In an age when automotive electrification and downsizing have become normalized, any step in the opposite direction comes as a pleasant surprise. Case in point: Porsche’s just-updated Cayenne model line, which has been given a series of unexpected upgrades for a mid-cycle refresh some insiders are calling the biggest in the German marque’s history.
Rather than mildly enhancing the performance of the E-Hybrid, S, and Turbo GT Cayennes, Porsche decided to make a statement. Contradicting prevailing trends, the previously V-6-powered S model has been supersized to a V-8 engine. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo power plant now produces 468 hp and 442 ft lbs of torque, a gain of 34 hp and 37 ft lbs—not to mention the gutsier sound and torque characteristics that come from a V-8 mill.
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Why add cylinders when the rest of the automotive world seems to be subtracting? “We love the V-8,” says Michael Schätzle, the Cayenne’s vice president of Product Line, at a launch event in Los Angeles. “The V-6 was at its performance limit,” he adds, suggesting that sometimes old clichés are true: there’s no replacement for displacement (or cylinder count).
A squirt up the California coast in the V-8 reveals enough get-up-and-go to get out of its own way. Not that there aren’t boatloads of sports car–like sport SUVs out there with zippy acceleration, but the mid-range Cayenne S finally gets the oomph it deserves to better justify its $95,700 starting point, which can very easily sneak into the $130,000 range. More critically, that acceleration has a meatiness to its power delivery, a robustness to the deep-throated burble of its exhaust note—the latter of which feels more emotive compared to the V-6. And both the standard PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) suspension and the optional air suspension deliver smoother ride quality and more potential for firmness and control when dialed up.
Along with the increased cylinder count is a new cockpit that takes a cue, ironically enough, from the electrified Taycan. Gone is the Le Mans–inspired left-hand starter key, replaced with an oh-so-21st-century Start/Stop power button. Also borrowed from the EV: the stubby, knurled gear selector, repositioned to the dashboard. In addition, the Cayenne gains its first digital instrument cluster, a 12.6-inch curved screen that offers a bright, crisp display. We already miss the big analog tachometer in the middle (which remains in the iconic 911), but the functionality and customizability of the digital screen is not entirely unwelcome.
The knurled toggles for air conditioning are handy, though the haptically actuated buttons on the surrounding glass panel are eminently unsatisfying to press; apply pressure on one of the virtual buttons, and the whole surface depresses. Centrally positioned is a standard 12.3-inch touchscreen, and a newly available 10.9-inch display on the passenger side offers performance data, infotainment controls, and the ability to stream video through sources like Netflix via a privacy feature that prevents the driver from seeing the subject matter. The future is now, indeed.
While the E-Hybrid also makes power gains, the ever-more-muscular big daddy of the lineup is the $196,300 Cayenne Turbo GT, which must be getting lonely at the top. Not only is the super SUV already ineligible for sale in Europe and parts of Asia due to emissions regulations, Porsche’s flagship ‘ute retains the Nürburgring Nordschleife SUV lap record it’s held since 2021.
Now endowed with 650 hp, the Cayenne Turbo GT manages the zero-to-60 mph scamper in 3.1 seconds. For those keeping score, that’s faster than the venerable 911 GT3, which can neither carry five passengers nor haul 52.4 cubic feet of cargo. The sensation of being pinned against the supportive seats on hard acceleration is inspiring; there’s an impossibility to the way the Turbo GT accelerates, as though it somehow missed the memo that it weighs 2.5 tons and is essentially standing on stilts.
The upgraded two-chamber air suspension offers an extreme range of damping, from soft and cushy to hard-edged and flat when summoned. The result is a more mature SUV with a greater palette of options; the Turbo GT can cruise comfortably through urban spaces, or spank supercars in the canyons.
Despite the internal-combustion improvements, the benefits of battery-powered electric vehicles remain. However, Porsche’s double-down move on conventional engines signals a bigger picture of the carmaker’s master plan to ease into electrification. Porsche rep Calvin Kim revealed that a fully electric Cayenne will hit the market “in the middle of this decade,” while the gasoline-powered models “will soldier on in parallel,” with Porsche apportioning sales in whichever market offers appropriate customer demand and charging infrastructure.
Also hinted at by Schätzle was a V-8-powered hybrid coming later this year. “We have the parts,” he suggested. By offering what will undoubtedly be an unprecedented array of simultaneous gas and battery-powered options, it’s hard to see a world where the Porsche faithful won’t be able to find a steed for their need.
Click here for more images of the 2024 Porsche Cayenne lineup.
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