Car reviews - Porsche - Cayenne
Spacious interior, accommodating air suspension, minimal bodyroll, sportscar-like steering, grippy all-wheel-drive system, capable off-road
Room for improvement
Turbo could be more manic, regular variant could be punchier, cheaper entry-level interior trim, key active safety features are optional
Porsche continues to successfully add sportscar touch to critical Cayenne large SUV
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14 Jun 2018
PORSCHE celebrated its 70th anniversary last week. On June 8, 1948, the 356 ‘No. 1’ Roadster was registered, making it the first vehicle to wear a Porsche badge. Fast forward 70 years and the German sportscar-maker has unleashed its third-generation Cayenne – a large SUV that seemingly belied Porsche’s sportscar origins when it first broke cover in 2002.
However, the original Cayenne proved to be a tremendous hit for the brand, boosting its global sales to levels not seen before. Most of its success was due to the fact that it was genuinely good, proving to be the go-to performance model in the SUV pack.
For this reason, despite transitioning to an all-new model, the Cayenne looks very similar to the second-generation model before it. Nevertheless, it’s familiar face hides some significant changes underneath, so does it drive as well too? We put three variants of the latest Cayenne through their paces to find out.
The Cayenne large SUV arguably kept Porsche in the business of making sportscars. The increased sales volumes it brought to the table have resulted in models and variants that otherwise may have never seen the light of day. Even though the resulting Macan mid-size SUV is the marque’s best-selling model in Australia, no other has been more important in the last 20 years than the Cayenne. No pressure on its third iteration then, hey?
Being a clean-sheet design, Porsche has not held back in flipping the Cayenne’s script, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. Pricing-wise, the regular variant opens the range from $116,300 before on-road costs, while the S and Turbo are further upstream, at $155,100 and $239,400 respectively.
While the regular variant is powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 engine that produces 250kW of power and 450Nm of torque, the S turns up the wick with its 2.9-litre unit that picks up a second turbocharger to boosts output to 324kW and 550Nm. However, the Turbo assumes flagship responsibilities with its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that pumps out 404kW and 770Nm.
The regular variant serves well as an entry-level offering, although a little more poke wouldn’t go astray. In the Normal driving mode, it is happy punting around town at a leisurely pace, but it doesn’t feel particularly Porsche. However, flick the dial to Sport or Sport Plus and throttle response is noticeably sharper. Even so, it’s still doesn’t feel quick for a performance SUV, but that might say more about its 1985kg unladen weight, even if it’s 65kg less than before.
We didn’t spend much time behind the wheel of the S, but it is a significant step up over the regular variant. That performance edge missing from the former is offered by the latter in spades. It’s much keener and puts forth a strong argument for best bang for your buck in the Cayenne range, but the Turbo’s appeal is still undeniably strong.
Whereas the regular variant is docile, the Turbo is absolutely raucous. The noise missing from the former is amplified in the latter. The same can be said of the performance, as the ante is turned up to 11 … but it still doesn’t feel as manic as it could be.
Bury your right foot and the eight-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission pauses for a split second while it finds the right gear for the sheer violence it is about to unleash. A purposeful shove throws occupants into the back of their seats. You get the feeling the Turbo has some very long legs, because it does – legal limits permitting, of course. However, we still feel that, despite what its figures say on paper, the Turbo could do with slightly more sporting intent. Hello, mooted 500kW/850Nm Turbo S E-Hybrid.
The S and Turbo are fitted with a three-chamber air suspension, and the results are impressive. Select the Sport Plus (providing the Sports Chrono package is optioned) driving mode and the Cayenne hunkers down and attacks the tarmac with intent. Switch the dial to Normal and the ride becomes soft, although it still feels a little firm over some bumps.
The regular variant is equipped with a steel-sprung set-up as standard, which offers good comfort on regular roads. Its adaptive dampers (standard on all Cayennes) provide a sportier experience when called upon, helping to keep bodyroll in check.
Speaking of which, the Turbo comes with Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) electronic roll stabilisation, which remarkably manages to keep the Cayenne as flat as possible through corners. For enthusiasts in the market for a sportscar-cum-SUV, this is an absolute must. Thankfully it’s optional for buyers of the regular variant and S.
In typical Porsche fashion, the Cayenne’s steering is fantastic. Its thick-rimmed steering wheel gives access to a well-weighted, direct set-up that is characterised by great feedback. When steering a two-tonne SUV at high speed, you want to be confident in its ability to handle. The Cayenne makes this an easy task for the driver. While there’s no comparing it with a 911, it’s getting staggeringly close. After all, the Cayenne is the Swiss Army knife of cars.
Part of its success is to do with its superb all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring. Grip is absolutely sensational, on dry or wet roads – as was the case during our test program. Where other SUVs would have nothing left to give, the Cayenne continues to grip and go. It encourages you to push harder and harder, making it a rewarding steer. Needless to say, Porsche has nailed the brief here.
However, you’d think that most Cayennes would be confined to tarmac – and you’d be right – but that didn’t stop Porsche making its latest model as capable off-road as possible. A short venture off the beaten track proved so. While the terrain we drove through would never be considered insurmountable by any proper four-wheel drive, the fact that a Porsche could tackle it with aplomb deserves some credit.
To make this process absolutely foolproof, the Cayenne comes equipped with four off-road driving modes – Mud, Gravel, Rocks, and Sand – which fully or partially lock the centre and rear differentials as defined by their task. For absolutely off-road novices, this makes steep declines a cinch, especially when Porsche’s easy-to-use Hill Descent Control is employed. Deep ruts are cast aside with confidence, too.
That being said, confronting more challenging terrains will depend on what size alloy wheel you equip your Cayenne with. Porsche was only keen for us to go off-road using the regular variant’s 19-inch rims, so the S (20-inch) and Turbo (21-inch) might be better served by missing out on the fun due to their low-profile tyres. Nonetheless, it’s a nice to have the ability, even if it never gets truly used.
Rear headroom and legroom is generous, with the second row now featuring manual 40/20/40 split-fold functionality. Cargo capacity is also generous, at 770 litres in the regular variant and S. While the second row can slide forward to increase cargo capacity, rear legroom is compromised as a result. Small children will be okay, but adolescents and adults will feel the pinch, even on shorter journeys.
Those familiar with the Panamera’s interior will face no surprises when experiencing the Cayenne’s cabin. The large 12.3-inch touchscreen PCM infotainment system sits loud and proud in its central position, while capacitive switchgear resides beneath, offering haptic feedback when engaged. It’s a very tactile, tech-heavy experience.
While plenty of soft-touch plastics adorn the dashboard and upper door trims of the regular variant and the S, they are replaced by high-quality leather upholstery in the Turbo, helping to better justify its lofty premium. As such, the non-flagship variants feel a little austere, whereas the range-topper is suitably premium. Either way, there’s not much to be too upset about here.
As with any Porsche, the options list is eye-watering long with each item suitably expensive. At this price point, it’s disappointing that advanced driver-assist technologies like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist aren’t standard. While autonomous emergency braking is included, this version isn’t able to bring the Cayenne to a complete stop, only slowing it down in such situations. In order to get the fully functioning system, customers have to option the aforementioned adaptive cruise control. Safety is always a top priority and should be treated as such, especially when you’re dropping this much coin.
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the new Cayenne is an absolute cracker. It manages to blend sportscar performance with SUV practicality to great effect – so long as you buy the right variant. Right now, it comfortably sits at the top of the large-SUV segment, but the recently-revealed fourth-generation BMW X5 will look to bloody Porsche’s nose when it arrives later this year. Until then, Cayenne buyers will be pretty chuffed with their purchase. Porsche has another winner on its hands.
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