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First drive: Porsche fires up Cayenne with petrol

Side ways: Porsche’s Cayenne Turbo can register more than 1.0g in of lateral force in the corners, which is not a bad party trick for a two-tonne SUV.

Porsche kicks off all-new Cayenne large SUV with petrol performance trio

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Porsche logo27 Oct 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

DIESEL engines are notably absent from the launch line-up of Porsche’s all-new Cayenne large SUV, with three petrol units set to be followed by plug-in hybrid powertrains – again, with petrol motivation.

This omission is unsurprising given Porsche is still working through the repercussions of the ‘dieselgate’ affair triggered by its parent company Volkswagen.

That affair cost Porsche its popular V6 diesel variant that had to be withdrawn from the current Cayenne line-up that will be replaced by the all-new model in Australia in mid-2018.

The family spat is unlikely to see Porsche drop all diesel engines from the ultimate Cayenne line-up, with company insiders stating they are “definitely not” saying the big two-tonne SUV flagship will go ahead without an oil-burner.

They are just not yet saying what or when.

For now, Porsche is happy to proffer a three-variant petrol line-up which, truth be known, is where its heart lies anyway.

At the international launch on the Greek island of Crete this week, we only sampled two of these variants – the mid-range Cayenne S with its 324kW/550Nm 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6, and the barrel-chested Cayenne Turbo which has a thumping 404kW/770Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and will, until something more striking comes along (such as the Turbo S, for example), serve as the range-topper.

Only available in a five-seat configuration, the new Cayenne is bigger in most dimensions than before but still owes a lot of its basic structure to sister brand Audi’s Q7.

Driving on the surprisingly smooth, sinuous roads of Crete, we fell under the charms of the Cayenne which, more than ever, lives up to Porsche’s SUV stated goal of “a sportscar with off-road capability”.

Helped by a lighter body (a relative term on a vehicle almost five metres long and two metres wide) fashioned of a complex platform of aluminium and steel (dubbed MLB Evo) and then coated in an aluminium skin, the new Cayenne is both punchier and more nimble on its feet than before.

Consider this: after punishing the Cayenne Turbo to the limits of its handling, acceleration and braking, the on-board Sports Chrono g-meter showed we had exceeded 1.0g in all directions, including laterally, left and right.

This is a jaw-dropping feat for a 2.2-tonne, high-riding SUV that, for the most part, looks as if butter would not melt in its mouth.

Braking via world-first tungsten-carbide-coated brakes – with 410mm discs at the front and no fewer than 10 pistons in the mega callipers behind 21-inch wheels – stands the big SUV on its nose to eye-popping effect.

And the acceleration from the beastly engine sits the passengers firmly back in their leather-clad sports seats.

But we expected that. It was the lateral grip that stunned, in a good way.

There is nothing roly-poly about this SUV in its maximum Sports+ driving mode that drops the body closer to the tarmac, firms up the shocks and sharpens gear changes in the eight-speed automatic transmission. All that was missing was a sinister chuckle delivered for good measure.

Sure, the Cayenne Turbo we were driving had all the high-end chassis gadgets, including the new optional three-chamber air suspension, electrically activated anti-roll mechanism (an Audi invention), torque vectoring all-wheel system and so on, in a list too long to detail here.

But plenty of sportscar-makers out there would love to be able to replicate those handling figures, especially in such a user-friendly fashion.

The Porsche-developed V8 engine that replaces the bigger, thirstier 4.8-litre unit, wears its exhaust manifolds and turbos in the engine’s ‘V’ – the reverse of the traditional layout since Henry Ford made bent eights his own – for superior power delivery.

It does not quite match the guttural note of Mercedes-AMG’s rumbling V8s, but is right there on performance.

The question is: would we fork out an extra $90,000 or so (pricing for the new Cayenne has yet to be detailed) for the Cayenne Turbo over the six-cylinder Cayenne S? We are not sure we would.

The smaller engine – a Porsche-tweaked V6 from the latest Audi engine family – not only sounds mean in a way few V6s can articulate, but helps to deliver a kerb weight more than 100kg lighter than the V8 version. This endows the Cayenne S with an even better balance for a lovely, chuckable driving experience.

We still managed to pull almost 0.9g on the acceleration test which ain’t half bad in this class. A fuel economy reading of 10.3 litres per 100km was also an excellent result (although the 13L/100km of the V8 wasn’t far away), considering the don’t-spare-the-horses frolic that even included a rocky off-road stint – an attempt to prove its bush credentials in high-riding gravel mode.

Inside, the designers have greatly reduced the bewildering number of buttons, knobs and controls on the current generation to a manageable level, although a BMW-style i-controller could reduce that clutter further.

The interior design is classy with a capital C, with superb ergonomics, smooth, soft leather-clad surfaces and just enough bling. The new big 12.3-inch touchscreen dominates the dash, while two smaller screens either side of the big analogue tacho deliver a range of details and data.

The Cayenne Turbo gets deeper sports seats for extra support, along with built-in headrests, 911-style, in place of the separate headrests in other Cayennes. This one-piece design tends to block some of the view from the back seat, while a plain plastic shell on the back of the seats does nothing to enhance the back-seat experience.

Rear legroom and head space is fine for tall adult passengers, but the hard, flat middle pew means the rear bench is really for two passengers instead of the three mentioned in the brochure. By the way, those wanting seven seats should head down to an Audi dealership.

The rear seats split-fold, but do not lay flat. Luggage space is a handy 770 litres with the seats up and 1710L with them down.

A can of tyre-repair goo replaces the spare tyre. Speaking of tyres, the Cayenne has wider rubber on the back wheels – a so-called staggered set-up – for the first time, to deliver better rear traction.

Another first is the active, roof-mounted rear spoiler on the Cayenne Turbo. As it only works above 160km/h, owners of lesser Cayennes should not feel too deprived on Aussie roads.

They will feel even less deprived when they learn that this spoiler – which converts into an airbrake by raising to its full extent under hard stops – cuts a mere two metres from the braking distance from 250km/h.

But this is all trivial stuff. As always with Porsche, the real gold lies within the basic engineering – the solid bones that deliver a hearty driving experience, with or without the frippery.

In the Cayenne’s case, it is hard to believe it is an SUV.

Unfortunately, without pricing and full specs, we can’t make a definitive judgement, but we will only be too happy to attend the Australian launch and make that call.

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