Hopefully, after 18 years of saying it, everyone has accepted the Porsche Cayenne as a real Porsche. Purists will always be difficult to win over, but the Cayenne has shown itself to be as fun to drive as an SUV can be while still being practical and even off-road capable. Just to be sure you’ve gotten the message, Porsche has doubled-down on the sport factor with the 2020 Cayenne Coupe.
While the Cayenne can be had with up to 670 hp and all manner of handling aids—from rear steering to active anti-roll bars—it begins life as a humble SUV with just 335 hp to its name. Those standard Cayennes get around well enough, but with the Cayenne Coupe, Porsche really wants to sell the sportiness that the rakish roofline is promising. This is why all Cayenne Coupes come standard with the Sport Chrono package, a $1,130 option for regular Cayennes. With it comes Sport Plus and Individual (customizable) drive modes, the sport response button for a 20-second burst of maximum responsiveness, launch control, and a “Sport” setting for the stability control.
Also made standard is PASM, Porsche’s electronically controlled dampers which usually run $2,000. In front, they control wheels steered by now-standard Power Steering Plus—or $300 worth of software to improve steering feel. In the rear, they control wheels riding on a 0.7-inch wider track to improve stability. Controlling you are standard sport seats, which split the difference between Comfort seats and Adaptive Sport Seats with fewer power adjustments and more lateral support.
Topping off the standard upgrades are 20-inch wheels (up from 19 inches) and a panoramic glass roof. Don’t like sunroofs? You can replace it with carbon-fiber if you buy the $14,440 (and up) Lightweight Sport Package, which nonsensically increases the wheels to 22 inches as well. But hey, it saves 41.4 pounds on a 4,600-lb vehicle. That’s just $349 per pound!
Speaking of deals, Cayenne Coupes start at $76,650, or $8,500 more than a non-coupe, but don’t despair. All those performance parts, sunroof, seats, and big wheels will run you $9,680 in options on a standard Cayenne, so you’re saving money toward that lightweight package already.
Surely, then, the Cayenne Coupe solves the biggest problem we had with the standard Cayenne: the unshakable feeling it’s an Audi in Porsche clothing, at least until you take a corner. Well, not really. As with the Cayenne, the Cayenne Coupe doesn’t feel especially Porsche-like or even that sporty in everyday driving. It’s got the drive mode selector dial on the steering wheel to remind you, and ours was equipped with the optional air suspension, but there wasn’t some inherent sportiness to the way it drives.
The primary culprit is the powertrain calibration. It’s almost like it actively tries not to be sporty unless you absolutely demand it. The throttle doesn’t respond until you’ve pushed it at least a quarter of the way down. A flat-footedness below 2,000 rpm from the turbocharged V-6 doesn’t help matters. Changing to Sport helps, but to get a Porsche response, it has to be in Sport Plus.
Same for the transmission. Most of the time, it’s content to shuffle through the ratios and keep thing smooth, civilized, and fuel efficient. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not particularly sporty. Sport mode doesn’t seem to help much, so you’ve got to go all the way to Sport Plus to get it to make the switch from reactive to proactive. There are shortcuts, like pushing the “Sport Response” button in the center of the mode selector or flooring the gas, but those take you from cruiser to bruiser when you just want a cruiser with a sense of urgency.
When you do put it in Sport Plus, though, the Porsche comes out. Then, the throttle responds like a 911’s. The transmission works some of that PDK programming magic, even though it’s a humble torque converter job. The special power steering software loosens up and lets some kickback into the steering wheel. Then, this swoopy coupe SUV starts behaving like a hot hatch.
Its 335 hp isn’t going to light your hair on fire, but it’s the right starting point. With the programming rectified, there’s just the right amount of power, delivered in just the right manner, for the vehicle. Yes, we know the chassis can handle twice as much, but it’s a testament to good engineering that it doesn’t need double the power to feel sporty. As is, it’s just quick enough to get your juices flowing on a good road.
More importantly, everything else falls into place. The transmission, no longer in need of prodding, selects all the right gears. The steering provides more feel than any other SUV you can buy while remaining light, delicate, and precise. The standard brakes aren’t anything special on paper, but they have no problem standing up to serious abuse on a favorite road.
Our tester didn’t have rear steering or active anti-roll bars or any of that, and frankly, it didn’t need them. They probably do something for lap times, but on a weekend jaunt, they weren’t missed. It didn’t feel any less enjoyable to drive on the same mountain road as the non-Coupe Cayenne Turbo S we tested last year, just not as quick.
Turn it all off when you’re out of the mountains, and it goes back to being just another luxury SUV. The rear window is a bit harder to see out of now that it’s smaller and mounted higher, but other SUV coupes do it worse. It’s quiet enough, and the leather is supple enough. The sports seats are comfortable to commute in every day, and the big wheels ride well enough.
You don’t give up a lot in the name of style, either. The rear seats have been lowered to maintain headroom, but not so much that it feels like you’re sitting on the floor with your knees in your chest. You only give up 5 cubic feet of cargo space for the coupe-ish roof. All of them are up in the top of the cargo area, so you’re losing the ability to stack stuff, but there’s still a good amount of space. It’s too bad about what it all does to the rear end of the vehicle, which just doesn’t work. At least the side profile is the least offensive of the coupe SUVs.
Heck, it’ll still go off-road. There’s no off-road package like the regular Cayenne offers, what with skid plates and all. Still, with the air suspension optioned, it’ll jack itself up into off-road height and the adaptive dampers will take their lumps from a dirt road without falling down. It’s actually kind of fun to rally around, as long as you’re careful about not hitting anything sharp with those low-profile tires.
It’s there, the Porsche DNA. It’s deep in the blood, preserved over the generations but also buried further and further beneath a more approachable persona. More than anything, the cascading roof winks at the close friends and family who know what it is at its core. All the while, it puts on a pragmatic face for the everyday customer more concerned with looking good in the parking lots of the office, the store, or the local freeway at rush hour. The people who buy it for what it represents will love it even more than the people who buy it for what it truly is.
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