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Speed Date

Driver's Logbook: SUV hater finds one he likes Add to ...

With the benefit of hindsight, we can conclude that the Brontosaurus was a bad piece of engineering: too big, too slow, and too inefficient. Then came the Late Jurassic Period, and Darwin's brutal verdict.

Which brings me to the SUV, my least favourite vehicle genre next to the motorhome. Like the Brontosaurus, the SUV begins with a single, defining characteristic that determines every other aspect of its design: sheer, bloated size.

Because SUVs are big, they're heavy. Because they're heavy, they need big engines, big brakes, and big tires. Which of course makes them even heavier. So SUVs suck fuel, take up too much space, and send out an ugly social message.

So you'll understand why I wasn't happy when I learned that the Porsche I would drive from Nova Scotia to Toronto would be a Cayenne, the cash cow SUV that I have always considered a Porsche in name alone.

The Cayenne may be Porsche's best selling car, but I never considered it worthy of the fabled marque. To me, a Porsche must have two seats and a howling boxer engine mounted in the back, where Ferdinand Porsche intended.

Off I went in the Cayenne, only to suffer a rapid softening of the opinions. As I soon learned, the latest Cayenne is a considerably different vehicle than its predecessors. For starters, it's 400 pounds lighter. That's a vast improvement, and the weight loss transformed the car. The last Cayenne I drove felt like an improved Grand Cherokee, but this one is totally different - swift and accurate, with an athleticism that conjures an NFL running back rendered in steel and aluminum.

It isn't a 911, Porsche's iconic sports car - but unlike the first-generation Cayenne, I consider this one worthy of the company name. I had expected a wallowing dinosaur that would be good for little more than carrying outsized loads and disposing of fossil fuel at a record pace. So I was amazed when I managed to clip along at more than 125 kilometres an hour while burning less than 11 litres per 100 kilometres. I soon realized why this possible - the new Cayenne has benefited from weight reduction, aerodynamic improvements, and perfect matching of the engine's torque curve to the eight-speed transmission.

Evan at highway speed, the 400-horsepower Porsche V8 barely goes above idle. Even at 171 kilometres an hour the engine was only turning 2500 rpm (I took a picture, so see for yourself - and no, I wasn't on a public highway.) The suspension was so good that I forgot I was in an SUV. On the twisting road to Peggy's Cove I actually managed to chase down a well-driven Nissan 350Z. (In the Nissan driver's mirrors, the Cayenne probably looked like a great white shark bearing down on him. Good times.)

The Cayenne's huge 21-inch wheels make it look like a cartoon. They aren't just for looks - hustling a car this size through curves demands large tire contact patches, and these aren't much smaller than the ones on Formula One car. And they do look good - when I pulled up outside the liquor store, a young man walked up and told me I was driving a sick whip. I had to agree.

But could I live with an SUV? There is a small subset of people that can actually use one. Among them are race drivers and glider pilots who tow trailers to the track or the airfield. I tend to do both, and the Cayenne is perfect for the job. I wasn't the only one who thought so: when I pulled up to the Harris Hill gliderport in New York state, the pilots poured out of the hangar to stare.) When a car has a price tag that approaches $100,000, it had better be good. But as I've learned, high cost is no guarantee of excellence. I've driven some expensive cars that I wouldn't take even if they were free. But the Cayenne was good, and if I had to own an SUV, this would be the one.

For more from Peter Cheney, go to facebook.com/cheneydrive (No login required!)

Twitter: Peter Cheney@cheneydrive

E-mail: pcheney@globeandmail.com

Globe and Mail Road Rush archive: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/car-life/cheney/

Follow on Twitter: @cheneydrive

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