Porsche is a brand without a present blemish – each one of its vehicles is a standout in its respective class. Sports car enthusiasts invariably find themselves comparing every automotive contender against the iconic and continually evolving Porsche 911, or the spectacular mid-engine 718 twins. Sedan and wagon junkies get their fix with the stylish and dynamic Panamera. Compact crossover shoppers with a taste for driving fun can do no better than the Macan. And then there’s the Cayenne, the vehicle that saved Porsche when it was at its lowest, and has been the brand’s sales leader for years.
Certainly, it’s good to be Porsche these days, but all that esteem comes with a nasty downside: any slip-up, however minor, will have purists shouting that the brand has lost its way. Earlier in 2019, Porsche successfully cleared a big checkpoint with the well-received introduction of its 992-generation 911, but the Carrera will never sell in great enough numbers to float the entire automaker. That burden falls on the shoulders of the Cayenne. Entering its third generation, the mid-size SUV boasts updated styling, features, and performance hardware within deceptively similar bodywork.
Porsche’s unenviable position is this: it must sufficiently advance the Cayenne’s luxury and technology features to stave off refreshed competitors like the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, while retaining the brilliant driving essence that built its brand. A week in the 2019 Cayenne ($66,750) tells all.
INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR DESIGN
Much like it did with the 911, Porsche took an evolutionary design approach with its new Cayenne. While three inches longer and 1.7 inches wider than the outgoing model, the 2019 Cayenne looks more like a gentle refresh than a top-down rebuild. Visual tweaks include a lower, veined hood, sharper LED headlight signatures, chromed slats across the entire front fascia, new 19-, 20-, and 21-inch wheel designs, and a continuous LED taillight running the entire width of the tailgate. Notably, a short rear overhang and a steeped front overhang mean the Cayenne won’t scrape easily off-road (especially when equipped with the optional air suspension).The modest redesign sufficiently modernizes the Cayenne while retaining its upscale physique. For those wanting to make a bigger stylistic impact with a Porsche mid-size SUV, the Cayenne Coupe will arrive later this year to battle the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe.
Inside, Porsche’s changes are more transparent. To reduce clutter along the center stack, Porsche replaced numerous physical controls with haptic feedback sensors along a glass surface. The sheer number of individual settings is still daunting, but the two-dimensional arrangement creates a slicker look.Material quality is exceptional, with a blend of brushed metals, gloss black panels or wood grain trim, soft leather, and delicate accents. While not as overtly luxurious as BMW’s new X5, the Cayenne cabin is pure business class. Eight-way power seats are standard, but we recommend the upgraded 14-way heated chairs that add lumber support. We’ve waxed poetic about Porsche’s steering wheel in other models, and the same praise must be heaped upon the new Cayenne; the design, the soft leather border, and the intuitive controls are above anything in this segment.
Rear passenger space is generous, with enough leg and headroom for two full-size adults (and a smaller human in between). The available panoramic glass sunroof is enormous, and while the integrated shade takes its time to open, the view and ambient light are fantastic. Cargo capacity improves slightly to 27 cubic feet behind the second row and 60 cubes with the rear seats folded. Those figures are less than both the Mercedes-Benz GLE400 and BMW X5.