Porsche purists stomp their feet and spit on the ground whenever the brand decides to change something about its iconic cars. When the 911 went from an air-cooled engine to a water-cooled powerplant, there was anger. When it was announced that a smaller, mid-engined model would be slotted in below the 911, it was greeted with contempt. When news of an SUV reached the masses, it infuriated loyalists, while the first Porsche sedan elicited a similar reaction.
But this, a Porsche SUV with a diesel engine, this, is the last straw. This is the vehicle that will make the over-wealthy lawyers and doctors of the world pay their underlings to storm Zuffenhausen, with the express purpose of burning it, and Stuttgart as a whole, to the ground.
Which, after driving the Cayenne Diesel, is a really silly reaction, because there’s a genuinely wonderful SUV here.
The Cayenne, on its own, is a fun-to-drive SUV. Its ride is balanced and poised, and can dice down the road with the best of them. Even with our tester’s 21-inch wheels, though, it wasn’t uncomfortable or crashy. In fact, the Cayenne had a very noticeable GT quality about itself. The way it manages to flow from comfortable cruising to flying around a bend is admirable, and not something we’d have expected on a big SUV.
But of course, where this Cayenne differs from others is under the hood. In place of the normal array of gas-powered engines is a 3.0-liter V-6 turbo-diesel. It pumps out just 240 horsepower, or 60 less than the gas-powered Cayenne V-6 and 160 less than the eight-cylinder Cayenne S. But where the base Cayenne only offers up 295 pound-feet of torque and the Cayenne S can only generate 369 pounds of twist, the Diesel pumps out 406 pound-feet.
Moreover, all 406 pound-feet are available from 1750 to 2500 rpm, while the V-6 has to rev to 3000 rpm and the V-8 has to hit 3500 rpm. This probably isn’t a big surprise. Diesel engines are renowned for their usable power and low-end torque.
The Cayenne’s diesel is quick to spool, and was a welcome alternative to the laggy Mercedes GL we tested a few months back. Simply give the skinny pedal a push, and the Cayenne is quite willing to jump forward. Not surprisingly, low and mid-range torque are quite impressive, although this isn’t just down to its 406 pound-feet of torque. That number actually lags behind the 3.0-liter turbo-diesels offered by Mercedes-Benz (455 pound-feet) and BMW (425 pound-feet).
The Cayenne feels quicker due in no small part to its lower curb weight. At just 4795 pounds, it’s 243 pounds lighter than the Mercedes ML350 Bluetec, and 397 pounds lighter than the BMW X5 xDrive35d. It’s a tenth of a second faster to 60 miles per hour than the ML, but is 0.3 seconds slower than the X5, which levies its torque advantage with an additional 25 horsepower and an extra turbo.
Mated to the turbo-diesel is an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. It climbs through the gears quickly, and will happily run itself to the diesel’s low redline. Apply some extra throttle, and it’s happy to drop a few gears and surge forward. The manual mode doesn’t feel much quicker than the standard automatic, which is fine. What isn’t okay is the clunky manual controls mounted on the steering wheel. Rather than a simple paddle setup on the back of the wheel, the Cayenne’s Tiptronic utilizes an odd setup on the face of the wheel. Push either button forward (there are two) for upshifts, and pull either one back for downshifts. Sure, the action of the button feels fine, but it’s not a very intuitive setup.
Purists may have an issue with a diesel-powered SUV wearing the Porsche badge. We don’t. Opting for the oil-burner doesn’t take away any of the agility or fun-to-drive nature of the Cayenne, and instead adds a degree of economy to the normally thirsty vehicle (we netted roughly 24 miles per gallon during our vigorous week of driving). If you can get over the preconceived notions of what a Porsche should be, you’ll find a fine vehicle in the Cayenne Diesel.