The addition of the diesel version of the Porsche Cayenne, introduced to the Canadian market in the fall, brings to seven the number of models offered for this upscale SUV. And, you could argue, the diesel version is the only one that makes any sense.
Much as I like Porsche, the concept of a high-performance SUV is an oxymoron, and silly. The Turbo S Cayenne, for example, has 550 horsepower on tap. Where on earth are you going to use that kind of muscle? Pointless on a track, impractical off-road, irrelevant in the city and with an astronomical price tag to match. Love just about everything else this company makes, but the Cayenne has always baffled me – I have never really “gotten” it.
I do, however, get the Cayenne Diesel, and would suggest that this is the kind of vehicle Porsche should have built all along. With more than 400 lb-ft of torque on tap, it has one of the fundamental building blocks for this kind of rig, yet it doesn’t overwhelm the driver and is as well behaved as a family sedan.
Some specs: At more than 2,000 kilograms in weight, the Cayenne Diesel is a large vehicle, but its turbocharged, 3.0-litre V-6 engine develops 240 horsepower, which is enough to take it from a standing start to 100 km/h in around seven seconds and give it a top speed of 220 km/h. Transmission is a Tiptronic eight-speed automatic only, and it has a full-time all-wheel-drive system with traction control and self-locking centre differential. It shares this latter feature with the Cayenne Hybrid, incidentally.
In practical terms, that means it keeps up handily with city traffic and is a delight on the highway. If you’re going to use it as a tow vehicle or if you really do like to get off road once in a while, this would be the one for you. It will also, according to Porsche, deliver fuel economy of 10.8 litres/100 km in town, and 6.7 on the highway. For a full-size SUV, that’s decent. VW’s Touareg TDI, which has essentially the same engine, is actually slightly thirstier.
One note here: The Cayenne Diesel requires low-sulphur diesel fuel, which is still not uniformly available across Canada. Low-quality diesel would likely wreak havoc with this engine, which is worth keeping in mind.
Despite its practical demeanour, this is still very much a Porsche. The ignition switch is on the left of the dash, and you almost feel like you’re sitting in a 911 or Panamera behind the wheel. Ergonomics are first-rate, although there’s a little too much clutter in the way of switchgear – an idiosyncrasy common to virtually all Porsches. Cold starts don’t involve much – unless the vehicle has sat overnight, you just start it as you would any other SUV. If it’s genuinely cold, there’s a two- to three-second wait for the system to get itself up to speed, but the diesel is unobtrusive and virtually unnoticeable.
The all-wheel-drive system has several settings, as does the suspension system. With the former, you can select different calibrations for off-road, loose road surface or pavement conditions. Porsche calls this its traction management system (PTM), and most upscale SUVs have a similar arrangement in one form or another. But not all have adjustable air suspension. Unfortunately, it’s a $4,550 option, but it will raise or lower the vehicle to deal with deep standing water, steep terrain or unusually gnarly off-road conditions. The ride quality of the Cayenne is, needless to say, first-rate and you can choose from “Comfort,” “Normal” or “Sport” settings. I pretty much stuck with Normal and, to be honest, I didn’t notice a huge difference between these three.
One thing I did notice was its comparatively reasonable cost (for a Porsche). The $65,400 base price gets you the traction management system, cruise control, back-up camera, power moonroof, Bluetooth and so on. My tester had some extras in the form of leather interior ($4,170), a navi system ($4,200), Sirius satellite radio ($,1280) and so on, all of which bump the price tag to just less than $100,000. That takes the fun out of things, and most of these bits and pieces you can do without. Just for the sake of argument, VW’s Touareg, which offers a similar driving experience, is thousands cheaper. On the other hand, you can drop this much and more on a Range Rover, Audi Q7, BMW X6 or Mercedes G-Class.
So the value in the Cayenne Diesel lies in getting it with just the bare necessities. Resist the temptation to load it up and things will be just fine. True, you’ll have to do without some nice modcons, but you will still get the essence of this vehicle and it is a Porsche, nonetheless.
2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel
Base Price: $64,500; as tested: $97,385
Engine: 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 240 hp/406 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.8 city/6.7 highway; low-sulphur diesel fuel
Alternatives: BMW X5 35d, Audi Q7, Mercedes GL350 BlueTec, Range Rover Sport, Lexus LX570, Infiniti QX56