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2009 Porsche Cayenne

Elegant SUV Add to ...

Porsches are fast, furious and fun.

Whether it's a 911, Boxster or Cayman, Porsche's sports car DNA is evident in its wheels. But the brand appears to be shifting gears to draw younger, family-oriented buyers to the lineup. A new four-door Panamera sedan is joining the family. And the Cayenne SUV, which launched in 2002, is still going strong, offering buyers an exciting sporty alternative to the boring SUV.

The Porsche Cayenne underwent a makeover in 2008. For 2009, there's a new 550-horsepower Cayenne Turbo S; it's expensive, though, starting at $150,400. There's also a special Cayenne S Transsyberia model named in honour of the Cayenne that took on the Transsyberia Rally last year. It costs $87,200. But there are cheaper models available.

The least-expensive Cayenne costs $56,100. It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, 12-way power front seats, cruise control and a power lift gate. The price is reasonable, but be wary of options - they add up fast.

My tester is a good example. A GTS with a six-speed automatic transmission, it costs $91,090. Add a few options and the price jumps to $110,895 as tested. The extras include $4,440 for the leather Havana interior with Alcantara, $1,630 for a moon roof and $2,130 for bi-Xenon headlights with washers, which you'd think would be standard at this price point.

The price may be steep, but once you step inside, you'll appreciate the upscale and lavish surroundings. Elegance abounds in the interior - the Nevada leather in sand beige is eye-catching - a perfect complement to my tester's gorgeous exterior colour of marine blue metallic.

The front seats are well bolstered and supportive. They're infinitely adjustable and heated for extra comfort. Likewise, the rear seats are comfortable and supportive. With ample head and shoulder room, taller passengers won't crave more space.

The rear seats also fold down easily, increasing the cargo-carrying capacity from 540 litres to 1,770 litres. And the power lift-gate opens nice and high, well out of head-banging range.

For 2009, the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system has been revised so it's easier to use. There's a 6.5-inch touch screen with fewer keys and menus to fiddle with. The navigation system has a 40-GB hard drive and is surprisingly easy to use. It's an option on my tester for $4,500.

The multifunction leather steering wheel feels firm in the hands; it's also heated for extra comfort on cold winter mornings. One minor beef is the location of the turn signal and cruise control stalks - they're positioned too close together so it's easy to accidentally engage the cruise when you're making a turn.

The Bose sound system with its 410 watts of power pumps out the tunes over 14 speakers. It's excellent, but costs $2,310. The tone and volume automatically adjust to compensate for ambient noise, which is a nice feature so you never have to reach for the volume control.

The Cayenne GTS's exterior is attractive with nice touches, such as 21-inch alloy sport wheels, side skirts, painted mouldings, a roof spoiler, black window surrounds, dual twin tailpipes, and air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management.

One thing is missing from the rear end, though - a Porsche badge. It simply says "Cayenne GTS." That's puzzling for newcomers to the brand, like my mom's neighbour who said, "It's beautiful. But what is it?" If I'm going to spend that much money on a Porsche, I want the emblem plastered on the back, clearly visible for all to see.

Powering the Cayenne GTS is a 4.8-litre V-8 engine with 405 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is mated to the engine. The base model gets a 3.6-litre V-6 engine that delivers 290 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the top-of-the-line Cayenne Turbo S; it has a 4.8-litre V-8 twin turbo that pumps out a gut-wrenching 550 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque.

But my GTS tester is more than satisfying and sporty to drive. It can launch from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in 6.1 seconds; the Turbo S will do the same feat in 4.8 seconds.

For an SUV, the Cayenne is surprisingly agile. A sport button stiffens the ride and increases the throttle response. Weighing in at 2,245 kg, the GTS feels heavy to drive at times and there is some body lean when cornering. But over all, it's a pleasant, stable ride.

Both the steering and brake feel are true to Porsche's roots. And the deep exhaust note is equally impressive. The all-wheel-drive system normally operates in a 38/62 split, but it can send 100 per cent of torque to the front or rear as needed.

Although I can't imagine taking this ultraluxurious ride off the beaten track, it has all the locking differentials needed to conquer any off-road adventure. It's easy to use, too - just turn to the desired setting for low-range gearing and advanced electronics.

On the downside, the fuel economy isn't the greatest. Combined highway and city driving is estimated at 13.9 L/100 km with premium fuel; I averaged 15.4.

The Porsche Cayenne may not be a sports car, but it does retain Porsche's exhilarating and fun driving dynamics with the added benefit of carrying more people and cargo.

2009 PORSCHE CAYENNE GTS

Type: Luxury four-door, five-passenger SUV

Base Price: $91,090; as tested, $110,895

Engine: 4.8-litre V-8, DOHC

Horsepower/Torque: 405 hp/369 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 16.2 city/10.8 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX570, Land Rover Range Rover, Infiniti QX56

Like

  • Ride and handling
  • Lush/elegant interior
  • Ample rear seat and cargo space

Don't like

  • Price
  • Options add up fast
  • Thirsty

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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