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Pros: Impressive power and handling; high-quality interiors; fuel efficient hybrid and diesel options; sports car performance in an SUV

Cons: Extensive options list quickly escalates already elevated base price; practical, though not as voluminous as other SUV options; punishing fuel economy in gas-powered versions

What's New: Cayenne Diesel model added for 2013.

Once considered blasphemous to the Porsche brand, the Cayenne SUV has become a crucial part of Porsche's success. The Cayenne has become so successful that the 2013 Porsche Cayenne is available in no fewer than seven configurations: base ($48,850), Diesel ($55,750), S ($65,850), S Hybrid ($69,850), GTS ($82,050), Turbo ($108,750) and Turbo S ($146,000). While each model offers varying trim treatments, the most significant difference lies under the hood. Base models are equipped with a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 300 horsepower; the S receives a 400-hp 4.8-liter V8; and the S Hybrid can make up to 380 hp thanks to a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that works in tandem with an electric motor. Cayenne GTS models are powered by a 420-hp version of the S model's 4.8-liter V-8. The Cayenne Turbo's maximalist approach is pinned on a turbocharged 500-hp 4.8-liter V8 that is capable of getting from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, while the pricey Turbo S model's 550-hp cuts the 0 to 60 time to 4.3 seconds and brings top speed up to 175 mph. Recently added to the Cayenne lineup is the 240-hp Cayenne Diesel, which may be the lowest on hp, but it has plenty of torque and is also the most fuel efficient -- all while keeping the Porsche-grade performance feel that the Cayenne has become known for.

The Porschephile fringe may still find plenty to moan about with the Zuffenhausen-based manufacturer's entry into the SUV segment, but the Cayenne offers a Porsche-worthy blend of luxurious interiors and real-world performance.

Comfort & Utility

If SUVs came with S-M-L-XL labels, the Cayenne would land somewhere between Medium and Large. The cabin, although spacious enough for five passengers, has a more intimate feeling than other German SUVs such as the Audi Q7. Partial credit for the sedan-like cabin goes to its stablemate the Panamera, from which the Cayenne has inherited several design devices including the large, flat center console littered with buttons.

With the rear seats folded, the Cayenne offers 62.9 cu ft of rear storage volume -- less expansive than some, but then again, this SUV is more about the S than the U. The Cayenne's seats, for example, strike a solid blend of supportiveness and long-range comfort. Ergonomics are also excellent, though the array of identically sized and shaped buttons on the center stack verges on overkill. And while the Cayenne certainly adheres to the sport utility playbook in terms of layout, it's a bit too pricey not to be considered a high-end sports car on stilts first, and a functional beast of burden second.

Technology

Porsche has endowed the Cayenne with virtually every technological goodie available in all of automobiledom, but those creature comforts come at a price. For example, navigation with an audio interface runs $3,675; a Bose surround sound system adds $1,690, while a 1,000-watt Burmester setup runs $5,690; voice control costs $595, while a satellite radio receiver requires $750; expect to shill out $2,990 for a rear seat entertainment system.

When it comes to driving aids, the Cayenne can be ordered with adaptive cruise control ($2,690), lane change assist ($850), active suspension ($1,990), air suspension ($3,980) and dynamic chassis control ($3,510). Torque vectoring will cost you $1,490, while a sport exhaust swells the MSRP by $2,950. And pity your wallet if you have racetrack aspirations, as ceramic brakes add a substantial $8,150 to the sticker price. Front and rear park assist is $1,095, while that in combination with a reverse camera costs $1,750. Packages, which combine several of the aforementioned la carte options, add $4,540 to $11,670 to the Cayenne's sticker price.

Performance & Fuel Economy

All Cayennes offer potent levels of performance in comparison to their competitors, and their brawn is proportionate to their prices. The base model's 300-hp engine is capable of a respectable, but not blazing 0 to 60 mph time of 7.1 seconds with a manual transmission, and 7.4 seconds with an automatic 8-speed Tiptronic gearbox. Fuel economy is a bit thirsty, with the Tiptronic version yielding 16 mpg city/23 mpg hwy.

The new Cayenne Diesel's 240-hp V6 runs only on diesel fuel. While it's shy on hp, it pours on torque to the tune of 406 lb-ft, and comes standard with an 8-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic. With a 0 to 60 time of 7.2 seconds, the Diesel's main advantage over other Cayenne models is its superior fuel economy of 20/29 mpg.

The Cayenne S Hybrid's 380 hp help it hit 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, although it's the 428 lb-ft of torque that creates that satisfying, seat-squishing sensation when the right pedal is buried. Expect 20/24 mpg from the S Hybrid model.

Opt for the S, and its 400-hp engine yields a more impressive 0 to 60 mph time of 5.6 seconds, which puts this bulky sport utility vehicle on par with many performance coupes. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy numbers are 16/22 mpg, barely showing a penalty compared with the base model.

Between the S and Turbo models is the Cayenne GTS, equipped with styling and equipment that emphasizes the Cayenne's innate sportiness and powered by a 420-hp engine.

The expensive and more tightly wound turbocharged versions truly blur the line between sports cars and sport utility vehicles. The Cayenne Turbo packs a 500-hp engine that helps achieve an eye-opening 0 to 60 mph time of 4.4 seconds. The Turbo S features a 550-hp version of the same engine, and hits 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. Considering its 4,784-lb curb weight, the Cayenne Turbo's fuel economy figures of 15/22 mpg could be worse; the 4,883-lb Turbo S model's 14/20 mpg rating, on the other hand, is nothing to brag about.

Safety

Porsche's Cayenne boasts crash safety engineering that includes a chassis strategically reinforced with high-tensile steel, force limiters on the front seats and rollover detection that triggers seat belt pretensioners and curtain airbags. Additional airbags are situated in front, passenger and driver knee locations. High-strength crossmembers protect the doors and bumpers.

While generously equipped with engineering features designed to protect its occupants, the Cayenne is also safer thanks to responsive handling and powerful, quick-stopping brakes that can help avoid accidents altogether.

Driving Impressions

Performance varies dramatically from model to model, but the entire 2013 Porsche Cayenne lineup boasts genre-defying performance capabilities. Thanks to its Panamera-inspired cabin design, the Cayenne's interior feels less like that of a traditional sport utility vehicle and more like a high-end luxury car.

The base and diesel models feel brisk enough when summoned, but the S Hybrid's copious torque makes it the surprise performer of the bunch, especially when the shifter is clicked into S, which sharpens throttle response and puts the transmission into a more aggressive mode of attack. The S Hybrid is also capable of driving on electric-only mode at up to 37 mph, while coasting without engine intervention at even higher speeds.

The S version ups the ante. But for truly awe-inspiring performance, the Turbo and Turbo S are astounding. Start/stop technology makes for serene red light experiences, but Sport mode in these SUVs transforms them into aggressive, lurching beasts. Similarly, the suspension can transform from floaty to stiff with the touch of a button, and their most aggressive handling modes makes them so quick to turn that it becomes easy to forget you're in a hulking animal of an SUV.

Its almost endless array of interior options lends the Cayenne lineup a kaleidoscope of personas; the most luxurious tend to include equal doses of wood, aluminum and leather-lined dashboards with Alcantara headliners. When the Cayenne isn't being driven hard, these surface materials conspire to make passengers feel as if they're in a posh sedan, not a hard-charging SUV.

Other Cars to Consider

Audi Q7 - Starting at $46,800, the Audi Q7 is a bigger but similarly ambitious answer to the Cayenne. Powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 gasoline engine or a turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 diesel mill, the Q7 is an adequate performer but not quite on par with the Porsche's outstanding levels of acceleration and handling.

BMW X5 - BMW's X5 deserves an award for its gradual process of evolution; once bulky and awkward, the model now works more efficiently thanks to greater interior space and a more focused on-road demeanor. Engine options range from the xDrive35i's turbocharged 6-cylinder that produces 300 hp (starting at $47,500) to the X5 M's 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 that churns 555 hp (and starts at $88,850). BMW's X5 offerings are more philosophically in line with Porsche's driver-focused Cayenne models than Audi's.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport - Range Rover Sport models start at $60,895 and escalate to $76,495 for a Supercharged version powered by a blown 5.0-liter V8 that produces 510 hp. The Range Rover offers luxury and attention to design detail that are comparable to the Porsche, but its considerably higher curb weight keeps it from competing head-to-head against Porsche in performance.

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Get the best of both worlds in the satisfying, yet reasonably economical S Hybrid. How many boxes to check off on the options list depends on your bank balance.

author photo

Steve Siler is a freelance automotive journalist and presenter based in Los Angeles, California. Known for his ability to make automotive subjects accessible to both enthusiast and non-enthusiast audiences, Siler has contributed to dozens of lifestyle and enthusiast publications, including The Robb Report, Automobile Magazine, Edmunds.com and Car and Driver Magazine.

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