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If Porsche were to roll the diesel Cayenne into Canadian showrooms, the price tag would likely be in the low-$70,000s.

Axel Koester/The Globe and Mail

I am driving a diesel-powered Porsche Cayenne, the likes of which accounted for a stunning 60 per cent of Porsche's volume in January and February. In Europe, of course.

Porsche types say they haven't decided whether to sell the Cayenne diesel in Canada and the United States. In fact, they openly encourage the journalists here for a test drive and brief seminar to tell their diesel story.

For a hulking, 2,245-kg SUV, there is no better powerplant. The Cayenne diesel gets 28 per cent better fuel economy than the V-8 and kick-in-the-pants torque of 406 lb-ft.

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If you tow, you have enough oomph to take advantage of the 3,500-kg maximum rating. If you just want to zoom around, the 0-100 km/h sprint takes 8.3 seconds. Top speed: 214 km/hour. And unlike the Cayenne S Hybrid we will certainly get, it does not have a cold-weather weakness, either.

This diesel is proven technology, too. For now, our Cayenne diesel sampler is not equipped with an exhaust after-treatment system that would make it fully legal on California's roads - it's not 50-state, 10-province certified.

But Cayenne project chief Michael Leiters says it would not be difficult to add a urea treatment for the exhaust, like what Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the rest already offer in Canada and the United States. Make no mistake, Porsche wants to sell this diesel in North America. If it were to roll into Canadian showrooms, look for a price tag in the low-$70,000s.

But "we need more market demand for this car," Leiters says.

It seems reasonable to assume that in this neck of the world are still trying to wrap their brains around a Porsche diesel. For a long time, Porsche pooh-poohed the very idea of a diesel engine clucking away in one of their delicious cars.

Porsche owes a debt to its sister company, Audi, for putting diesel and high performance in the same sentence. By winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a diesel prototype, Audi did much to help petrol snobs wrap their brains around the idea of a racy diesel.

Here in the Cayenne, Porsche has stuffed in a 3.0-litre V-6 (shared with the VW Touareg and Audi Q7). With average fuel consumption of 9.3 litres/100 kilometres, this Cayenne has a range of 1,000 km between fill-ups.

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Al Gore acolytes take note that the CO{-2} emissions figure is 244 g/km. That's twice what a small passenger car does in Europe, but it's still impressive for a 2.2-tonne, 214 km/h, four-wheel-drive, six-speed SUV capable of towing a small house.

Still, it's fair to argue that the Cayenne diesel is not quite the match for, say, BMW's X5 xDrive 35d diesel SUV ($62,200). The Bimmer can seat up to seven people (with the $1,900 third-row option), while the Porsche is strictly a five-seater. The BMW uses a little less fuel, too, at least in European configuration. And the X5 boasts a lower CO{-2} number - 225g/km.

In any case, I simply cannot imagine owning and driving an SUV without a diesel power plant. The torque, the range, the fuel economy and the overall usability of a diesel in an SUV cannot be matched by a gas engine at all and it's a stretch for even the best hybrids, too. Hybrids are much cleaner, of course, and that's the case for them.

Porsche has equipped the Tiptronic gearbox with a "sport" mode and, when engaged, this Cayenne is a pretty enthusiastic rig. In sport mode, the throttle response is sharper, too.

Yet inside, even if you are gunning it, the engine sounds are barely audible. Porsche slapped in an acoustic windscreen to deaden the sounds. Keep in mind, too, that even at highway speeds the diesel engine is turning over at a modest 2,100 rpm or so, in sixth gear. So it's a quiet high-speed cruiser.

The rest of the package is all Cayenne. For such a monster, the Cayenne moves away fast and it can be hustled down winding roads quite nicely. If Porsche, once only a sports car company, sees fit to make an SUV - that started six years ago - a diesel SUV makes the most sense.

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But this is a big step for the German brand. Porsche long resisted going diesel. Oil burners were seen as the very antithesis of a brand built on very high-performance sports cars with high-revving engines.

Indeed, when Ferry Porsche went to his grave 50 years after founding the company in 1948, Porsche was a small company building petrol-powered, two-door sports cars and nothing else. Now Porsche is becoming part of the Volkswagen empire and there is a diesel-powered SUV in the lineup.

Next thing you know, Porsche will find itself selling a four-door car. Wait - that's coming this fall. It's the Panamera.

And did we mention the hybrid?

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