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Car reviews - Porsche - Cayenne - S

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, quality, sense of style, room
Room for improvement
Sat-nav graphics, complex dash, inflatable spare wheel

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Porsche logo22 Jun 2015

By NEIL DOWLING

Price and equipment

THE words “bargain” and “Porsche” rarely share the same sentence but the Cayenne range – an eight-variant line up book-ended from an affordable $104,700 for the V6 diesel to an executive-status $284,700 for the Turbo S, are at least on par with competitors.

Considering the entry price-point, badge-conscious buyers can do worse. Part of the reason for the relative affordability of the range (forgetting the Turbo siblings) is the platform-sharing exercise with associates Audi (the Q7) and Volkswagen (Touareg).

To pare back cost, the three marques have the bodies built at the same factory in Slovenia. After that, each trucks the shells to their individual assembly plants and in Porsche’s case, that’s Leipzig in Germany.

Other parts are shared, although Porsche remodels and tunes a common component to suit its specific demands, usually centering on more drivetrain performance and more precise steering and suspension settings. All of which cost money.

The petrol-powered Cayenne S costs $139,900, plus on-road costs, which represents a premium of about the price equivalent of a decent small car ($31,900) on the Cayenne 3.6 petrol. This less-expensive Cayenne, at $108,000, is a plausible alternative for buyers not needing neck-pressuring acceleration, air suspension or some cabin finery. Comparing the 3.6’s acceleration of 7.7 seconds with the Cayenne S at 5.5s, it’s easy to see what a difference an 'S' makes. Prospective buyers can also be lured by the Cayenne Diesel’s promise of a frugal 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres fuel figure and its even more alluring $104,700 sticker price.

The Cayenne S is more for the performance buyer who also wants a bit of cabin room and some extra sheet metal. It’s a wagon that delivers both in spades and its fuel consumption of a claimed 9.8L/100km won’t unduly concern its prestige owner.

Externally the Cayenne is a reflection of its launch silhouette of 2002. It’s now had a second generation in 2010 and a comprehensive mid-life makeover in 2014 to create a vastly superior weapon.

The equipment levels are in line with the offerings at Land Rover (for its Range Rover), BMW’s X5 and X6, and the Mercedes ML-Class although the Lexus overpowers all with the extraordinary list of fascinating inclusions in its flagship LandCruiser-based LX570.

The Cayenne 3.6 S gets bi-Xenon headlights complete with warm-water washer jets, LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, standard 20-inch alloy wheels (although the test car upped to 21-inch rubber as a $5530 option) and an electric tail-gate.

It is powered by a similar 3.6-litre V6 engine as the Cayenne 3.6, but part of the privilege of the 'S' badge is an extra pair of turbochargers. The engine drives through a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission to all wheels but unlike the Lexus, for example, there’s no low-range gearbox.

As such it could be construed that the Cayenne has limited off-road appeal, a statement that bore no semblance with reality on this intensive test.

The Porsche option list is exhaustive and the company says no owner leaves the showroom without ticking a few boxes. Fitted to the test vehicle were the 21-inch wheels ($5530), lane-departure warning and lane-keep aid ($2930), a panoramic sunroof ($1190) and upgraded trim. The result was a $156,500, plus on-road costs price tag, up from the listed $139,900.

Interior

The Cayenne fits the footprint of a family SUV, with its near 4.9-metre length and 2.9m wheelbase indicating there’s room for five (true) and a decent cargo area. The latter is good but, with the rear (or second) seat in situ, is the second smallest and betters only the X5.

Drop the rear seat – in the Porsche it doesn’t fold flat – and there’s a decent 1780 litres which is bigger than only the Range Rover Sport. The rear seat is adjustable fore and aft and is split to fold in sections.

But the Porsche does tuck the wheelarches in close to the body flanks so the luggage area is flat, wide and thanks to the electric tail-gate, easily accessible.

The spare wheel sits beneath the cargo floor and is beautifully presented but, conversely, very difficult to use. It’s a collapsed space-saver that needs to be installed and then, using the air compressor supplied, inflated. A proper spare wheel is a $1990 option but doesn’t fit in the wheel well. Your choice.

Passenger comfort is excellent. It’s a tall vehicle but is easy to enter and leave, notwithstanding the heavy doors if the car’s parked on an incline. The seats have excellent support, a wide adjustment range and the leather quality is durable.

Dashboard design has changed since the Cayenne’s inception, moving from a clone of the 911 towards following the Panamera’s style, including the confronting angled centre console riddled with dozens of alloy-coloured buttons.

At the lower portion of the console, beneath the gearshifter, is the press-button and flick levers that control the drivetrain. This includes drive select modes – from normal to sport-plus – and ride height for adjustable ground clearance that can stretch from 162mm to 265mm.

There are also levers to engage on-road or off-road functions, altering the engine and transmission management, brakes and stability controls, and suspension adjustment. It’s a no brainer feature – just select what conditions you are heading into and the vehicle does the rest.

All this is initially daunting but there is a modicum of logic applied to what at first appears to be a laptop keyboard.

The touchscreen is placed high in the dash but it’s small – in comparison with most rivals – and the sat-nav map graphics are chalky and crowded. The BMW’s screen image, for example, is a work of art.

The main binnacle hold four dials, maintaining Porsche’s tradition of placing the tachometer in the centre. The right-hand dial can scroll through all the vehicle and communication functions – including becoming the secondary sat-nav screen – while the remaining two on the left are engine ancillary functions and the speedometer.

Personal storage space is actually good for a European car – and very good for a Porsche – and includes a lidded centre bin, bottle holders in the doors, two cupholders in the centre and a decent glovebox.

The rear passengers have airvents, lots of grab handles and cupholders, with additional storage in the shallow fold-down armrest.

Engine and transmission

Porsche uses some base components from other companies within Volkswagen Group but this practice is in decline. The first Cayenne, for example, used a modified Volkswagen VR6 engine of 3.6-litres and used in cars including the Golf R32.

The latest 3.6-litre engine is not related, being slightly bigger (3604cc compared with 3598cc) and sporting direct injection and two turbochargers.

With an impressive 309kW at 6000rpm and, more importantly, a meaty 550Nm of torque that arrives at a mere 1350rpm and stays flat until 4500rpm, this is an engine that is both immensely strong at low revs yet with the ability to eagerly sing sweetly at the top end.

It also sounds more like a V8 than a V6, an illusion not dampened by its brisk – for a 2.1-tonne dry wagon – acceleration time to 100km/h of only 5.5 seconds.

In perspective, that’s half a second slower than a Subaru WRX STI.

The transmission is an eight-speed torque convertor automatic built by ZF that was chosen because it’s more durable and reliable than the dual-clutch gearboxes used by other Porsche models.

At this car’s launch in Spain last year, Porsche engineers said arduous off-road conditions created slipping clutches in the dual-clutch transmission which led to excessive heat and wear.

Porsche claims the Cayenne 3.6 S averages 9.8/100km. On test, including suburbia, freeways and a day off the bitumen, it averaged 11.8L/100km, drawing its premium 98RON petrol from a 100-litre fuel tank.

Two drive systems are featured on Cayenne models – a constant all-wheel drive for the diesel and hybrid models, and an “active” arrangement for the rest.

This active drive uses a central multi-plate clutch that sends 62 per cent of power to the rear but can, automatically, send up to 100 per cent to either front or rear axles.

Tested in beach sand and then mud and gravel, the system intuitively senses traction loss in individual wheels and allocates torque to the non-spinning wheels. This clawing motion was sufficient to extricate the wagon from a daunting damp and friable beach section, and also when ascending a water-eroded gravel track in the hills.

The air suspension can be raised to give a 265mm ground clearance – helped by protection plates under the front and rear – to avoid rocks or sand drifts, though suspension travel at this height is almost negligible and ride comfort is harsh at any speed other than a slow crawl.

But set the suspension halfway, allowing wheel articulation, and the Cayenne is a very stable dune runner and mountain-trail vehicle. Its enormous torque attempts to spin all four wheels on the loose surfaces at almost any speed and the solidity of the ride and poise of the steering isn’t matched by its rivals.

Ride and handling

If you’re expecting an overweight, wallowing five-seater behemoth, you’ve misjudged what is possible with thorough engineering and a steady stream of funds.

The Cayenne is remarkably nimble, has excellent steering response and feel, a compliant ride and well-cushioned and bolstered seats for maximum occupant comfort.

The platform, shared with the current Audi Q7 and Volkswagen Touareg, is the rigid base for the suspension components. Cayenne doesn’t use the MLB (a German analogy for a common platform designed for longitudinal powertrains) platform that is similar in concept and design to the front-wheel drive MQB used by Volkswagen Group.

Other than most Audi vehicles, Porsche’s only current MLB vehicle is the Macan though it will be used on the forthcoming Audi Q7 and the next Touareg and Cayenne.

To this is bolted aluminium and magnesium-cast and forged suspension components, including the air suspension with its electronic damper and ride-height adjustment.

On the bitumen it’s obvious the Cayenne is a large machine. The mass of the wagon is felt under brakes and in setting up for a corner, though it quickly settles and delivers the confident handling accuracy of a large sportscar rather than an SUV.

It is a very comfortable cruiser and an excellent car – er, SUV – to enjoy through corners. Really, it’s one of the best on the market and as a driving machine, the best in its class.

In the dirt it’s just as accomplished. The ride – when left at the halfway mark of the suspension height adjustment – is cushioned and ignorant of sharp bumps and rocks.

Safety and servicing

High safety is expected and delivered with the Cayenne. It gets eight airbags, front and rear park sensors, reversing camera with guidance, a tyre pressure monitor, trailer sway to accompany stability and traction control, brake emergency display and for off-road work, hill descent.

The headlights are bi-Xenon, there’s LED tail-lights and daytime running lights and the headlights even have a warm water jet cleaner. The headlights also have corner lights to expose dark curb sides.

There’s also heated mirrors, rear wiper and washer and auto wipers for the windscreen.

The spare wheel is a collapsed emergency tyre on a steel wheel that needs to be inflated with the onboard compressor. It’s a messy solution to a puncture and has limited range when fitted.

GoAuto asked Western Australian Porsche agents Chellingworth about customer demand and was told it had never sold any optional $1990 full-size spare wheels. The full-size spare has to sit on the cargo floor as it doesn’t fit into the wheel well, meaning travellers must use a roof rack.

The Cayenne has a three-year, unlimited distance warranty with roadside assistance.

Exclusive European cars don’t give many wallets much comfort when it comes to service and repair. The Porsche is in line with Mercedes-Benz and BMW products in regard to price, though both these have either pre-paid service options or selectable menus.

Chellingworth said an annual service is about $850 and the major service at four years or 60,000km is about $1800.

Porsche’s Cayenne has a three-year residual of 63 per cent, one of the best resale values around, according to Glass’s Guide.

Verdict

An SUV that thinks it’s a sportscar.

Brilliant engine and drivetrain combination, plenty of room and amazing offroad prowess make this the only car you’ll need in the garage. But it’s not cheap.

The options list is as enticing as summer day’s gelato but as financially addictive as Lotto.

The rivals are good – the Range Rover Sport particularly – and the style of the Cayenne is somewhat conservative, pegging back its position at the front of the queue.

Yet one drive and you know this isn’t just another SUV. To have that feeling every day is the essence of a quality car and a car you want to keep.

Rivals

Land Rover Range Rover Sport 3.0 HSE, from $128,900, plus on-road costs
This is one of 14 variants of the desirable Range Rover Sport range and one of the few without a low-range gearbox. Its 3.0-litre petrol V6 engine is supercharged for 250kW/450Nm and drives all wheels through an eight-speed automatic. It claims an average of 10.8L/100km and has a tow rating of 3500kg.

Standard kit includes sat-nav, leather, air-electronic adjustable suspension and 21-inch alloy wheels.

BMW X5 xDrive35i, from $107,900, plus on-road costs
Pretty X5 lifts the bar again with its sweet in-line six-cylinder 3.0-litre turbo-petrol engine giving it excellent driving characteristics. The output is 225kW/400Nm and, with its eight-speed automatic and full-time all-wheel drive system is rated at 8.5L/100km. It can tow up to 2700kg. The boot space is 650 litres expanding to 1870 litres with the rear seat folded. Standard it includes sat-nav, 19-inch run-flat tyres on alloy wheels, leather upholstery, bi-xenon headlights and a 16-speaker audio.

Mercedes-Benz ML500, from $122,900, plus on-road costs
Only the second V8 here, this time a 4.7-litre petrol with two turbochargers for an output of 300kW/600Nm. It drives all wheels through a seven-speed automatic and claims 12.3L/100km. The ML500 can tow up to 2950kg and has a luggage capacity of 690 litres to 2010 litres. Features include nine airbags, automated steering when parking, autonomous braking, air suspension, corner lean control and 20-inch alloys.

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