Review: 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

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The Cayenne. Probably the most maligned Porsche by those people that say “I can’t believe Porsche would build a (fill in the blank)!”, shake their heads and mutter as they walk away.

Hey, some folks just can’t get over the fact that Porsche, the company that was built on racing experience and glory, could ever build an SUV, which is basically an homage to North American excess.

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But build it they did. And man, do they sell. Porsche sells a scheiss-load of Cayennes, and whether you like them or not, and whether you feel a stinging pain in your purist heart every time you see one driving by, they bring in a LOT of money. And guess where Porsche puts that money? It develops and evolves your beloved sports cars. So SHUSH!

The Cayenne diesel starts at $64,500. That’s not so bad, right? Well, add the options that Porsche chose for my review vehicle and suddenly you’re looking at a $97,385 Cayenne diesel. For the record, the diesel Cayenne slots in right above the base model. The only thing that sets it apart visually is the “diesel” badge on the cowl.

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Pricing: 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

Base price (of specific trim): $64,500

Options: $910 Umber metallic paint; $4,170 Full leather interior in black; $2,680 19″ Cayenne Design II wheels; $480 Self-dimming mirros; $2,520 18-way Adaptive Sport Seats; $290 Comfort lighting package; $1,280 Sirius satellite radio tuner; $4,550 Self-leveling air suspension; $750 Trailer hitch; $310 Power Steering Plus; $1,360 Power moonroof; $1,360 Roof rails in aluminum; $750 6-disc CD changer; $4,200 Navigation system; $1,250 Front and rear park assist; $2,130 Bi-xenon lights; $1,930 BOSE sound system; $750 Seatbelts in Umber

Freight: $1,115

A/C and other taxes: $100

Price as tested: $97,385

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Under the Hood

The Cayenne diesel is Porsche’s only diesel in North America. You’ll find a 3.0-litre common rail injection turbo-diesel V6 lurking under the bonnet. Horsepower seems lacking. It puts out 240 horsepower at 3500 RPM. Though we talk in terms of horsepower, we actually want torque for most of our North American driving. And that’s where diesels make so much sense. They unleash it in prodigious amounts and the Cayenne is no exception. 406 lb.ft of torque is available to you. At 1750 RPM. And it is glorious.

The 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission routes all that road-wrinkling power to all four corners through a permanent all-wheel drive system.

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Fuel economy is where the diesel excels. Even the base Cayenne isn’t a fuel miser – it’s tough to expect decent mileage from a 4585 pound all-wheel drive SUV, regardless of what’s under the hood. But the Cayenne diesel is in fact an exception. It’s rated at a stellar 10.1 L/100 km (22 mpg) in the city and 6.7 L/100 km (35 mpg) on the highway. During my week with it, I mostly commuted in the city – I threw in a few freeway runs and a sprint down the highway – and averaged 9.4 L/100 km (25 mpg). Imma let that sink in for a moment. First of all, that’s significantly better than the rated city mileage, it’s better than the vehicle told me I got (I don’t trust the fuel economy indicators in cars so I calculate my own) and frankly, it’s better than I’ve gotten in almost any vehicle I’ve driven, short of a couple of hybrids. That is unreal.

As with other Cayennes, you have a 100 litre tank which calls for much sad face when filling it at today’s fuel prices.

 

Exterior

The original Cayenne’s styling did nothing to win me over. But this generation is so vastly improved that I no longer think it’s ugly. It’s a much tidier and more organic look than before.

The Cayenne is wide, to be sure, but somehow the new styling comes off as taller and narrower than before, giving it a bit of a hunchback profile from the rear. I think that’s more of an optical illusion than anything else – those bulging rear flanks remind you of how wide it really is.

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Coming down the road, you’ll always see the bright strip of LED lights in the side intakes flanking the grille. The handsome 19″ wheels are wearing massive 265/50-sized boots, and fill the wheel wells nicely.

I particularly enjoyed the dramatic description of the Cayenne that Porsche provides. It’s so ridiculous in some parts that I couldn’t help but start laughing. A great example: “the contoured roof spoiler pays homage to the Carrera GT”. Yes, Porsche – that little spoiler on the Cayenne immediately makes me think of your most fabled road car to date. Come ON!

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Let’s just leave it at this – everything works in concert, and in my opinion it’s a good looking SUV. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it won’t offend anyone either.

 

The Drive

I love driving the Cayenne. It does virtually everything well.

The diesel sounds much like a gas engine when you start it. The days of loud, smokey diesel engines are long over. There’s a very slight clatter if you lift the hood, but it really doesn’t sound any different than any direct-injection gas engine does nowadays.

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Snick it into gear, and it rewards you with smooth, buttery power from the get-go. The Cayenne is a very easy vehicle to drive. It’s comfortable. The ride is fantastic and plush. There are three levels of suspension settings – Normal, which I thought was perfect for most anything. Sport mode, which makes things firm but never uncomfortable and Comfort mode – for transporting old people.

As I found in the Cayenne GTS I reviewed a few months ago, the comfort levels are impressive, but the Cayenne’s real talent shines when you start pushing it. The handling capabilities of the Cayenne are impressive. Frankly, they’re stunning when you consider you’re driving an SUV that’s tall, off-road capable, has seating for 5 and weighs over 4500 pounds. I’ve never driven another SUV that came close to the handling of a Porsche Cayenne.

Is it fast? Fast enough. 0-60 mph comes up in 7.6 seconds. Acceleration seems a touch weak for the first split second, and then … THEN that torque builds in an instant and hammers you back in the seat, and suddenly the all-wheel drive feels as though it’s hanging on for dear life. The way the diesel engine delivers this power once it’s on boost just feels relentless and it’s like a tidal wave. Though the diesel is a hair slower than the base V6 Cayenne, it feels eminently more drivable as it takes very little effort to dip into that vast reserve of torque. I much prefer it. And if you have a need for top speed, this oil-burner will hit 220 km/h before the electronic limiter kicks in.

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The transmission is smooth – super-smooth. You can do the shifting yourself with the wheel-mounted push/pull buttons or with the Tiptronic shift lever. I absolutely hate the steering wheel buttons, and wish they’d replace them with real paddles. Frankly, it’s a bit of a moot point, because I thought putting it into Sport mode was all I needed when I wanted to step it up a notch. It’ll hold the gears a bit longer, and the Cayenne seems more responsive in every way.

The brakes (with discs bigger than the size of a plate for a footlong sub) are fantastic. They grab without drama, they are easy to modulate and they never faded, even after repeated heavy braking. The stopping power required to haul a big boy like this down to speed is significant, and the Cayenne always feels as though it has more stopping power than you’ll ever need.

Visibility out of the Cayenne’s front and sides is good. Shoulder checking and the view out out of the back is a different story. The small rear window and rear headrests see to that.

Is it quiet? Yes. Very. Road noise and wind noise are exceptionally low at any speed. The engine is audible, but barely.

There are some other drive mode adjustments you can make. The differential can be programmed for off-road use, and can even be locked. There are five different ride heights you can choose – I jacked it up for the shots on the grass so you can see how much the Cayenne can lift itself for clearance – it’s impressive. And – there’s hill descent mode for all the times you’ll take your Cayenne off-roading. Haha!

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Hey, do you need to tow with your SUV? The Cayenne diesel is rated to pull up to 7,716 pounds!

 

Interior/Tech/Convenience

Getting into the Cayenne is a feast for the eyes. The fit and finish is remarkable and the materials are first-class. The dash is upholstered in gorgeous leather, with contrasting stitching. And you’ll find alcantara everywhere else – the headliner, the pillars, etc. I’ve always felt that a Porsche is put together like nothing else out there. I love the attention to detail.

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I found that the interior felt like a well-tailored suit – it fit me perfectly. For my 5’10” frame, the headroom is excellent.

Those seats – oh those seats. Once you get over the shockingly high thigh bolster and drop into them, they’re perfect. Although they offer exceptional bolstering and would be at home in any sports car, they are very comfortable. Every passenger I had in the vehicle agreed that they were the best automotive seats they’ve sat in. They’re heated and power-adjustable. How adjustable? Well, you can even adjust the thigh and side bolsters, sucking them in or letting them out, pending on how much pizza you just ate for dinner. The driver’s side has a 3-position memory.

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Porsche makes some of the best steering wheels in the world. This one is power adjustable, and is the first one (from Porsche) that I’ve seen with buttons on it. There are controls for your sound system, the phone and the driver information screen. It’s also heated. I found that out after accidentally pushing the hidden button on the back of it, and wondering if my hands had suddenly become menopausal.

Behind the wheel is the standard Porsche 5-gauge cluster – a big tach in the middle, and a round driver information screen second from the right. It allows you to see what’s playing on your media system, navigation instructions, the navigation map screen, your phone functions, trip meters and tire pressure readings.

The center stack isn’t very tall – it’s basically just a touchscreen with some hard buttons and knobs below it. The screen handles the navigation, media, phone functions and the parking distance sensor visual feed.

The media system feeds off of AM, FM, satellite, CD, USB, auxiliary and Bluetooth streaming sources and it sounds good. Not as good as the Burmester upgrade I had in my Cayenne GTS review unit though.

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Below the stubby stack is the signature elevated console, an ergonomic mess of buttons and rocker switches. I counted 48 buttons or switches on the dash and console. Most of them are similarly-shaped, colored and sized buttons. Let’s just say that you won’t be using any of them without taking your eyes off the road.

The console houses a dual-zone climate control system, a number of drive mode selectors and the gear selector – as well as two cupholders, a 12V plug and the armrest.

Overhead is a relatively small power tilt/slide sunroof.

 

Rear seat

The Cayenne is a full-size vehicle. There are 3 seats in the back, all with headrests and seatbelts. Of course, the two outboard positions are very comfortable. The heated seats slide fore and aft and recline. The middle position, while tighter, actually fits an adult. It does straddle a drive shaft tunnel on the floor, but it’s usable.

I found the leg room to be very good, and the head room is excellent. I enjoyed feeling as though I’m sitting higher up in the back – it makes for great visibility for rear passengers.

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In terms of convenience and comfort, you get adjustable air vents and two 12V plugs at the back of the center console. There is a tiny (read: I’m not sure what you’d ever use it for) storage compartment that silently slides out of each door panel in the back. The middle seatback folds down to become a very high armrest with two cupholders in it.

Our three children were very comfortable back there, as it is a wide rear seat, and there are two sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats.

 

Storage

Space around the cabin is alright – not great. The glove box is small, but the door bins are very useful and there’s a small bin under the armrest with the USB and auxiliary plugs, as well as another 12V plug.

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The cargo space is surprisingly large at 670 litres, although the upper reaches of it are compromised by the sloping rear window. You’ll find a mesh pocket on one side, another 12V plug and a removable, retractable soft tonneau cover.

Flexibility is great. The rear seats fold 40/20/40 and that allows you to fold the middle rear seat flat for longer objects (like a pass-through) while continuing to use two full seating positions on either side. Very nice!

Of course, all the seats fold down too, and that results in a very large cargo area – 1780 litres to be exact.

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Nitpicks/Details

The trunk lid is powered and can be opened using a button on the driver’s door panel or from your key fob. But you can only close it using the button on the trunk lid – not from inside or using your key fob. I don’t understand that. A positive is that the trunk lid is the fastest opening and closing I’ve ever seen on a vehicle, which is great.

No back-up camera! At a hundred grand, that shouldn’t be the case. Mind you, you need to pony up $1,280 for a satellite radio tuner. Which is standard in the $15,000 Chevy Spark. And every other vehicle on the market. Except Porsches.

I’m not sure why, but for some reason I started having a closer look at the rear door panels. They are remarkably complex creatures. I’m positive I’ve never seen as many parts come together to make a door panel.

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The Verdict

The Cayenne diesel is an extremely comfortable, relatively quick, sporty utility vehicle. It offers plenty of interior space and a very usable cargo area. What else? It’s a very well built vehicle, full of premium touches and enhancements. Exceptional on and off-road capability, though I doubt many buyers will ever take advantage of the latter. And… in this class, it gets stunning fuel economy. The Cayenne seems to do it all. Mind you, for a hundred grand, I suppose we should be able to expect a lot too.

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WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) has never been higher. My wife’s dream vehicle has always been the Cayenne (since it came out) but she loves this generation the most. When I asked for her feedback, she said, without a moment’s hesitation: “I love everything about it.”

That pretty much sums it up for me too. There wasn’t anything, other than the terrifying price, that I didn’t enjoy about the Cayenne. If it were my money, the diesel model would be my choice, and I’m certain I could do without quite a few of the options that were included here. Eliminating them would likely bring down the price by 20 thousand dollars or so, and for the most part, the experience of owning a Cayenne diesel wouldn’t be diminished. But it’s still an $80,000 SUV.

If you’re in the market for an SUV and you have $70,000 to $100,000 kicking around, the Cayenne diesel is a fantastic ride. And hey – in a matter of a few short decades, you should be able to make up the extra money you spent on it in fuel savings. Think about it!

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Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by Porsche Canada.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out more of them under my vehicle reviews tab at the top of my blog.

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