghini Urus.

"We wanted to build the first sports car in the SUV segment," said Michael Steiner, Porsche’s head of research and development. With its plush cabin, sports car-like performance, and off-road chops, the first-generation Cayenne sold more than 270,000 units. Sales for the second generation, which launched seven years later to include hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, surpassed half a million, and the high-performance Turbo S variant became a benchmark for the segment.

"The Cayenne was really the start to our huge growth story as Porsche," Steiner said earlier this month at a launch event in Grevenbroich, Germany for the 2019 model, which arrives in the U.S. next year. “Now we’re starting a new chapter.”

The full redesign sees that nothing carries over except for the logo. Like its forebears, the new Cayenne has been engineered to drive like a sports car, as it showed on the track and on an obstacle course at a Grevenbroich driving dynamics facility. But designers and engineers strived to make the new five-passenger, all-wheel drive SUV more emotional, dynamic, and connected, with the automaker’s full range of dashboard technology. "The new Cayenne has all the weapons in our armory," Steiner said.

Longer and flatter, the third-generation model gets new tires, brakes, and suspension. Under the hood, the Cayenne gets a 340-horsepower V6 turbo that reaches a top speed of 152 mph. The V6 twin-turbo Cayenne S improves those numbers to generate 440 horsepower and hit 164 mph. The new Turbo packs a 550-horsepower V8 and the potential to reach 177 mph.

It also features the Porsche Advanced Cockpit, a connected system that updates real-time traffic and weather data, as well as advanced safety, semi-autonomous driving, and self-park capabilities. Though Porsche shunned the idea of creating an iPad on wheels, the new Cayenne sees that "there are only a few mechanical switches left on board," Steiner said. 

The Cayenne has played a critical role as the automaker’s most profitable model, and the redesign will ensure that its performance remains a benchmark in the segment, according to Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. “It’s been the backbone of Porsche’s business plan for the past decade,” he said. “Lots of Porsche people hate it, but it has made other cars like the 918 possible.”

“Before the Macan arrived, the Cayenne was an aspirational vehicle for me, like it is for many family guys with driving enthusiasm,” Brauer added. “I think the Macan is even more fun to drive and a better value, which is why it’s outselling the Cayenne now. I also really like the fact that is has genuine off-road chops, even if not quite at Land Rover levels.”

Rochelle GrenierForbes