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The Porsche Cayenne Turbo implores you to keep your options open

The Porsche Cayenne Turbo has a legendary name, but if you think this is a tall 911, or even the same as a Turbo GT, you're in for a surprise.

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There is the assumption among car people that if you drive a BMW, you cannot afford a Porsche. I suppose that’s true, though I’m still waiting for the day when Porsche unveils a small sedan to fight the M3. That must mean that every Porsche is better across the range, and I admit that before driving the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, I too felt the same way.

I was wrong.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

2021 Porsche Cayenne Turbo Quick Take

Get one:

Powerful and smooth V-8 with a beautiful sound. Comfortable and roomy. Subdued Lord Vader good looks.

Don’t get one:

The worst steering in any modern Porsche. Why are they always so dark inside? No PDK.

Soul Score: 6

It’ll dance if you ask, but it won’t have a smile on its face. Or yours.

The 2021 Porsche Cayenne Turbo overview

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Porsche is weird (is unique a friendlier word?). Think of them like a rock band that came out with a surprise hit – the 911. Now, they must try to duplicate its success by adapting similar melodies to new tracks.  I can’t think of another mainstream auto maker that’s defined by a sports car, and I highly doubt Porsche saw themselves trying to adapt sports car traits to SUVs 50 years ago.

Nevertheless, I’d say they’ve succeeded. Performance SUVs might not make logical sense, but I’m cool with them. Better than the woody Dodge mini vans I grew up with. Many of them are often even somewhat fun.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Still, someone’s gotta do the dirty work, and whether it’s a Ford Explorer or this Cayenne, its role is clear. Get the kids. Go food shopping. Fold down the seats to crunch cracker crumbs and carry all the crap from Home Depot. Oh and uh, don’t break down. In this role, the Cayenne is a success.

The problem is once you place “Turbo” on the truck, expectations are raised, and this field is awfully crowded. Audi’s SQ models, BMW’s X5 variants, AMG – it’s alphabet soup. And some of them do comfort and speed with impressive ability.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

There’s also another member called the Turbo GT, which is the typical slope-back variant of these big boys. Driving that car is an amazing experience, and it defies every expectation you might have. But they don’t make a “GT” model for this Cayenne, and we’re about to find out just how important those two letters are.

Performance Score: 7. The little “t”

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Modes that don’t really matter.

I never noticed this, but Porsche spells turbo with a lower case “t”. Imagine if there were an X5 “m”.

Turns out it’s fitting. This is a fast car that’s quite capable, but never encourages you to push it aside from red light pulls. Those are fun, so we might as well start with the best part.

Engine

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Glorious rumbles emit from the 4.0 liter. Check engine lights have no meaning here at MWS.

Here we have a 541-horsepower, 4.0 liter twin-turbocharged V-8. Ignite it for a burly roar that settles into a bubbly (but meaty) idle. Almost sounds like it has big cams.

It’s a treat to drive, as the V-8 ever-so-smoothly propels the Cayenne Turbo down the road with ease. Power is simply there, everywhere, all the time, and it pulls to redline with equal vigor as it does just loafing around town. Whatever you want, it does.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Sport Chrono adds an additional sport mode to your sporty SUV.

A BMW X5 M (big M, right?) feels much faster, even though it’s only slightly so. That’s in part due to that engine’s ever-eager attitude, but also a chassis that’s stiffer but sportier. You can pick up the pace here with a Sport Chrono Package that adds a Sport Plus Mode, though when you put it in this advanced setting it lowers the V-8’s volume. Makes no sense.

Opt for the Turbo E-Hybrid, and you get a battery pack to lend a helping hand to the V-8 that adds up to 670 horsepower. That’s fine, but if it were me, I’d be giving a side-eye to the Jaguar F-Pace SVR regardless, a car that screams “Rev me, daddy!”, compared to the Cayenne’s very nice but overall reserved performance. It’s not that kind of girl, okay?

No means no.

Transmission

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
The ZF eight-speed is familiar and wonderful, but no PDK.

This is a German car, therefore it must be the very (very) familiar ZF attached to the V-8. Surprised by a lack of PDK? It’s understandable, as the Cayenne must be used for towing as well as fun, and with a 7,700-pound limit, surely Porsche was aware of how much a Cayman and trailer combination weigh.

But yea, it’s not as sharp as you’d expect, nor as responsive as the ZF in the BMW. Engage Sport Mode however, and suddenly the Cayenne feels the need to BANG! every shift BANG! right into your skull BANG! This is the problem with all these drive modes – do not ask me to tune the car Porsche, that’s what I’m paying you for. Especially if all the adjustable elements you give me are incorrect.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, because it’s still one of the fastest and most capable SUVs I’ve driven, but with that Turbo badge on the back, I expect perfection.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Tiny shift paddles. Again.

I’m trying to figure out if tiny paddle shifters are a VW thing (Audi suffers from the same affliction), or a entire automotive pandemic. This is a 541-horsepower, 2.5 ton SUV – give me something substantial to pull. No wonder so many aftermarket solutions exist.

Steering and chassis

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
The chassis isn’t very eager, but it’s capable.

It’s here where things get dicey – this is easily the worst Porsche steering wheel I’ve ever turned. It’s dead, lifeless, light, and feels like…a BMW?

At least its direct, allowing you to place this behemoth with confidence, but why is there no effort? Can’t we leave the mommy tunes for lesser Cayenne?

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Pressing this does…something?

When it comes to the chassis, it’s merely fine. The Cayenne Turbo is very comfy, never harsh, but it also never feels like doing much. An X5 M is more firm (and rough) by comparison, but again, isn’t that what the Turbo badge is for? Make it feel like granite in Sport mode. Alas, it’s soft no matter what setting you’re in. All the button does is make the ride more uncomfortable, which is much different than making the chassis stiffer. Until the Cayenne comes with its own pit crew, you can’t add a roll bar or strut towers mid-drive.

The Turbo GT is magic by comparison, which makes the tuning of this car all the more unforgivable. You already did it Porsche, why didn’t you do it here?

Brakes

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
16.3-inch brakes are capable of stopping the Cayenne with reasonable confidence.

…are good. Gigantic 16.3-inch pizza pies are clamped down by equally-gigantic silver calipers in front. It was January, freezing and snowy during testing, but even with snow tires, grip was never an issue. Pedal feel was progressive and excellent. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable pushing a tall, heavy station wagon in a track environment, but the brakes here are able to handle the prodigious performance of the Cayenne.

Prodigious, but not very memorable. We live in a world where cars like this are now commonplace, and with the rest of the lineup taking up the “family” mantle, I wish the Cayenne Turbo were more wild child. Everyone else went that route and made better performance SUVs as a result.

Utility Score: 8. Lose the weight

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Every car should have a pair.

Oh, not you Cayenne. Me. At least, I think it’s me, because both this car and the Macan feel awfully tight in back. Clearly, there’s more room in this car than in its smaller sibling, but if we’re going to be driving around in a big SUV, I want it to be usefully big. That said, it’s bigger than the Turbo GT, the Taycan, and the Panamera back there. Maybe Porsche is hoping you don’t have kids?

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Still sort of tight back there.

Upfront, the seats are typical-Porsche perfection, with bolsters that hold tightly and fit me everywhere. They aren’t fancy to look at, but busy design features are a secondary consideration to comfort.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Big enough to make it a family hauler.

In back, the trunk fits things well enough, though I miss the X5’s clam shell split. Even my X3 has a little more space on the sides. Whatever – there’s enough here to sell it to your spousal unit. “Nah honey, look, it fits the potting soil bags just fine!”, as your thumb covers the Turbo badge.

Fuel Economy 4. Big size? Go cry

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
The Cayenne’s power means thirst, but you shouldn’t care.

If you’re reading this and actively considering this car, don’t be sad at the 4. Every SUV around this performance envelope takes the same amount of fuel, and the Cayenne’s 19 combined MPG is likely optimistic because you’ll want to rev this to have at least a little fun. It’s a little better than the Turbo GT, if that makes you feel better.

I’ve seen articles calling for the death of SUVs like this (not gonna happen), but the E-Hybrid actually gets a single MPG worse on the EPA scale, and Porsche isn’t about to make a 7,000-pound electric Cayenne. If you can afford this car, you can afford the gas tab, period.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
The Cayenne Turbo has a cute little deploy-able spoiler, no doubt to enhance economy. *Wink*

Everyone (including the government, who will tax you) wants to make you feel guilty for owning a car like this. But until every single boat, plane, train, and tractor trailer is net zero emissions (impossible), I want my turbo V-8s.

Features and Comfort: 9. The price of life

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

For a base price of $125,850 (let’s face it, you’re gonna spend more), the Cayenne Turbo has everything you need to be comfortable. What it doesn’t have much of is excitement – it’s like an Apple Store inside. Advice: perhaps contrasting leather?

Teutonic plague

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
All business.

We’re just in this automotive era together, you and I, where all cars look the same inside. Great for cheaper models, less so for the more expensive ones. In this fully-loaded Cayenne, you get everything covered in leather, although you could go even further with leather-wrapped air vents and such.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Porsche’s infotainment system works well.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
On the latest Cayenne, this space is filled with a second screen.

Porsche’s infotainment is one of the better ones out there, working similarly to BMW’s iDrive minus the controller (which you don’t really need anymore anyway). HVAC by the center console is a mid idea – why do I need to look down to change the temperature? At least it’s not integrated into the screen…yet. Confusion also about the volume button next to the shifter. Just a lot happening around here.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
HVAC controls on the center console are difficult to read at a glance.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
At least the gigantic sunroof lets in plenty of light. Peep the Alcantara-clad roof.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
A conventional tach is appreciated.

Minimalist as it is, I do like it – everything is so crisp and modern, like you’re driving around in the Death Star. No distractions, which is good in a 500-plus horsepower SUV.

911 – It’s An Emergency

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
21-inch wheels and quad tailpipes help provide a menacing look.

A 911 has always looked good (sit down, 996), because that’s how it’s supposed to look. Rear-engine, bug-eyes. It works.

Since the Cayenne’s inception, it’s taken styling cues from said 911, with mixed results. The 2021 example you see here is certainly very Porsche, with those bug-eyed headlights and 911-inspired rear. Even the spoiler pops up form the roof. But the overall look is still sort of caricature – 911 truck vibes.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
911 vibes in front, especially the headlights.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Be grateful, some have just a sticker in place of a badge.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Black lower rocker panels remain unpainted.

Still, with quad tail pipes, 21-inch tires and Black paint, it’s quite menacing. Yes, just “Black” – nothing fancy so it’s a no-costs option. It helps to hide the non-painted black plastic rocker panels, an absurdity on a car costing this much, which you’ll never take off-road.

The Porsche Cayenne Turbo isn’t a big 911, but what is it?

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

I pose this question somewhat rhetorically. If you’re a Porsche fan and you need a family car, I can’t really think of a reason to dissuade you from a Cayenne. It’s fast. Its comfortable. It’s good-looking. And it’s useful. Boxes checked, here’s my money.

But if you take a moment and think about it, you’ll probably spend at least as much time in this car as you would your 911, Cayman, or whatever special little honey you have sitting in your garage. With that point alone, the Cayenne Turbo becomes harder to justify. It won’t really make you smile unless you drive from red light to red light, stomping on the gas each way. Never will it ask you to take the long way home. Given the cost of ownership, a Cayenne GTS would make more sense.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

We all tend to gravitate toward the familiar, myself included. My wife drives a BMW. So do my parents. My friends. I’ve converted them all. But the truth is, no one makes the perfect full lineup. I doubt they ever will, and the Cayenne is proof that 911 DNA isn’t always transferable.

When it comes to sports cars, they have the monopoly. Perhaps electric cars too, if the Taycan is any indication. But if you’re in the market for a top-of-the-line, fast, fun family-themed SUV, I think you should take a spin in an X5 M (the Jag is already gone, sorry). Keep your options open.

I’ll try to follow that advice too.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Porsche Cayenne Turbo

The 2021 Porsche Cayenne Turbo Specifications

Vehicle Type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger, four-door SUV

PRICE

Base: $129,150

POWERTRAIN

4.0 liter twin turbo V-8
541 horsepower @ 5,750 RPM
567 lb-ft @ 1,960 RPM

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 114 in
Length: 194 in
Width: 78.1 in
Height: 65.9 in
Curb Weight: 5,056 lbs

FUEL ECONOMY

17 combined / 15 city / 19 highway

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