GREVENBROICH, Germany — In one moment, we’re rocketing around a racetrack as though we’re in a 911 Turbo, while the next, we’re climbing rock faces, wading through water and cruising over rough gravel like a Jeep. We’re in the same vehicle.
Porsche’s vision for the Cayenne always has been of an SUV that is as comfortable clipping apexes as it is cresting summits. For 2019, the third generation, the company arguably has come the closest yet to hitting that goal.
A host of improvements have increased power, fuel efficiency, dynamic performance and off-road ability. The changes include three new engines, a new eight-speed transmission and a new front differential that lowers the car’s centre of gravity.
A new unitized body, with increased use of aluminum, has shed 51 kilograms of weight.
Those changes improve Cayenne’s on-road performance, while a new, optional, air suspension and off-road management system improve its ability in the sticks.
The three new engines include a three-litre V-6 turbo (340 horsepower, 332 pounds-feet), a 2.9-litre V-6 twin-turbo (440 hp, 406 pounds-feet) and a four-litre V-8 twin-turbo (550 hp, 568 foot-pounds). They’re mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission and a full-time all-wheel-drive system.
That all-wheel-drive system connects through a front differential that shares space with the torque converter bell housing. The front driveshaft passes through the housing, rotating between the engine flange and torque converter.
Thomas Seiler-Granderath, the Cayenne’s powertrain manager, said the change means the engine now can ride considerably lower in the engine bay, helping lower the vehicle’s centre of gravity.
The optional air suspension uses three air chambers at each wheel, not only increasing the travel to provide off-road clearance but also adding redundancy for reliability.
Also available is rear-axle steering, which counter-steers in slow manoeuvres to cut turning radius and steers with the front wheel slightly at speed to increase control.
Off-road programs, which alter a variety of vehicle systems — including throttle response, stability control, torque split, locking and unlocking of centre and rear differentials and ride height — combine with on-road programs — sport, sport plus, normal — to provide what Porsche says is the greatest spread between on-road comfort, racetrack performance and off-road ability.
Perhaps the most interesting system optional on the new Cayenne is an autonomous parking program called Garage Pilot. Got a narrow parking spot? Hate having to squeeze out once parked? Garage Pilot has your back. Choose your spot and it will autonomously park the vehicle for you, while you have comfortably exited the vehicle outside the parking spot.
Boss said the Porsche system, available on its highest option package, will make parking in tight spaces easier on drivers.
“You don’t even have to be in the vehicle,” Martin Boss, manager, driver assistance systems for Porsche AG, told a group of seven Canadian automotive journalists at an event near Düsseldorf.
“In that situation, you will avoid having to open the doors.”
With the system, you use your key fob to initiate parking, either in a parallel or perpendicular spot, and the vehicle takes care of everything. It is available on models with the highest option packages only, for now.
It might be the first such system offered on a production vehicle. Mitsubishi showcased a similar system in late 2016, but hasn’t announced availability, while Mercedes and BMW are working on or have systems that are similar.
Sinead Brown, spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz Canada, said the Mercedes system essentially will be an autonomous parkade, where cars will enter the parkade, park themselves and be summoned automatically. It is limited, for now, to Mercedes’ home city, Stuttgart, and is expected to launch in 2018, though the company is awaiting government approval.
BMW’s system requires you to point the car in the general direction first, and then allows you to get out and guide it in using a key fob.
Boss said the Porsche system doesn’t have the ability to be summoned from outside a parking garage, “like from a block away, but (that will happen) by the beginning of the next decade. We’re working on that now.”
The parking system also features a rim-protection system that warns if a rim is about to hit an object, such as a curb. A display on the dash identifies which wheel is affected.
The new Cayenne will also feature the same 12.3-inch touchscreen display as the 2017 Panamera. It offers online and offline search functions for the navigation, merging search results from its own database as well as results from an online search. If there’s a new restaurant, for instance, it may not show up in the car’s database, but may in an online search.
The system can also transfer navigation directions to a driver’s smartwatch for so-called “last-mile” navigation, such as when the car must be parked some distance from the destination and occupants must walk the rest of the way.
In the Turbo, a rear spoiler brings to the Cayenne what spoilers bring to the 911 and Panamera. It alters its angles as needed to maximize fuel economy, increase rear downforce for handling and even pops up to act as an air brake.
Thomas Wolf, manager of aerodynamics for Cayenne, said the spoiler itself doesn’t slow the car down from air pressure, but the increase downforce on the rear wheels reduces stopping distance from 250 km/h by two metres.
The spoiler system knows when the panoramic sunroof is open, and adds an even steeper angle. Wolf said the open sunroof lifts airflow off the roof slightly, and this steeper angle allows the spoiler to catch it.
Bringing the 550 horsepower of the Turbo to rest requires brakes, and Porsche, which is known for its expensive but effective ceramic brakes, has added a lower-cost alternative: Porsche Surface Coated Brakes, which use a ventilated cast-iron disc coated at super-high temperature with a tungsten-carbide layer, which reduces wear on the brake pads, helps dramatically cut brake dust and provides better braking.
The Turbo will do 0-100 in 4.1 seconds, or 3.9 seconds with the sport chrono package.
The Cayenne will start at $75,500, the Cayenne S at $92,600 and the Cayenne Turbo at $139,700. Prices do not include destination, as today’s $1,250 destination charge may change by launch date.