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Driveopolis: 2021 Porsche Cayenne S Coupe is an ideal mid-sized, luxury SUV

Sam Pat, Glacier Media's Automotive Reviewer, digs into the pros and cons of this Porsche SUV.

Gone are the days where a Cayenne was just a Cayenne.

These days, if you want a Porsche Cayenne, you have to choose between a Cayenne or a Cayenne Coupe.

The practice of turning a tall, boxy SUV into a somewhat-less-boxy SUV Coupe was pioneered by BMW sometime around 2008 when they introduced the X6. Designers thought it was a brilliant idea to give the X5 an exaggerated and sloping roofline reminiscent of a traditional two-door coupe.

In the process, the X5 lost cargo space, rear headroom and even its central rear seat. The X6 was a crossover which – like a coupe – only had room for four. Even though they prioritized style over usability, BMW thought customers would be willing to pay more for less. They were right.

This curious practise has since spread among the German luxury car makers with Mercedes, Audi and Porsche following suit. Same formula; different badges. In typical Porsche fashion, they were the last to market (launched for model year 2020) but theirs – at least to my eyes – is also the least compromised. In fact, I love the way that it looks.

How is this model different?

The 2021 Cayenne S Coupe’s sloping roofline reminds me of the 911s, but using a visual trick of making its roof dark and its painted c-pillars slender, the Cayenne Coupe fools me into seeing a much lower roofline than reality. This means Porsche was able to minimize the loss of headroom compared to the conventional Cayenne.

As if to drive home this particular point of airiness, the Cayenne Coupe’s standard roof is made entirely of glass. It does not open like a traditional panoramic sunroof, but the view it offers is uninterrupted and expansive. With the sunshade open, the Coupe lets in a bucketload of light and gives the cabin a very spacious feel.

If you happen to be a weight weenie, Porsche offers an optional lightweight sport package that includes – among other upgrades – a carbon fibre roof. In total, these changes amount to 18-32kg of weight savings.

The price of this option? $15,960 CAD.

This produces a best-case scenario of 32kg savings on a vehicle with a roughly 2050kg unladen weight. In other words, 1.56 per cent worth of weight savings. Like beauty, value is in the eye of the beholder.

However, most buyers don’t necessarily choose the Porsche brand because they are looking to maximize dollars-per-pound saved. Buyers choose Porsche for its exclusivity, design, strong residuals and driving experience.

How does it perform?

This Cayenne S Coupe has these qualities in spades. Its steering is best-in-class, its body control unflappable, its ride and handling athletic and keen. The Cayenne S Coupe drives like an excellent sports sedan on stilts.

I can’t speak enough about the way that the Cayenne S Coupe steers. Its steering weight is absolutely perfect, it's geared to be very quick and there is genuine feedback from the contact patches in a way that only the best modern sportscars can provide.

This is an achievement when you consider that when Porsche first introduced electrically-assisted steering around seven or eight years ago, feedback was almost eradicated. These days, Porsche nails it on steering feel, across their entire range of vehicles. It’s astounding to me that an SUV this large and this heavy can now steer with this level of alacrity.

How do the interior and technology rank?

Let’s talk about the Cayenne S Coupe’s interior and its human interfaces.

Like several other models in its lineup, Porsche has done a brilliant job of transitioning us into the fully digital future with a design that combines an equal mix of past and present. Nostalgic details remain like its central analog tachometer and grab handles on the centre console, which have remained since the very first Cayenne.

Even with the optional keyless comfort access, it is mandatory to start the engine not with a push-button, but by twisting a dummy key to the left of the steering column, as is the case with all Porsches.

Does it make sense? Not really. But not everything has to make sense in a Porsche because these quirks are what make it a Porsche. If you happen to love Porsches, you love these idiosyncrasies.

Modernization of the Cayenne continues with a central 12.3-inch touchscreen with lovely resolution and contrast. We now have standard Apple wireless CarPlay. Hurray! We are finally rid of CarPlay’s USB tether. Android Auto will arrive for model year 2022.

The Cayenne’s centre console is beautiful and functional, with a capacitive touch panel. It is much more minimalist and user-friendly than the button-busy centre consoles of Porsche’s recent past. As a side-note, the Porsche Macan will finally get the centre-stack update for its next 2022 revision.

How does it compare to other Porsche models? 

Speaking of the smaller and less expensive Macan, this is where a back-to-back drive against its sibling reveals one of the Cayenne’s few disappointments: its conventional automatic transmission. I would normally make no mention of this if not for the fact that the less expensive and more outdated Macan soldiers on with its superior PDK dual-clutch-automatic.

The Macan’s PDK shifts more quickly, rev-matches more cleanly on the downshift and remains a more satisfying transmission for an enthusiastic driver. You can still shift for yourself using the Cayenne’s paddles, but the relationship between your paddle-pull and the engagement of the transmission’s next gear leaves room for improvement.

Otherwise, the Cayenne’s fully-modernized, roomier interior and much more comfortable rear seating win me over and help to justify its higher price tag. The Cayenne S Coupe’s rear seats are capable of recline and make rear passengers feel pampered.

How much does it cost?

Porsche's à la carte approach to options means your experience and purchase price vary dramatically depending on how the vehicle is configured. Our sample is an S model with the 434-horsepower engine, which is nearly 100 more horses than the base model. In the land of Porsche, the S is usually the sweet spot of performance-versus-price and generates strong interest among enthusiasts.

The S Coupe starts at $104,300 CAD and our sample sports the most sensible option of all, which also happens to be a free one: rear seat in 2+1 configuration. This restores rear central seating so that your 2050kg SUV can actually do what it’s meant to do: carry five people.

We follow this up with the premium plus package at $7,700, which includes four-zone climate control, dimming mirrors, blind-spot monitoring, LED swivel headlights, adjustable ambient lighting, front ventilated seats, seat heating for front and rear, 14-way front seats with three-position-memory, BOSE upgraded surround sound, and proximity key. This package is optional but not really optional.

Other options include $3,670 for a sport exhaust, $3,090 for upgraded 21-inch wheels and a surround-view camera system for $1,360. These selections are less critical. All in, the test car came to $121,650 as tested. I would call this spec realistic.  

How does it compare to competitors?

The competition? Much of my commentary applies to the regular Cayenne; apart from the roofline and rear seating, they are very similar for a $7,500 price delta.

I would say the biggest competition comes from the Cayenne’s cousin in the Volkswagen group: the Audi SQ8.

Similarly, it is an SUV Coupe built on the MLB Evo platform and for similar pricing to the Cayenne S Coupe, you get a V8 engine (versus a V6) with more power in the SQ8.

Audi’s approach to options is also more generous, giving you a better-equipped SUV for the same money. In fact, the SQ8 is a closer competitor to the Cayenne GTS further up in the Porsche range, which shares the V8 engine. BMW’s current crop of SUVs is extremely capable and also worth a look. Mercedes caters to a somewhat different buyer, in my opinion.

However, for a Porsche-enthusiast who values the brand and sees the long options list as an opportunity for personalization rather than a sap of value, then the Cayenne S Coupe is extremely compelling. This SUV is satisfyingly quick and interactive to drive. It has a brilliant combination of design, usability, brand value and build quality. For me, that’s what a mid-sized, luxurious on-road SUV should be all about.

For more details, please watch my video review.