Friday, September 28, 2018

Cayenne or Macan?

                                                                                                                                      Porsche Cars North America photo

Who ever imagined the day would come when Porsche would offer not one, but two sport utility vehicles? Even more, who imagined they would be the sales anchor that allowed the continued existence of the lower volume sports cars?

The Porsche Cayenne has been with us since 2004 and is on the verge of its third model version. The Macan is a youngster, still on its first iteration since the initial launch in 2015, with an update on the way this fall. I have owned both, and keep getting this question, "which Porsche SUV do you prefer?" Here's my answer.

There have been a lot of SUVs in my car life. I first had an '89 Jeep Cherokee, before these versatile vehicles even had a name. I loved that little truck. With a five-speed manual transmission and no power windows or locks it only weighed about 3300lbs, and was a hoot to drive in snow or dirt. I also got used to the space and bad weather confidence SUVs provide. Since then I've had Grand Cherokees, Explorers, a Mazda Tribute, an X3 and an Acura MDX. Most of them were good vehicles, though a bit boring. Well, maybe the X3 was kinda fun to drive. Kinda.

Then I bought a CPO 2012 Cayenne V6. Writing about my impressions of the Cayenne last year I said,
"This car is comfortable, reliable, and attractive. And it doesn’t suffer from the ponderous luxobarge look that so many of its competitors have (looking at you MDX). The 14 way heated and cooled seats are fantastic. I get out of the car in DC or Atlanta like I have only driven around the block."
Simply put, the Cayenne was perhaps the most complete vehicle I had ever owned. While it was certainly no sports car, most people don't need that performance every day. Whether driving to work or driving to Atlanta, the Cayenne was always the perfect choice. Darned thing even got decent gas mileage at around 24-25 mpg on the highway.

But all good things must come to an end. Last spring the Cayenne was closing in on 100K and my thoughts turned to the next SUV. The lovely Colleen and I spotted a CPO Macan S at our local dealership. I liked it immediately, and she loved it. I believe her specific comment was, "It looks so badass!" It also sounded badass. And so the deal was done, and we've now lived with the Macan for almost six months.

Colleen rolls away with her new (CPO) Macan S
Now to the question that people keep asking, "Cayenne or Macan." To be honest there is no simple answer, as they are both great vehicles. The best answer comes down to what you need, what you prioritize. Let's look at it that way...

First, for the purpose of comparing apples to apples, this discussion applies specifically to the Cayenne V6 and the Macan S, partly because that's what I've owned, and partly because they are roughly the same price when similarly equipped. What about the four cylinder Macan you ask? I've driven one or two as loaners and they are fine vehicles. But to be honest, I would choose a low-mileage CPO Cayenne V6 or Macan S over a Macan, and probably take a long look at the the Audi Q5. No offense to base Macan owners, but I think the redesigned Q5 gets you essentially the same vehicle for less money - potentially a lot less money if you get too happy with the Porsche option list.

So on to the camparison. You don't buy a sport utility vehicle in place of a performance car. Sure, the Macan S, and even maybe a Cayenne S or Turbo won't embarrass itself at a track day. But c'mon man, that's not what these things are for. You don't buy a heavy four door, all wheel-drive vehicle because it really gets around VIR quickly. You buy an SUV because it is practical, comfortable, and reliable. If it is also relatively fast and fun, all the better. Both Porsche SUVs are just that.

Dynamically the Macan S is clearly the superior driver's machine. The S is just plain fast, for an SUV. It sounds great, and handles much better than the Cayenne. A lower center of gravity, less weight, shorter wheelbase, the PDK gearbox, and more power over the V6 Cayenne all combine to provide a more sporting experience. I think of the Macan S as a sort of BMW 3-series SUV (what the X3 wants to be). That said, even my base Cayenne, in Sport mode, was fast, as fast as a vehicle of that size probably should be. But if performance is your primary goal, get the Macan S.

But let's talk the 'U' in SUV. We moved last winter, and used the Cayenne like a dump truck. It hauled all kinds of stuff, really showing its versatility. The Cayenne provides 23.6 cubic feet of cargo space and 63 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. The Macan provides 17.7 and 52 cubic feet respectively.

This is easy - the Cayenne has a lot more usable space.

Simply put, the Macan is not nearly as utilitarian. John Stuart Mill would choose the Cayenne, and if you have children or carry stuff around much, you probably should too. And the Cayenne's larger size has other advantages. Rear seat passengers survive in the Macan, as long as the people in the front seat aren't too tall. The Cayenne's rear seats are much more spacious. On longer trips the bigger Porsche is a more comfortable ride too. Probably a combination of hip/elbow room and a longer wheelbase. Finally, I haven't found the smaller Macan to be significantly easier to park either. Both vehicles are fine maneuvering through the urban jungle.

And here's a bit of a surprise: I found that the Cayenne actually gets slightly better gas mileage. Both are rated at 23 mpg on the highway. Despite that, in my experience, particularly on the highway, the Macan S is down a couple of MPG on average. Maybe its the eight speed Tiptronic vs. the seven speed PDK, or maybe the Macan S just begs to be driven harder.

So far the Macan has been road bound. But I drove the Cayenne on the beach, on some steep, washed out mountain roads, and in as much snow as you'll find here in North Carolina. It was always sure-footed and stable. The hill descent control works great too. My guess is that the Cayenne is somewhat better in these circumstances. Time will tell.

In summation... if the kids are gone, and the dogs are getting smaller, and you hire moving companies... the Macan S, GTS, or Turbo may be just the ticket. If I had to choose (and I did), I'd go with the little Porsche SUV.

So that's my Cayenne v. Macan answer. Get the Macan, unless you need the Cayenne.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

#41 - 2012 Porsche Cayenne

When Porsche first announced the Cayenne SUV in 2001, I got it. The concept was simple – data showed that a large percentage of Porsche buyers also owned a luxury car or sport utility vehicle. Porsche didn’t have something their customers wanted.

This is the basis of capitalism, all the way back to Adam Smith. Deal with it Porscheworld I thought. If Porsche can build a good SUV and make a bunch of money, maybe they will return to prototype Le Mans racing where they belong. So they did, and then they did.

The Gen 1 Cayenne was a beast.
The first gen Cayenne was a beast. Porsche clearly had Range Rover in their sights, and not just from a luxury standpoint. The engineers and marketing weasels in Zuffenhausen set out to build not just a fancy suburban grocery-getter, but a seriously capable off-road machine. The original Cayenne was a beast. And in S, GTS, and particularly in Turbo/Turbo S trim, it was a seriously fast beast.

The first time I drove a Cayenne Turbo all I could think was, “Nothing this big should be this fast.” Of course this description did not apply to the first base V6 models. They were, well... slow.

And all this was fine, but with the second generation Cayenne’s launch in 2010 it was clear thinking had changed. The sport utility market was on fire, Porsche’s market share fairly secure. And so they dialed back the hair shirt aspects of the new model a bit, choosing luxury, comfort, and style over sheer brawn – particularly off-road brawn. The darned things are still very fast, and very capable. But the car now seemed a bit more country club. And that was a good thing.

I set out to buy a Cayenne in the fall of 2015. Reality sent me to Porsche's CPO ranks in search of the nicest, best-optioned one I could find. After a bit of searching I settled on a 2012 base V6 model.

What??? Ralph bought the slow Porsche? I'm never reading this blog again!

OK, hold on. Let me explain. This car would be my daily driver. I have a pretty red 911 in the garage to satisfy my more carnal driving requirements. This SUV would spend its days commuting and running to the store; toiling in suburban anonymity. It would never experience the Climbing Esses. So I prioritized comfort, fuel economy, and price over zoom. And I don’t regret it.

The Cayenne interior is a great place to spend time.
When I started looking I specifically chose to test drive a V6. I figured if it was decent to drive then I didn’t really need the S. Well, I put a Leith CPO 2012 V6 Cayenne in sport mode and quickly discovered that this big boy had plenty of go for the suburban jungle. It’s downright quick, compared to its SUV competitors. My then daily driver Acura MDX was a dump truck compared to the 300 horsepower V6 Cayenne. I was sold.

Unfortunately I didn’t just buy that very car. While it was nice and well-optioned, I didn’t want the panoramic sunroof due to both complexity and heat concerns. So I found instead that car’s twin at Foreign Cars Italia. Just no giant sunroof. And while I’m not going to get in to the story here... suffice it to say I wish I’d done business with Leith Porsche or Porsche of Southpoint. Foreign Cars is a den of snakes. I’ll just leave it at that and move on.

So on to the Cayenne review... It’s simply fabulous—the best car I may have ever owned. I’ve put over 30K on it in 18 months with barely a hiccup. On the highway it can get up to 26 mpg driving 75-80, and my overall mileage since purchase is nearly 21. Pretty good for a 4500+ pound all-wheel drive luxury vehicle that’ll run 0-60 in about 7 seconds.

This car is comfortable, reliable, and attractive. And it doesn’t suffer from the ponderous luxobarge look that so many of its competitors have (looking at you MDX). The 14 way heated and cooled seats are fantastic. I get out of the car in DC or Atlanta like I have only driven around the block.  I have also come to love PCMPorsche Communication Management. The system is easy to use, functional, and reliable. I miss it when I’m in my 911... until I start the engine of course.

Would I change a few things? Sure. My biggest complaint is the standard steering wheel. While mine is heated, the Tiptronic buttons are right at 9 and 3 where I rest my thumbs. Not comfortable, and cold in the winter. For 2015 Porsche made the previous sport steering wheel standard. And while I love the Luxor Beige interior, the rubbery plastic wears a bit too easily. 

But these are just nits. The Cayenne is a great car. It’s fun to sit behind that crest every day, instead of just on special occasions. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, I highly suggest you buy one.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Is the new 718 a proper Porsche?

Every Porsche evolution since 1965 seems to begin with the same cry:

"They've ruined it!"

Usually these complaints center around issues like weight, sound, design, and, most of all... tradition. The Porsche owner community values tradition over almost all other virtue. At the heart of that tradition, at least since 1965, is the catechism that proper Porsches have a flat, horizontally opposed six cylinder engine. There's a rumour that Egyptologists once found this chipped in hieroglyphics on a boulder in the Valley of the Kings. And this is why, despite their many and wonderful virtues, apostate Porsche models such as the 944 and 928 have gotten the occasional side eye since they were born.

The interloper. Doesn't look that scary, does it?
The recent launch of the 2017 718 Boxster and Cayman featured much of the same hyperventilation. Why, you ask? Well... Porsche had the temerity to replace the previous generation's flat six with an all new horizontally opposed engine design. And that design has... wait for it... four cylinders!

Oh, the horror! Quick - grab pitchforks and torches, we're headed for Stuttgart the castle!

Rivers of ink have already been spilled about this horrifying break from tradition, this refutation of all that is holy in (Porsche) life. Never mind that this engine design is where the whole Porsche adventure began with the Gmund coupes of the late 1940s. But is the new car really such an outcast? I recently spent three days in the company of a 718 Boxster. My take from that experience is a bit different.

In early January my 2002 911 did what older cars do: it broke. So off to Leith Porsche we went, and I emerged in a 2017 718 base Boxster with several nice options; PDK transmission and the all important Sport Chrono package which includes Sport+ mode.

So what did I learn in three days of commuting and one afternoon of sunny, dry spirited testing? Well, first off, the car is blindingly fast. I'll say it here and repeat it again I suspect, having driven the base 718 extensively it is hard to imagine most buyers actually needing the S version of the new Boxster or Cayman. Except for the better brakes maybe... but other than that, this 300 horsepower/4.9 second 0-60 angry little rocket does everything any mere mortal driver could need.

Optional 718 badging fits well with the new Porsche inset under the rear spoiler.

As for handling, during previous seat time with a 991S I found my first experience with electrical power steering less than satisfying. In this new generation 718 I barely noticed it. The car turned in with plenty of feedback. In fact when I returned to my own 911 it felt heavy and slow comparatively.

The interior appointments of the new generation mid-engined cars show Porsche's continued commitment to providing a driving environment commensurate with the price point. In other words, it's really nice in there - once you get in. Gotta admit, climbing in and out of the Boxster when the top was up isn't as easy as it once was. I banged my head several times before perfecting my entry technique.

But getting back to the interior... the latest version of Porsche Communication Management continues the steady evolution of this solid system. The thin film transistor (TFT) main screen is fabulous, with a seamless, modern look. Getting back in my 2012 Cayenne, the previous generation PCM that I like so much seemed old.

One of these things doesn't match.
All that said, I do have one criticism; the new Sport Chrono steering wheel mode control knob. The functionality is welcome - allowing easy swapping between Normal, Sport, Sport+, and Individual settings. No, my problem is with the knob itself. It feels cheap in a Wal-Mart plasticky way. I'm sure there is some Exclusive option that will render the part in exotic hides or marble. But the basic part just doesn't have the quality feel of the rest of the interior.

And now the elephant in the room...

Note that I have not yet mentioned sound, and I don't mean the stereo. You have no doubt already heard the loudest criticism of this new Porsche: the sound it makes. Or, more specifically the sound it does not make. This criticism is accurate, if misplaced. The new 718's flat four does not sound like the previous generation's flat six. How could it? There are many reasons Porsche went to four cylinders: fuel mileage regulations, efficiency, and space requirements among them. And let's not discount the continuing marque goal to better separate this series from it's larger and more expensive 991 sibling.

The question is whether this change compromises the car. I don't think it does. The 718 is a hoot to drive; quicker than a puck on ice combined with a purposeful and luxurious workspace. Now, the new sound took some getting used to. But in Sport+ the engine roared and popped angrily. It sounded a proper sports car. And it is important to note the car I drove did not have the Sport Exhaust option. So I'm discounting this criticism almost entirely. And I completely reject the "it sounds like a Subaru" argument. Any WRX owner would kill to have the sound a 718 makes. So just add Sport Exhaust and move on. Nothing more to see here.

That advice to add Sport Exhaust brings us to the final question: Do I want a new 718? Well... yes I do. While I'm not replacing my much beloved 911 anytime soon, if I were it might well be with a base 718 Cayman. I even optioned one the way I'd like it, in Guards Red with Sport Chrono, Sport Exhaust, and the superb 18 way adjustable sport seats. I'm still debating PDK... but that's a discussion for another day.

How would you option your 718?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Here's an interesting idea... Nissan Leaf from Carmax?

The revolution in electric cars, in particular the brilliant models coming from Tesla, is a fascinating development for car enthusiasts. At the same time, most of us fairly despise small economy carsSo recently when I rode in a friend's Nissan Leaf I was pleasantly surprised. The interior was much nicer than its parent the Nissan Versa and it suffered from no shortage of get-up-and-go, easily keeping pace with interstate traffic. Wall Street Journal auto writer Dan Neil gushed over the car in this 2010 video.

What's he point of this little tale? Well, my car friend Chris recently noticed that off-lease Leafs (Leaves?) are a real bargain. Carmax lists dozens of them, ranging in price from $9,998 to 13,998. Those prices represent serious depreciation for a two or three year old car that originally listed for over $30,000! And as these were generally locally driven, range-limited leases, some have very low miles, 

And that's not all. Carmax is offering their Maxcare warranty on these cars at a very low rate, some under $1,200 for five years of coverage out to 75,000 miles. And as Jalopnik's Doug DeMuro has proven, Maxcare works. 

So to review, for under $15,000 you can buy a solid, low-miles electric car fully warrantied for years. 

One last interesting question... Just how much is Nissan losing on their Leaf experiment? They offered lease rates as low as $199/month with low initial buy in. The full cost of a Leaf two lease year lease could have been as little as $7,000. And now Nissan is wholesaling these cars for around $10,000, and the market is flooded. Those are the kind of numbers you would expect for a sub-$20,000 car, not one that listed for over $30,000, representing tremendous R&D costs.

It's all a bit of a puzzle, and interesting from a auto enthusiast point of view. But if you ever wanted an electric car, here's your chance. Dirt cheap.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Cars of Lynne

A few years back, on a Porsche Club of America driving tour of the great mountain roads that surround Asheville, North Carolina, I witnessed a near divorce. We were pushing kinda fast that day, to be honest probably too fast. Suddenly one of the other cars pulled off. We didn't see them again until evening. Seems the guy's wife took exception to the overall speed, and general nature of our motoring activities.

My wife Lynne was along for that trip. She enjoyed herself completely, did some of the driving and took video during the faster, curvy sections. I'm lucky. Lynne gets it. I married a car girl.

Lynne's Sprite was a Mark II, not a Bugeye.
Growing up in Raleigh, on Saturday mornings Lynne's dad would take her downtown to see the new foreign cars at Harmon Roland Motors. While his tastes went generally to big Chryslers, she was drawn to sports cars from the start, as was her sister Nancy.

One of Lynne's first cars was a black Austin Healey Sprite... I wish I had known her then, blond hair blowing as she flew down Dixie Trail or zipped across the old narrow Lake Johnson bridge.

Lynne's first husband tried to hand her the keys to a Ford Aerostar minivan. She drove it once. Over the years she went through VW Cabrios, a Plymouth Laser (I had an Eagle Talon about the same time, essentially the same car), and briefly a brown Pinto. A low point to be sure. She was driving a Ford Contour SE when I met her. Hard to remember now, but the performance version of the Contour was a heck of a sport sedan for the time.

We bonded over cars early. On one of our first dates, driving through the Five Points neighborhood of Raleigh I spied an old MG parked on a side street. "Did you see that MG TC?" I asked. "It was a TF," she replied, "You can tell by the headlights."

I would have married her right there, by the old Piggly Wiggly, if the deli counter guy could have presided over the ceremony.

Before we married I had sold my Contour SE (yes, we both had the same model of carher's had leather), and bought a 1996 Mazda Miata M-Edition for us to share. Lynne loved that car, stealing it every chance she got. We took some great trips in it too; Wrightsville Beach, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Washington DC via back roads. It was our first sports car together, but far from our last.

Lynne encouraged me to return to Porsche ownership and we shared first a 944 S2, then a 968, and finally our current Carrera. When I was searching for a Carrera she specifically asked if we could get a red one. "I always wanted a Guards Red 911." How many husbands get to hear their wives say that?

At the wheel on the 911 just off the Blue Ridge Parkway
Over the past ten years she has developed an appreciation for BMWs, starting with an E90 330i sedan. When we replaced that car, her daily driver, with an X3 to better transport our herd of Labrador Retrievers, she asked me, "Why do I always have to have the family car?"

She had me cold. I didn't have a good answer. I took over the X3 and found her a 2005 BMW 330i convertible. Lynne's car.

So now my lovely wife has come full circle, once again zipping around Raleigh in her little black sports car. Too bad they replaced that twisty narrow bridge over Lake Johnson.

And she will get behind the wheel of that car again soon. I believe that.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What's With the Whole Car Thing?

I'm occasionally asked, "What is it about cars, why do you care about them so much?" Usually the person asking is a friend or acquaintance with a history of minivans or beige Camrys, so I know my answer, no matter how concise and insightful, will no doubt fall on somewhat deaf ears.

Recognizing that simple enthusiasm for cool, fast cars is perhaps a bit of a lightweight explanation, my standard reply is something like, "cars are a fascinating expression of individual choice and personality," or "we devote such a large amount of our hard-earned money to cars (for most people, car expenditure is third behind the mortgage and feeding/clothing/schooling the kids) they deserve real thought and passion."

It's a good answer, a passable answer.

Today I found a great answer.
"Our cars are our partners, our sidekicks, our modern take on a cowboy’s trusty steed; they’re our sanctuaries, love nests and music halls. They are the setting for adventures, dramas and conversations that stay with us for lifetimes. We imbue our cars with personalities, with sentient quirks, and our bonds with them mimic all too many human affairs of the heart, passing through a chain of predictable stages—lust, abiding love, companionable reliance and, finally, heartache."
Earl Swift penned this thought as part of  a recent Wall Street Journal review of Neil Young's new car-centric biography, "Special Deluxe." Turns out Old Neil is quite the enthusiast himself, with a fondness for '40s and '50 American iron. One of his first cars was a 1953 Pontiac hearse owned during the early Buffalo Springfield days in LA.

I don't have much else to add. Mr. Swift said it all. What drives your passion for cars?

Oh, it turns out that a bunch of Neil Young songs are about cars, including this one...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blyth Brothers Hit Big Time!

I enjoy the Blyth Brothers car blog for a couple of reasons. We share an interest in 1980s European cars, and I served with their father in the US Army in Germany during that very same decade. The boys, Graham and Taylor, mix a solid knowledge of engineering and auto repair with the enthusiasm of, well, enthusiasts. They also have a soft spot for some of my favorites, including the GTI and Alfa 164.

Also fun, they have shared one of my car adventures from back in the day. Most of it was even true!

Well today I was perusing my regular daily car blogs and sites only to discover the BlythBros getting serious attention from GermanCarsForSaleBlog.

Congrats boys, and say hi to the old man for me!