2012 Porsche Cayenne SUV - FROM $48,200
After last year's thorough redesign, the 2012 Porsche Cayenne remains essentially unchanged with only a couple updates. If you can live with modest cargo capability and an immodest price tag, it's definitely a top pick.
What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Porsche Cayenne gets a newly available blind-spot warning system. For the Cayenne Turbo, the optional carbon-ceramic brake discs are larger, and a Power Kit option debuts that provides a 40-horsepower bump.
When shopping for a sport-utility vehicle, you'll usually come across convenient car-based crossovers, luxury SUVs and hard-core off-roaders. But sometimes you'll find a model that resists classification, and the 2012 Porsche Cayenne is a prime example. Coming from a company whose racing lineage dates back more than 50 years, the Cayenne impressively fulfills the sporting promises that the Porsche name implies while also maintaining high levels of luxury and quality.
Granted, the Cayenne doesn't have a third-row seat or as much cargo capacity as some other SUVs, but for most shoppers that probably won't matter much. What the all-wheel-drive Cayenne does provide is thrilling performance, with exceptional handling and a diverse lineup of engines. The base V6 generates 300 horsepower, the midlevel V8 ups the output to 400 hp and the Turbo can crank it up all the way to 540 horses. For those who want better fuel efficiency blended with their Porsche experience, there's the 380-hp gasoline-electric Cayenne S Hybrid and its 24 mpg highway rating.
If the Cayenne's standard equipment list doesn't satisfy, there is -- also in Porsche tradition -- a bevy of options that will please high-tech infotainment wonks and/or speed freaks alike. Features like upgraded audio and communication systems (that will even keep track of racetrack lap times) are available, as are upgraded wheel/tire and active suspension options to further the Cayenne's handling potential.
The Cayenne is quite pricey, especially if you start sampling from the extensive list of options. And it's true that you can find other luxury SUVs that are less expensive yet also have a lot of performance potential, including the BMW X5, Infiniti FX and Range Rover Sport. And if all you want is top fuel efficiency, a Lexus RX 450h will serve you better. But for a luxurious SUV that's performance-minded no matter what trim level you get, you won't do better than the 2012 Porsche Cayenne.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Porsche Cayenne is a five-passenger midsize SUV available in a number of different trims aligned to engine choice.
The base Cayenne comes standard with 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, a power liftgate, automatic wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a sliding and reclining 40/20/40-split rear seat, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, a touchscreen interface and a 10-speaker sound system with CD player and auxiliary audio jack.
The Cayenne S and Cayenne S Hybrid differ in powertrain and feature different steering systems (an enhanced speed-sensitive hydraulic system for the Cayenne S and an electric-assist system for the Hybrid), but both add a sunroof and driver memory functions. The Cayenne Turbo adds a turbocharged V8, 19-inch wheels, an air suspension, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, heated front sport seats with adjustable cushion and backrest side bolsters, a heated power-adjustable steering wheel, a navigation system and a 14-speaker Bose surround-sound system with satellite radio, HD radio and an iPod/USB audio interface.
Aside from engine choice, the extra equipment found on upper trims is available as options for the lower trim levels. The options list is extensive, with such items as different wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, active stabilizer bars, an upgraded torque-vectoring rear differential, underbody skid plates, carbon-ceramic brakes, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a blind-spot warning system, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, four-zone climate control, ventilated front seats, extended leather upholstery, voice-activated controls (requires navigation system), a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a six-CD/DVD changer and a 16-speaker Burmester surround-sound audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
The base 2012 Porsche Cayenne is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 300 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission are standard. An eight-speed automatic is optional and features automatic stop/start technology to conserve fuel. Porsche estimates this Cayenne V6 will reach 60 mph from a standstill in 7.1 seconds with the manual transmission and 7.4 seconds with the automatic. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined with the automatic. It's 1 mpg worse with the manual.
The Cayenne S features a 4.8-liter V8 good for 400 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, as is the eight-speed automatic transmission. Porsche's estimated 0-60 time is 5.6 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.
The 2012 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid features a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 attached to a 34kW electric motor and an eight-speed automatic. Combined, this hybrid powertrain produces 380 hp and 427 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds performance testing, the 5,000-pound Hybrid went from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, yet EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 20/24/21.
The Cayenne Turbo gets a turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 that produces 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. With its standard eight-speed automatic, the Turbo hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds during Edmunds testing, which puts it alongside the BMW X5 M and X6 M as the quickest, fastest SUVs sold. Estimated fuel economy is 15/22/17. An optional Power Kit turbocharger upgrade raises output to 540 hp and 553 lb-ft and also increases brake-cooling capacity.
Regardless of trim, each Cayenne equipped with the eight-speed automatic is rated to tow as much as 7,716 pounds.
The Cayenne comes standard with antilock brakes with enhanced brake assist and readiness, stability and traction control, driver knee airbags, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Rear side airbags, parking sensors, a rearview camera and a blind-spot warning system are available.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Cayenne Turbo came to a stop from 60 mph in 108 feet -- exceptional for any vehicle, especially an SUV. With its regenerative brakes, the Cayenne S Hybrid fared worse with a stop of 120 feet, but that's still acceptable in this class.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Cayenne's sophisticated, cockpit-style layout reminiscent of the Porsche Panamera sedan debuted last year. The center console, adorned in upwards of 50 buttons, rises to meet the dash and large touchscreen display, creating an enveloping driver's environment. With so many buttons, it can be difficult to find what you're looking for quickly, though once you discover the logic behind each set of controls, you might argue that this Porsche system is more efficient than the few-buttons-many-menu systems found in its competitors. Or you could argue that it's hopelessly busy.
Like other Porsches, the Cayenne features fine interior materials put together with excellent craftsmanship. Handsome wood, alloy trim and leather upholstery further add to the luxurious ambience. The front seats are available in three different designs, ranging from simple eight-way power adjustment to the 18-way sport seats, which feature adjustable bolsters, lumbar and seat cushion length. The sculpted rear seats not only recline but slide fore and aft as well, which is a feature not typically found in five-passenger luxury SUVs.
At the same time, the Cayenne has a maximum luggage capacity of 62.9 cubic feet (a figure reduced to 59.7 and 60.2, respectively for the Hybrid and Turbo models). This is on the small side for the Cayenne's class.
The 2012 Porsche Cayenne drives with a laid-back demeanor, especially with the standard V6. You'd be hard-pressed to describe it as quicker than other 300-hp SUVs, yet it is one of few sport-utilities to be offered with a manual transmission.
Handling, on the other hand, is impressive and the steering deserves special praise for its linearity and precision. Body roll is well controlled and the Cayenne can be hustled along with gusto, helped by a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that delivers 60 percent of its thrust to the rear wheels under normal conditions. The optional active suspension system provides a supple ride even with the dampers in their most aggressive setting. As a result, the Cayenne is an excellent candidate for long-distance driving and even light off-roading. Adding the optional active stabilizer bar system and torque-vectoring (power-directing) differential further the handling quotient.
The V8-powered Cayenne S delivers the sure-footed handling and poise of the V6 model, but adds a deeper voice and a generous portion of muscle and exhilaration. The Cayenne S Hybrid, with its electric power steering and odd-feeling regenerative brakes, is slightly less direct and thus less enjoyable to drive. Still, it remains a Porsche and does provide a nice blend of performance and fuel economy, splitting the difference between V6 and V8.
The accelerative performance alone of the Cayenne Turbo earns it a place in a very exclusive club. Add the optional turbo upgrade, racing-bred carbon-ceramic brakes and all the available suspension and drivetrain upgrades, and there are few sports cars (let alone SUVs) that can keep up.