First Drive
Cayenne Diesel
Mainland Europe's car population is 80 percent diesel. With less taxation, greater fuel economy and lower emissions to accompany an enjoyable torque-laden drive, diesel makes way more sense than hybrids. German manufacturers Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and VW are now selling diesel-powered models in the USA. Even though the market share for these models is currently not that impressive, it looks like they may soon be joined by Porsche.

There is no timetable to speak of, as Porsche is still in the throes of finding a business case for it (according to Porsche's research, roughly 10 percent of American customers would prefer their next vehicle to be diesel-powered; the company wants to see that figure rise to 20), but a diesel Cayenne would be a good fit over here. As a way of sniffing the wind, Porsche shipped a model to California (the state that's chief of the smog police).

Nestling in the engine bay is an Audi-sourced 3.0-liter turbocharged V6. Peak power is a nice enough 240 horses, capable of galloping this vehicle to a top speed of 133 mph. However, torque is the star of the diesel show. With an advantage of 37 lb-ft over the Cayenne S, a muscular 406 lb-ft chimes in at just 2000 rpm-enough to send this beast flying from standstill to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds. That's with a Tiptronic S automatic transmission. And since many Americans like to use their SUVs for towing, they will appreciate being able to haul a 3.5-ton trailer.

Because the Cayenne diesel has not yet been homologated for American roads, there are no EPA figures, but here are some interesting numbers: Average fuel consumption is claimed to be 25.3 mpg; range for the 26-gallon tank is up to 620 miles. Porsche is claiming 28 percent less fuel consumed than a similarly powered petrol V6 Cayenne.

The roads in and around Los Angeles are in the same sorry state as Russian dental health during the Cold War. The Cayenne makes them seem like brand-new veneers. Ride quality is as near to perfect as dammit, while the engine is quiet, smooth and punchy, with immediate throttle response. Even with some serious right foot, there's more of a gruff roar than a clatter. If the American driving style is made up of steady cruising with the occasional prod on the accelerator to pass other cars or get up to freeway speed, then this kind of engine is ideal. It has a loping quality.

As if that weren't enough, the six-speed transmission selects each ratio with an almost imperceptible snick. Incidentally, this is a 2010 model and although the dash design looks pretty much unchanged, the quality of materials feels and looks more expensive.

By now, even the most hard-core Porsche purists have come to accept the Cayenne. If it means the company can make a heap of cash that in turn enables it to produce GT2 and GT3 models, then who are we to complain about a perfectly nice luxury SUV? By that token, it's not much of a stretch for die-hard petrolheads to get on board with diesel. From the emissions/consumption point of view, it's a no-brainer. And having such a surge of torque makes this Cayenne worthy of the Porsche badge on its hood.

Trouble is, there's a bigger-picture issue here. Will Americans abandon their diesel prejudices? Can they? Diesel used to be disgusting, noisy and slow-about as far from Porsche attributes as it's possible to get. And even though the general public is notorious for having a short memory, earlier experience must have been traumatic enough for the repulsion to linger.

Here's an idea: Why not re-brand it? Call it Euro-fuel or something (the French don't call their fries French fries and the English have no idea what an English muffin is, so America has hi-jacked European descriptions before with some success). Now, if only there was a way to dispense it that didn't involve smelly hands and slippery floors.

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