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Car reviews - Porsche - Cayenne - V6 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Feeling of solidity, quality and security, AWD ability, spacious and practical body, V6’s reasonable performance/economy balance, cheap entry into a new Porsche
Room for improvement
Styling still divisive, low equipment levels, expensive options

27 Jul 2007

THE problem with the ‘cheapest’ Cayenne isn’t a lack of performance, the fact that the V6 is a Volkswagen/Audi-derived unit (which Porsche now owns anyway), or that it is not a slinky sports coupe or convertible.

The problem, dear reader, is you.

Sure, at $94,700 plus on-roads – or $106,430 with $6850 air suspension (essential – as you will find out), $2590 18-inch ‘Cayenne S’ alloys (save your cash) and $2190 for metallic paint (pure extortion) – the first Porsche SUV is butting heads with the brilliant BMW X5, excellent Mercedes-Benz ML, criminally underrated Audi Allroad TDI and – especially – more expensive versions of its VW Touareg and colossal Audi Q7 cousins.

And on a features-for-dollars basis the Cayenne trails. No question. On our gussied-up test vehicle, even auto-headlights, remote audio controls and heated seats were missing, elevated to the expensive options strata. Little wonder Porsche can afford to buy huge chunks of VW.

But the Cayenne has been subjected to a Kangaroo Court-style haranguing simply because it wears not very pretty clothing, which – on a Porsche – is simply unforgivable in most people’s eyes.

Okay. While we agree that there are better-looking SUVs out there, the aforementioned facelift has brought a less aggressive snout to appease some of the appalled masses out there.

And, for us, the V6 engine is a non-issue since it performs more than sufficiently.

The 213kW 3.6-litre FSI direct-injection petrol V6 has a deep set of lungs from which it draws upon, so this combined with a broad (and not insubstantial) 385Nm torque band results in surprisingly eager acceleration from even low revs.

In regular drive, the six-speed Tiptronic automatic will take off in second gear and smoothly change up into top with the driver rarely aware of any up-shifts.

Driven in anger, it seems even faster than the 8.6 seconds that Porsche quotes as the 0-100km/h sprint time, while the engine does not sound at all strained or over-extended doing so.

You can slot it into Tiptronic mode using either the console lever or thumb toggles on the steering wheel spokes, but the latter feels somewhat unnatural.

We preferred to press the ‘Sport’ button which lowers the optional air suspension, locks out sixth gear in urban conditions and holds onto each ratio for longer, resulting in more hurried performance that is also accompanied by a satisfying V6 exhaust growl, whichin our case delighted some and scared others (mostly errant pedestrians) out of the Porsche’s way.

Driven in this fashion, the 15.3L/100km fuel consumption average we recorded in mostly heavy city conditions must be regarded as positive.

Hmm... so far, so impressed. But this is not the Cayenne V6’s party piece.

For us, it is the heavy, weighed-down feel of the chassis that most convinces and delights.

In a good way, the Cayenne feels over-engineered, unflappable and completely hewn-from-the-solid on the move. Much like an old Mercedes W124 E-class Estate, really.

In fact, during our time with it, we kept thinking how similarly unbreakable the Porsche feels over the rough and irregular terrain of inner and outer suburbia. Even in howling gales and driving rain, this didn’t flinch for a second.

Both vehicles also feel equally grounded and stable dynamically, although the Porsche – thankfully – does steer and handle with far-more eagerness and body control than the old Merc.

From a dynamic point of view, there is little to complain about the SUV’s dexterity through all sorts of corners, with only the fastest and tightest finally betraying the sheer weight (2160kg-plus) and height of the Porsche.

It sounds like a cliché, but this car is a classic example of a vehicle that shrinks around you the moment you drive it, and that is because all the oily bits underneath seem to be working in unison to deliver the smoothest progress possible.

It is also easy to park, thanks to front and rear parking radar that has little flashing lights and nice loud beeping to help you out.

And guess what? Surprise, surprise: the Cayenne’s ride is a revelation.

Remembering that it has an expensive air-suspension option that offers – in descending order of softness – comfort, regular and sport models at a press of a button – the Porsche soaked it all up in a way that had us a little confused, since previous-model Cayennes we have driven using the old air-suspension set-up felt too hard and unforgiving.

The opposite is true for the V6 with Air.

As part of the suspension set-up, there is plenty of ground clearance availability when jacked up to the highest terrain setting (a river wading 271mm), which, when combined with a low-range transfer gearbox, fully lockable centre diff, and electronic stability and driveability aids including a hill-descent function among other features, gives the Cayenne significant off-road prowess.

So although we did not drive the Cayenne beyond bitumen, we know from previous encounters that it can handle the rough stuff better than most luxury SUVs.

Aiding the opulent ride is the bank-vault doors and air-tight-like cabin, which shuts out the rest of the universe in a world of soft and obviously high-grade but rather ugly plastic, hard-wearing leather and smart metallic accents, backed up by lots of lounging space.

Top marks go to ample seating for five adults, with the front buckets being especially comfy and supportive over an extended period of time.

There is also plenty of cargo space behind, swathed in lovely luxuriant carpet, and helped out by a window that flips open so you can throw stuff inside without having to open the tailgate. Too bad it is set so high though. The spare wheel is an 80km/h-limited space-saver too.

We do like the electric soft-close tailgate though. Very Mercedes S-class.

With a nod to the older model (986/996) Boxster and 911 interior presentation, the overlapping circular instrumentation and ventilation styles go some way in preserving the ‘Porscheness’ of the interior, although soon you could be in any German SUV.

However, there is absolutely nothing novel, or exciting, or distinctive about this interior visually, despite how cocooned it makes you feel. It has aged rather rapidly, with the likes of the X5 and Audi Q7 and Allroad roundly beating the Porsche for style and presentation.

And the foot-operated parking brake is unbelievably anachronistic in a vehicle of this calibre.

One passenger complained that the V6 is too vocal, but we like the sound of an urgent engine in any car, even if it is not – strictly speaking – a real Porsche unit.

We like the whirring and changing of the air suspension too, as it animates the Cayenne in a way that the rather bland BMW and Benz cannot.

In the end, we liked the Cayenne V6 far more than we were prepared for.

Just in case we were star struck by the badge, we borrowed a Merc ML350, and were shocked by how much lighter and, well, mainstream the Benz felt to drive, despite the more homogenous wagon styling of the Cayenne.

So what we have here is a Porsche SUV that still makes sporty noises and goes well enough despite having ‘just’ a VW/Audi V6 engine, steers, rides and stops like a Porsche SUV should, and feels like it could survive a nuclear blast intact.

We personally prefer over-engineering to the missing features that you get for free with other SUVs for the same money, but still think that the Cayenne is too meanly equipped for the cash.

See past this, as well as the rather unbeautiful styling, and you might find true happiness in the first sub-$100,000 Porsche in aeons.

Even if others around you might have a problem with it!

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