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Is This the End of Porsche as We Know It?

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 3/21/2019 K.C. Colwell

a car parked in a parking lot
Related Gallery: See Photos of the New 2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe (Provided by Car & Driver)

Anyone who can remember the smell of a 928’s interior from the 1980s, or the eccentric vertical switches on the door of a 911, probably still sees Porsche as the aspirational brand of the people, a company that can sell a million-dollar car in the same showroom as a $55,000 car. Porsche is the quasi-exotic brand that is attainable.

But it just debuted a Quasimodo version of its Cayenne, and I fear everything is going to change.

Related Video: 5 things you need to know about the 2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe(Provided by Roadshow)

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Porsche isn't the first and likely will not be the last to succumb to a dramatic downswing as the result of rapid model proliferation. BMW led the charge on that front. BMW sports sedans were the bee's knees less than a decade ago. But since then, we've seen BMW chase the coupe-ified competition with countless model variants, cannibalizing some of its own sales with a Gran Coupe or a Gran Turismo. Or an X(n+1) hunchback like the new Cayenne coupe.

a car parked on the side of a road: Predicting the demise of a beloved brand isn't a proud moment, but the Cayenne coupe isn't a good sign for Porsche.© Porsche Predicting the demise of a beloved brand isn't a proud moment, but the Cayenne coupe isn't a good sign for Porsche.

Developing a new car, no matter how small a variant, costs money-lots of money. Forget for a moment the ridiculous expense of the various homologation processes around the world (there should be a global homologation process, but that's a different topic). Separate toolings for the interior and exterior are expensive. And even smaller things such as wheel designs are costly, because God forbid the Cayenne coupe and Cayenne have the same wheel options.

a car parked on the side of a mountain: 2020 Porsche 911© Porsche 2020 Porsche 911

The first sign of questionable decisions at Porsche came a few months ago, when I got my first-hand account of the new 911. Not because I thought the 992 was going to be horrible to drive, but because of how significant a departure the 992 makes. Money was clearly taken out of the interior. As Pete Stout, editor of the Porsche-focused 000 Magazine, pointed out, form no longer followed function. Exhibit A: the fake cowl-intake cutlines in the hood. And the addition of options and features, such as active-safety systems, that remove control from the driver. All changes that are very unlike Porsche.

Most 911 buyers pile on the (very profitable) options, and a cheap interior is one way to ensure that continues. But I'm one of those base 911 buyers who cringed when the base price of a 911 crept past $90,000 in 2017. (Well, I'm not quite a buyer, but you know what I mean.) There was an underlying value in a base 911, and I had admired those who chose it. The value previously associated with base Carrera was rivaled only by the E90 3-series and the Volkswagen GTI, starting with the Mark V; 987 Boxsters and Caymans are up there, too.

a close up of a car: 2020 Porsche 911© Porsche 2020 Porsche 911

Along with this cheapness introduced inside the 992’s interior, Porsche spent money adopting adaptive cruise control for the 911 and a system to tell the stability control when there is too much water on the road. Options and added content, sure, but they aren't profitable if no one buys them. And worse, if everyone buys them, then Porsche will just increase features that remove control from the driver because that is what it thinks its customers want.

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I'm not even going to get into the 992's digital instrumentation. The five-dial analog gauge cluster has been a staple of 911s for 50-plus years. The current setup is as digital as i want it to be. I do not like LCD screens because I have sensitive eyes at night. No analog speedo is a crime against all kids who may peer into a parked 911. All kids want to know how fast a car goes.

I see all these fundamental changes as a departure from the 911's longstanding place at the pinnacle of the automotive landscape. The 911 has gone from being a sports car that could be driven daily to a GT that can impersonate a sports car. If you don't understand what I mean, I am surprised you have continued to read this far.

After the 992 reveal, I thought the 718 Boxster and Cayman's replacement would be Porsche’s Ouija board, but then the Cayenne coupe happened (my second sign). It is this moment, I am predicting, that will go down in history as when Porsche jumped the shark.

I'm not saying Porsche has lost its way. Porsche, and its parent VW Group, has a handle on what is going on, I am sure. I just see a lot of indicators of worse things to come. The good news is there are several models launching that we can fawn over until I'm proved right or wrong. I'm really hoping I'm wrong.

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