The Cayenne Turbo Goes Big

NOW THAT THE PORSCHE DEVOTEES have overcome their initial resistance to the issuance of a Porsche SUV, for 2011, this famed sports car manufacturer has released version 2.0.

Although the basic styling, including the classic Porsche sloping hood, has been refined with a more exciting grill and roofline treatment, the real changes -which performance-heads will be pleased to hear – come from the engineering department.

First, every model has undergone a major diet with the use of lighter suspension components, which results in a drop of nearly 400 pounds. Additionally, new models with bolstered powerplants and other refinements have been added, including a hybrid with a 333 horsepower V6 and a 47 horsepower electric motor resulting in an expected city mileage rating of 20 mpg.

Yet the real piece de resistance is the high-velocity, twin turbo model with a 4.8-liter V8, which delivers a robust 500 horsepower through the use of a brand new eight-speed automatic transmission. Even with all-wheel drive and every off-road feature one could possibly need, the 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and top speed of 172 mph hour is equivalent to that of a small plane.

Sticking with the aeronautical theme, the “cockpit” will make any pilot happy. Laid out rather logically are controls for both the usual and exotic, some of which are downright brilliant. For example, instead of the customary navigation screen being in the center of the dash, the Cayenne has two viewing platforms. A three-dimensional overview of the city with the general location of restaurants, ATM machines, etc. is highlighted in the center screen, while the in-dash pod reveals the more classic video map showing your vehicle’s exact location, including plotted course and direction.

Buttons and dials are provided for controlling the automatic climate and sound systems, but also for overall handling, vehicle height, suspension tightness and terrain conditions. For the fuel-minded, a bonus feature: Gently punch a button and the engine turns off at full stops – and immediately restarts when you lift off the brake pedal.

All of the usual SUV accoutrements are present and accounted for, including a fair amount of rear storage, 60/40 split rear seats that can be dropped for bigger objects and separate climate vents for the rear passengers.

But driving is the real reward; this is not your father’s SUV. The leather seats with 16 adjustments are bound to conform to any body type. Acceleration is extremely quick and instantaneous without any turbo spool-up delay. Except for full throttle exercises, the eight-speed automatic shifts are seamless either in the auto mode, manually with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, or the stick itself. With 20-inch high performance tires, corners can be taken with near abandon.

But the real shocker on Honolulu’s potholed streets is how the Cayenne absorbs the worst a road can throw at it – you would think you were cruising in a limousine. Added to the comfort level is the Cayenne’s rock-solid body – not a creak or a squeak anytime or anywhere, no matter what the topography.

When a world-renowned sports car maker steps into a different automotive venue, the results can – on rare occasion – be stupendous. This world-class SUV handles, accelerates and rides with the best of them, no matter what the environment.

Luxury Asides

LET THE SUN SHINE IN

Without much fanfare (and rather quietly, at that), the mid-luxury brands have been adding some “fun in the sun” with the rollout of hardtop convertibles to their fleets. To compete with their German friends (Audi, BMW and Mercedes), both Infiniti and Lexus have added rather elegant-looking hardtop convertibles to their lineup.

The Infiniti G37 four-seater provides coupe utility and, with a push of a button, topless fun with a roof that vanishes into the trunk. Priced at about $45,000, the G37 (with 325 horsepower) wins the power war between these two new models.

Likewise, Lexus with its IS C also has the disappearing hardtop, but with considerably less base model horsepower (204, to be exact). However, at a $5,000-less starting sticker price than the Infiniti, the sparkle is in the eye of the beholder.

FAST PONY, STRONG VALUE

With all the focus on gas mileage these days, it’s nice to see someone sticking to their guns with good old American muscle – in the form of a horsepower war. And what better place than with the so-called pony cars – the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger.

With the 2011 model, the Mustangs have not only come out of the gate kicking, they darn near leave the competition in the dust. While the incredible value of the base ($23,000) model V-6 has 305 horsepower, the GT V-8 kicks out 432 horsepower and is priced at just over $30,000. Not enough? The Shelby GT500 version has 550 ponies from a 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 for a mere $50,000.