2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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When Porsche first introduced the Cayenne for the 2004 model year, the five-passenger midsize SUV was a bit of an unexpected departure for the marque, which until then had built sports coupes and convertibles exclusively. Nine years later the Cayenne has been joined by the four-door Panamera sports sedan and has grown to become an accepted member of the Porsche family, but as the latest Cayenne model proves, it still has the ability to deliver the unexpected.

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything unusual about the newest flavour of Cayenne - it has the same familiar bodywork, and the same familiar interior. The only hint that this Cayenne represents another radical departure for Porsche is the unmistakable chrome script on the front fenders: "diesel".

For those of us who grew up when the air-cooled 911 ruled the Porsche roost and the water-cooled 944 seemed a bit of an interloper, the concept of a diesel Porsche may seem a bit of an abomination. But here's the thing: it's the perfect powerplant for the Cayenne. And nothing says "Porsche" like perfection.

The engine itself is the same 3.0-litre V6 diesel used in the Volkswagen Touareg and Audi Q7, hooked up to a standard-equipment 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. It's a pretty advanced diesel with dual overhead cams, common-rail fuel injection, and variable vane turbocharging with twin intercoolers. True to tradition, Porsche's engineers have of course managed to tweak the engine a bit to find an extra 15 horsepower, bringing output totals up to 240 horsepower and a generous 406 lb-ft of torque.

On the road the engine feels extremely civilized, and indeed it barely registers as being a diesel at all: it has a nice growly exhaust note and plenty of power, especially off the line where all that torque shoves the Cayenne forward with impressive authority. In the run from 0-100 km/h the Cayenne Diesel clocks in at a very respectable 7.6 seconds, which is only 0.1 second slower than the standard gas-powered Cayenne. From outside, at idle, the engine does tick along with a little bit of distinctive diesel muttering (especially when stone cold), but it's certainly not what you'd call noisy and it doesn't produce any discernible diesel exhaust smell at all. Best of all, it turns in excellent fuel economy, with city/highway ratings of 10.8 / 6.7 L/100km compared to 12.9 / 8.6 for the gasoline Cayenne with the 8-speed Tiptronic transmission. In real-world mixed driving I clocked 8.7 L/100km, which is genuinely impressive for a big sport utility vehicle. No wonder the Cayenne Diesel has been proving extremely popular in Europe, where it has been offered since 2009.

In all other respects, if you know the gasoline Cayenne then you know the diesel Cayenne. If you don't know the Cayenne, what you get is a sporty-looking yet practical 5-seat sport utility vehicle with exceptionally dynamic handling for its class, excellent brakes and sure-footed confidence thanks to its permanent all-wheel drive and Porsche Traction Management system. Unlike early Cayennes the latest version doesn't offer true off-road capability (there's no low-ratio drive), but rough cottage roads and ski-hill switchbacks will prove no problem.

Inside, the Cayenne is fitted out with all the luxury touches and attention to detail one expects of Porsche, but unlike Porsche's legendary sports cars it has a roomy and comfortable 40/20/40 split-folding (and sliding, and reclining) rear seat, with 668 litres of luggage space behind it, or 1,781 litres with the rear seats folded flat.

Ergonomically, it's tough to fault the car - all controls fall easily to hand, the gauges and switchgear all look and feel great, and the front seats are comfortable and well bolstered. My test car was outfitted with Porsche's $8,170 Premium Package that, among many other things, includes almost infinitely adjustable 14-way power seats with three memory settings. These go on record as being the first seats in any car that have elicited effusive and unsolicited praise from my significant other, who is usually much more interested in pushing buttons and trying out the test cars' entertainment systems.

Not that she didn't have fun pushing buttons in the Porsche: By the time you account for the fully-independent dual-zone climate controls and add in more controls for options like the height-adjustable self-leveling air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management ($4,550), the Cayenne's dash gets to resembling the control panel for a space shuttle. It takes a while to get used to where everything is, but I'll give credit to Porsche that while I may have occasionally found myself peering at the centre stack trying to locate the right button, at least I wasn't finding myself lost in a byzantine menu system while attempting to perform basic operating functions.

I had a little fun myself, scrolling through the various available information panels in the instrument display, which include tire pressure status, navigation repeater display, vehicle information, and more. An unexpected surprise here was finding an altimeter, alongside digital oil pressure, oil temperature and coolant temperature readouts; although I suppose it makes sense given that altitude can affect engine performance. One thing that made somewhat less sense to me was the lack of proximity sensing keyless entry or pushbutton start - it's a bit unexpected in this segment to need to carry the key in hand when unlocking the doors and starting the engine (Porsche uses a nifty Panamera-shaped key that's really an electronic fob, and you put it in slot to the left of the steering wheel in order to start the vehicle).

Pricing for the Cayenne Diesel starts at $64,500, which is a $7,900 premium over the base gasoline-powered Cayenne, but thanks to its superior fuel economy you will get some of that back over the years in fuel savings, and you'll also get the satisfaction of driving a more environmentally conscious SUV. Of course, being a Porsche there's a huge array of options to choose from, and as my well-equipped test car proves you can easily add an additional $10,000 or more to your Cayenne if you indulge in the options list. Competitors such as the BMW X5, Infiniti FX and Mercedes-Benz M-Class certainly offer a tempting choice and some of them arguably offer better bang-for-the-buck, but none of them have that one special attribute that the Cayenne has: None of them are Porsches.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, SUV, Porsche, 2013, Cayenne Diesel, $50,000 - $74,999, Diesel, Midsize,

Organizations: Porsche

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