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?