Forget what you know about diesels. Forget the arguments about whether Porsche should be making SUVs. The Cayenne Diesel, especially if you can ante up for the pricey options, will change any preconceived notions.
Appearance: The midsize Cayenne looks like what you'd expect a Porsche SUV to look like up front: raised fenders, creased hood, sleek tri-oval headlights. This look sweeps back to a fairly standard crossover design. There are now larger and bolder taillights, an improvement that goes better with the wide rear end and dual exhaust. Our optioned-out tester had a sporty look with black 21-inch wheels (a $6,505 option including arch extensions) and black trim around windows and wheel wells, which was a nice contrast to the Classic Silver Metallic color ($790).
Performance: Diesels have long had a reputation of being noisy. That's no longer true, and the cabin of the Cayenne is surprisingly quiet, even at high speeds. Porsche's diesel is a 3.0-liter, turbocharged 6-cylinder that produces 240 horsepower and plenty of torque — a diesel trademark — at 406 pound-feet. What does this mean in daily driving? As Lyra says, it's more "S," less "UV." The Cayenne diesel has a steady pull off the line that makes for a lively ride, even though it lacks the pure straight-line visceral fun of a V-8 model. The 8-speed Tiptronic S (with manual mode) shifts through gears precisely and works well with the diesel. The Cayenne also has permanent AWD. The SUV is nimble and handles curves well, nicely controlling body lean. The estimated mpg (19 city/29 highway) is better than the Cayenne S hybrid. The fuel needle didn't seem to move a lot in a week of driving.
Interior: It can be bit intimidating because it resembles an airplane cockpit. The rows of buttons, toggles and dials clustered in the center console make you feel like running a preflight check. Does anyone really use them all? We like that Porsche added a console slot for a mobile device, but it doesn't work as well in reality: The angle puts the phone up against the shifter when it's in Park. It's also too narrow for some phones. The five-gauge instrument cluster includes a navigation screen so the driver doesn't have to glance to the right for directions. The leather seats are comfortable, even in the back. Lyra found the front ones difficult to get into because of the raised lip for bolstering. But the easy-to-grab handles on the door and center console help. The rest of the quiet interior is roomy, and our tester was loaded with expensive options. A few: panoramic sunroof ($1,850), driver's sport seat with 18-way power adjustments with memory ($2,205), black leather interior ($3,655) with metallic accents ($3,655) and noise insulation ($1,120 along with thermal insulation and privacy glass).
Our 3 favorites
Low rider: You can manually adjust the ride height with Porsche's air suspension system ($3,980).
Sweet seats: The 18-way adaptive sport seats are an expensive treat.
Tow capacity: It's up to 7,716 pounds with trailer brakes.
Lots of light: One of the biggest sunroofs we've seen. It takes up most of the roof.
Stay put: Cargo management system is on rails, easy to adjust.
Torque: 406 pound-feet of low-rpm joy.
The bottom line: If you're looking for a luxury SUV that gets decent mileage, is fun to drive, tech-laden and plush, then the Cayenne fills the bill. Want a more affordable diesel SUV? Consider parent Volkswagen's Touareg version.