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!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The 80's: Performance and Style Strike Back

Driving through the Poconos last summer we were passed by a well-preserved BMW M6, probably about an '87. I got to thinking about how much I wanted one of those beautiful machines at the time and started rolling across some internal list of my favorite cars from that decade.

The 1980's saw the rebirth of automobile performance. From hot hatches to the reigniting of the Pony Car Wars, to the advent of the modern supercar, performance cars were finally worth lusting after again. Let's start at the begining...

From the days of the Model T enthusiasts have been making cars go faster, and high performance cars from the Stutz Bearcat through Bugattis and the Mercedes SSK always existed, But this route to power and fun was the world of either the garage mechanic or the wealthy. For average folk cars were simply transportation. Performance was not a particular critieria. And then beginning in the late 1950's, automotive performance for the masses began growing in leaps and bounds.

I don't actually know what car started it, whether it was the popularity of small British and German sports cars, the first Corvettes and T-Birds, or simply the growing power in family coupes and sedans like the '55 Chevy Bel Air. But suddenly performance as a desirable element of consumer-focused automobiles was a thing. By the mid 1960's the GTO, Mustang, and Camaro had burst performance wide open. Families were going to the movies pulled by fire-breathing V-8s.

But all good things come to an end. By the early 1970s air pollution concerns, oil prices, and perhaps sanity took hold. The era of the muscle car (and muscle station wagon too!) came to an abrupt end. To be honest, the 1970s were agonizing for auto enthusiasts. Remember the Mustang II? Even the mighty Corvette fell victim, with the 25th anniversary edition featuring an anemic 185 HP  and no available manual transmission. Heavy sigh.

My vote for the low point. 
Sure there were a few points of light. The 1970s saw some nice Alfa Romeos, the birth of the Lamborghini Contach, the 2002 and 3.0 BMW's. And certainly Porsche never really fell victim to the malaise. But overall it was a grim time. Little did we know, us high school kids of the '70's, that help was right around the corner.

It probably began with the VW GTI, the first Fox-bodied Mustang, GM F-body coupes, and the C4 Corvette. I noticed the change in college, the stirrings of faster cars. By the mid-1980s the Pony Car Wars were back in full swing and great cars like the 3-Series BMW, Audi Quattro coupe and sedan, Toyota Supra (and even MR2), made performance and design relevant again.

For me, the pinnacle of the 1980's automotive rennaissance was the M6. The car was powerful and beautiful. From the shark front grill to the that wonderful inline 6 through the driver-focused cockpit to the tip of its rear dual exhaust, The M6 was everything that a car should be.

The list of great 1980's cars is long and wonderful...

Porsche 944 Turbo And S2
Audi Quattro (particulary the 200 turbo 'cause I had one)
VW GTI (Gen 1 and the late 80's 16 valve Gen 2 models)
Ford Mustang GT
Chevy Camaro and Firebird
C4 Corvette (Gen 2)
Mazda Miata
BMW 325is and M3
Porsche 3.2 Carrera and Turbo

Some of my favorites from the decade never made it to the US...

Lancia Thema 8.32
Lancia Delta Integrale
Peugeot 205 GTI
Ford Sierra Cosworth
Nissan Skyline R32

Come to think of it, the 80's may be the greatest decade of all time!

So, what's your vote for the best car of the 80's?