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Car reviews - Porsche - Cayenne - range

Our Opinion

We like
Wide range of variants, frugal yet impressive S Diesel powertrain, brutal V8 performance in the Turbo, super premium cabin, figure-hugging 'comfort' seats, convenient adjustable air suspension
Room for improvement
Cayenne S laggy V6 lacks punch, extra weight noticeable in S Diesel, S E-Hybrid not here until early 2015


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12 Nov 2014

AFTER copping criticism back in the early 2000s for going against its roots and building an SUV, Porsche's Cayenne has well and truly settled in as the company's best seller and the chorus of die-hard anti-SUV campaigners has calmed down.

Now into its second generation, the Cayenne is still regarded as the top of its class, with just a few rivals snapping at its heels, particularly in recent years.

The Range Rover Sport is the most obvious contender, but warmed over or high-performance versions of the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz ML-Class and even the R-Line version of the Volkswagen Touareg with which it shares its underpinnings are also options for buyers wanting some spice with their family transport.

But realistically, a lot of cashed-up buyers won't even consider the competition and will go straight for the Porsche badge, such is the allure of the German brand.

The Cayenne is no longer the only high-riding option in the Porsche stable, with the mid-size Audi Q5-based Macan arriving last May from $84,900, plus on-roads, making it the most affordable Porsche in a very long time.

To keep its profit-making soft-roader fresh for another few years (the third-generation version is not expected until 2018), Porsche has updated the Cayenne with styling tweaks, mechanical upgrades and extra comfort and safety gear.

Each variant has gone up in price, except for the new plug-in S E-Hybrid, which is more than $10,000 cheaper than the outgoing regular petrol-electric hybrid.

This green machine, the recently announced GTS and base V6 petrol all arrive in February/March next year but for Cayenne fanatics that can't possibly wait that long, the Diesel, S Diesel, (petrol-powered) S and the range-topping Turbo are all in dealerships this month.

At the local launch in Byron Bay this week, GoAuto sampled the Cayenne S ($139,900), Turbo ($230,800) and S Diesel ($143,200, plus on-road costs), all of which offer something different, depending on your needs and tastes.

While it might take a while to pick the cosmetic changes to the Cayenne, closer inspection reveals new headlights and a new bonnet with side gaps on the wings to make it look wider, but they are subtle.

At the rear the update is more obvious. Gone are the big tail-lights of the second-gen crossover in place of completely new slimline LED units and a restyled tailgate, giving the Cayenne a much sharper, more appealing stern.

With no base Diesel variant available, we kicked off the drive in the S Diesel, with its thumping 283kW/850Nm 4.2-litre bi-turbo-diesel V8.

Inside there are few obvious changes, but one could argue the Cayenne cabin didn't need a spruce up. There are a lot of controls, which can be a little overwhelming, but they are laid out in typical Porsche fashion, surrounding the gear shifter, with some housed in the ceiling as well.

Everything in the Cayenne's interior looks and feels premium, because it is.

The incredibly comfortable seats grab occupants tightly, but not too tightly, and the high-set centre console combined with the excellent seating position makes for a cosseting feel in the cabin.

Firing up the oil-burning V8 produces a smile-inducing growl and once we planted our right foot, we were reminded of how far diesel engines have come, particularly when it comes to performance cars.

The powerplant with its massive 850Nm of torque produces instant response before the power kicks in and while it is not neck-snappingly quick, it is enough to push you back further into the super supportive “comfort” seats. We believe the 5.4-second 0-100km/h sprint time claimed by the manufacturer.

At 2215kg, the S Diesel is a good 130kg heavier than the petrol-powered S, and, unsurprisingly for a diesel, it is a little more nose heavy than other variants.

The extra weight is noticeable, particularly when cornering, but the Cayenne oiler still offers sportscar-like performance without the hefty fuel bill.

Official figures put the S Diesel at 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, and after our brief but spirited drive, the consumption figure hovered around the 11.0L/100km mark.

Next up was the S, which, until the arrival of the base V6 in the first quarter of next year, is the most affordable petrol-powered Cayenne at $139,900.

For the mid-life update, Porsche ditched the 4.8-litre V8 for a 3.6-litre bi-turbo V6 engine producing 309kW and 550Nm, which is actually a 15kW/50Nm boost over the outgoing bent-eight.

While the new engine is more powerful, and more frugal – the 9.5-9.8L/100km official figure is 1.0L/100km more economical than the previous engine – it lacks the aural delight of the V8 (more on that later), but it has more than enough get up and go to keep enthusiastic drivers happy.

There is a slight hesitation on take-off, likely due to the two turbos, but Porsche says it can race from a standing start to 100km/h in 5.5 seconds.

After some time behind the wheel of the S, we started to forget just how big the Cayenne is and the two-tonne SUV started to feel a whole lot lighter. While not quite as agile as a two-door sportscar or a hot hatch, the Cayenne darted around corners and took sweeping bends like a pro, with no real hint of body roll.

All of our test cars drove on optional 21-inch wheels, and the Cayenne, in Comfort mode at least, handled corrugations and larger pot-holes with ease.

Drivers can alter the suspension with the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system and in Sport mode, the springs got a little tighter making for a slightly bumpier ride, but never uncomfortably so.

Finally we slid into the gorgeous red leather seats of the range-topping Turbo.

While the S offers solid performance for a reasonable price, a few seconds behind the wheel of the Turbo was enough for us to determine the star performer in the Cayenne line-up - at least until we drive the tech-laden plug-in S E-Hybrid and GTS early next year.

The 382kW/750Nm 4.8-litre bi-turbo V8 might not be the most technologically advanced or sophisticated engine on offer, but once we experienced its addictive soundtrack and breathtaking performance, we didn't care.

Porsche says the Turbo can dash to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds but can also manage fuel use of 11.2-11.5L/100km. We don't doubt the 0-100km/h time at all, but we challenge anyone to drive this car and not want to push it hard and fast and therefore blow out the average fuel figure. We saw a range in the low 20s, which is hardly surprising given how hard the Turbo asks to be pushed.

The Turbo's brutal performance, combined with exceptional ride and handling makes it the clear standout in the impressive Cayenne range. Again, it feels lighter than it should, particularly when thrown around tight bends.

The brakes, unchanged from the outgoing model, are also impressive, and not just the array of calliper colours. The anchors pull up the high-riding Cayenne without fuss.

It may cost $230,800, or about $90,000 less than the S, but Porsche also offers additional kit in the Turbo to sweeten the deal.

Apart from the stunning red leather, you can opt for Alcantara roof lining, stitching on the soft-touch dash, a Porsche logo embossed on the headrests, black roof rails and a black exterior package, but this increases the price even further and the Turbo offers enough goodies as it is.

There are some other terrific touches, such as the air suspension which drops the ride height. This can be accessed from the driver's seat or you can lower it via a control in the boot if you have heavy items you want to load into the cargo area. You can even adjust the height of the tailgate opening to suit your needs.

Occupants up front aren't the only ones spoiled, with plenty of leg and head room in the second row. Your 183cm correspondent sat behind his own seating position with loads of room to spare.

You probably wouldn't want to sit in the middle seat of the second row for very long, but there are heated and ventilated seats on some variants and rear airvents.

The updates to the Cayenne have improved an already impressive package, but having only tested three variants we will have to wait until the arrival of the S E-Hybrid, GTS and V6 to determine the best of the bunch.

Until then, the Turbo gets our vote, followed very closely by the very impressive S Diesel.

The Cayenne might now have a sexy young sibling to compete with in the Macan – the Liam Hemsworth to the older, bulkier Chris – but the German-built SUV is still at the top of its game and at the top of its class.

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