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2011 Porsche Cayenne (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)
2011 Porsche Cayenne (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)

2011 Porsche Cayenne

Restyled Cayenne is sportier yet more practical Add to ...

Keira Knightley would like the 2011 Porsche Cayenne V-6, especially if the Pirates of the Caribbean star is anything like her character in the movies: feisty, accustomed to the finer things in life, but with a rebellious streak, even if she doesn't always know what she wants.

While filming a movie nearby, she showed up at the Cologne hotel where journalists were staying during the introduction of the almost-all-new base Porsche SUV.

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Talking to folks later who had sat next to her, the actress apparently watched some World Cup action on an extra-large flat screen TV after dinner at the bar. After I had tiredly gone to watch the same game in my room. And missed her. Not that I'm bitter. Any more.

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But it started me thinking that the British star, nominated for an Academy Award for playing another Elizabeth with similar traits in the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice, would appreciate the Cayenne V-6's unusual mix of upscale panache combined with a dual more sporting yet more practical personality.

Yes, the base Cayenne has upgraded its interior greatly, while dropping a king's buffet of weight, helping sporting responsiveness in the process. But the latest Cayenne has also been made longer, taller and wider in the process, so it's not as light and agile as it could have been, with the understandable if unsporting aim of increasing its everyday usability.

The base V-6, the least powerful of the Cayenne's soon-to-be-extended North American family, will still be the only one available with a manual transmission. Good luck finding one on a dealer lot though: Porsche estimates a 2 per cent take rate on the stick shift. Even hard-core enthusiast owners can see that the resale value prospects of a luxury SUV with a clutch pedal are meagre - even an SUV with a Porsche badge on it.

Sure, a base Cayenne might seem a bit pedestrian for Knightley, who joined the Forbes list as one of Hollywood's best-paid actresses a few years ago. Its $58,200 base price is less than half of what a top-of-the-line 500-hp Cayenne Turbo rings in at, before one adds the inevitable options and taxes. That base price is more than 11 grand higher than a less-equipped starter Cayenne in the United States, although the lower Canadian dollar, 6.1 per cent import duty and $2,500 in currency credit discounts available from Porsche Canada on the Cayenne V-6 all help bring the overall price difference closer to $3,000, or into dealer haggling range.

In North America, the V-6 accounts for about 55 per cent of all Cayenne sales, with the Cayenne lineup driving about half of the brand's sales overall. When the 2011 Cayenne V-6 arrives in showrooms in September, therefore, many of the headlines may focus on the Cayenne S Hybrid that arrives at the same time, since it's the first production gas-electric hybrid vehicle by the tradition-loving German sports car brand. But you can be sure that company execs will be watching Cayenne V-6 sales much closer than that of the glitzier but much lower volume $80,800 Cayenne hybrid.

The new Cayenne's V-6 is a highly upgraded version of Volkswagen's long- serving VR6 engine, making 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque at 6,300 and 3,000 rpm, respectively, from its 3.6 litres of displacement. That's close to the top of its segment in power, but it comes at much busier engine speeds than the turbocharged inline-six offered in the BMW X5, the Cayenne's closest rival for the title of sportiest luxury SUV.

Knightley's Elizabeth would appreciate the everyday value in this mill's overall 9.9 litre/100 km mileage, even if she would be somewhat underwhelmed by the thrill factor of its 7.8-second 0-100 km/h acceleration time.

Fuel economy may seem to be way down the list of priorities for buyers of sporting but posh SUVs, yet many of the revised Cayenne's upgrades help it achieve lower fuel consumption. Weight is cut by up to 185 kg, depending on model and trim level, which also helps in the dynamics department. The automatic Tiptronic S is also upgraded to an eight-speed unit, its top two gears becoming overdrive gears that help keep the revs down while cruising, and allow for a shorter and quicker-responding first gear.

This has helped Porsche get rid of the low-speed transfer case, and therefore some of its off-road credibility as well. Most customers won't miss it, and there is a mitigating new Porsche Hill Control program that helps the Cayenne crawl safely down steep slopes.

Perhaps the most noticeable fuel-saving measure is the automatic Start/Stop system, which automatically shuts the engine off after bringing the car to a stop - even a quick one, such as stopping to back up into a parking spot. This technology was previously featured on hybrids only, but looks set to expand much more widely in the next five years. All these changes and the weight loss contribute to a 20 per cent decrease in fuel consumption for the Cayenne V-6.

That notable weight reduction is remarkable considering that the Cayenne has grown in every dimension, its extra 40 mm in length going mostly to rear-seat legroom and cargo space. The rear seat now moves back and forth 16 cm, and can be adjusted to three different backrest angles, making it easier to squeeze in various permutations of people, child seats and gear comfortably.

The interior is also upgraded to feature a rising centre console design similar to the Panamera, a design that has won plaudits for its high-quality look and feel, as well as a lack of a centre mouse-like controller. Sure, it looks like an explosion at the button factory at times, and V-6 buyers may be faced with a large swath of annoying dummy buttons if they go easy on the options.

Porsche has finally made basic items like floor mats and Bluetooth standard, although it still doesn't offer as many standard goodies as the much-cheaper Lexus RX 350. But a large touch screen, an available 1,000-watt Burmester stereo, a huge panoramic two-piece roof and a new TFT screen next to the centre tach are all welcome luxury touches, the latter allowing the main screen in the middle to show stereo presets while visual navi directions are still provided via the smaller screen - or vice versa.

It all adds up to a base Cayenne that's lighter, more fun to drive, more fuel-efficient and yet more practical than before. Miss Elizabeth would surely approve.

2011 Porsche Cayenne V-6

Type: Luxury SUV

Base price: $58,200; as tested, (estimated) $75,000

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6, DOHC

Horsepower/torque: 300 hp/ 295 lb-ft

Transmission: Eight-speed sequential shift automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.2 city/8.0 highway; premium required

Alternatives: Acura MDX, Audi Q5, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX 350, Mercedes-Benz ML 350

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