Porsche Cayenne. To many it is simply a Volkswagen Touareg with Stuttgart’s famous prancing horse crest on the bonnet.
SUBTLE BUT SUPERB?: The transfer case is a thing of the past and the larger dimensions actually herald a lighter SUV all-round. Is Porsche’s second-generation Cayenne perhaps the best value performance SUV around?
3.6l V6, diesel, 4.8l V8, Turbo, Hybrid V6
220-, 176-, 280-, 294-, 368kW
400-, 550-, 580-, 500-, 700Nm
Eight-speed auto, six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred
7.5-, 7.8-, 5.9-, 4.7-, 6.7 sec
230-, 218-, 28-, 278-, 242km/h
80l (100l optional)
R655 000 - R1 430 000
To others it's a marketing-driven SUV diuretic of the pure performance car heritage that is Porsche.
Functionally though, it's always been a rather accomplished feat of engineering and, perhaps more importantly, the Cayenne has become Porsche’s best-selling range.
Regarded as an ill-judged maverick design on its debut in 2002, the Cayenne has graduated to its current status as the company’s chief cash generator. Despite that, it's been thoroughly vilified for its aesthetics demerits and SUV configuration. Now, eight years since the original Cayenne, Porsche has finally brought a second-generation car to market.
According to company’s marketeers this new Cayenne is more efficient, more dynamic, more comfortable and, well, more like a raised ride-height Panamera than an off road-capable Porsche.
STYLISH? Yes. SMALLER? No...
Whereas the first-generation Cayenne was a brutishly over-engineered performance SUV (with real off-road ability when exploring broken terrain on properly specified tyres), the new car is more finessed. Bumper-to-bumper, the latest Cayenne is 48mm more substantial, yet thanks to its shark's-nose snout and those curved Panameraesque tail lights, it looks smaller.
There's been a concerted effort from Porsche’s designers to fashion the new Cayenne’s shell to make it seem less imposing – very much in line with the current fashion of downsizing and trending an environmentally-aware design. This visually trickery is supported by some rather clever engineering; the new Cayenne has (amazingly) trimmed off 180kg.
The reduction in kerb weight is primarily thanks to a 63kg lighter all-wheel drive system, more aluminium in the suspension (minus another 66kg) and thinner doors, bonnet and boot panels - tallying a compound reduction of 111kg.
Even the electronic engineers pitched in with a 10kg lighter wiring harness - something not easily achieved in the current age of rampant automotive digitisation.
DIALING OUT THE DIGITISATION: The Cayenne's cabin environment is superb, eschewing contemporary minimalist design trends in (and digital control interfaces) favour of a classic driver orientated look thanks to the button-littered and raised centre console…
Beyond the clever metallurgy involved, there are two notable upgrades to the Cayenne drivetrain, a V6 hybridized engine option and new eight-speed transmissions from Japanese supplier Aisin.
The Cayenne derivative split remains fivefold, three V6 and two V8 engines. Only the V8 units are pure Porsche; the V6 engines are supplied by VW and Audi.
Porsche was particularly generousl in allowing us a substantial 500km worth of wheel time in the new cars, taking a rather meandering route from the company’s new Cape Town dealer to Hermanus and back.
I started the ride-'n-drive in the Cayenne diesel which has the same three-litre tubodiesel V6 as VW’s new Touareg and Audi’s Q7. The 176kW oil-burner probably makes sense in heavily diesel-fuel subsidised European markets but its local appeal is, considering South Africa’s sub-standard diesel quality, severely constrained to my mind.
Fuel economy is hardly an issue for Porsche customers (delete diesel advantage No.1) and if range is the question, well, these new Cayennes all have the option to extend tank capacity to 100 litres, which is plenty.
My 50km stint at the Cayenne diesel’s helm was hardly the most engaging Porsche driving experience I've had, yet it did afford me the opportunity to explore the new car’s cabin ergonomics. The cabin borrows heavily from Porsche’s Panamera sedan and foregoes much of the so-called "intuitive" digitisation that tends to alienate many premium-market customers from their cars.
Whereas its VW Group siblings (Q7 and Touareg) have deleted most centre console button functions and consolidated them into a scrollable digital control interface, Porsche still believes in a tactile ergonomic environment. In fact you’ll find few modern cars with more buttons littering the centre console. You would expect this to be fussy to operate yet I find a push-button system easier to use in day-to-day operation than a digital interface - then again, I don't own a smart phone...
Beyond the "aircraft cockpit" busy centre console, the Panamera’s driving position is another clue to its differentiated purpose as a performance driving machine instead of a badge-engineered Touareg. The driver’s seat adjusts down low, the steering wheel is small and perfectly formed. Whereas other SUV's offer "command" driving positions, the Cayenne enables one to hunker down behind the wheel in a near circuit-racing shoulder/elbow/arm-aligned posture.
After nearly 100km we swopped cars just at the foot of Stellenbosch’s infamous Helshoogte pass. As I transfered my gear I noticed the generous rear seating accommodation, testament to the new Cayenne’s 40mm extra axle spacing, heralding an additional 160mm of rear seat adjustment.
For the run up Helshoogte and over the Franschhoek pass I found myself in the non-turbon, 3.6-litre V6. Yes, I know, this is also a VW engine (with a custom Porsche intake manifold) but it does have 220kW (making it 14kW keener than the Touareg V6) and as such runs towards (and beyond) its 6300rpm power peak with alarmingly urgency.
The Cayenne V6 hardly burdens its sophisticated Porsche traction management system with only 400Nm being distributed between the four wheels, yet over two of the Western Cape’s choice mountain passes the least-powerful petrol-engined Cayenne did give one a chance to appreciate the new car's impeccable balance.
Hardly rolling ride quality quashing low-profile rubber (unlike other pseudo performance run flat-tyred SUVs), the Cayenne amazes with the manner in which it manages to vanquish any trace of body roll. You can be very late on the brakes without causing a nervous pendulum effect around the front-axle tie-down points during severe deceleration (so characteristic of overpowered SUV's); the Cayenne simply scrubs off speed, settles and turns in crisply.
V8 S - REAL-WORLD SOLUTION
SAND MASTER: Gone is the low-range transfer case. With an eight-speed transmission, supported by sophisticated throttle and traction controls, the Cayenne retains credible off-road ability…
Just outside Viliersdorp we swopped cars again, this time graduating to the Cayenne S, powered by Porsche’s largest production engine, the 4.8-litre direct-injection V8 – and no, this Cayenne powerplant has no traceable VW heritage.
The Cayenne S, with 294kW, is very much the real -world hero of the range. On those narrow, curvy roads connecting Villiersdorp’s Theewaterskloof dam to the N2, it showed off its impeccable dynamic harmony.
The V8’s near 300kW allows one to exploit the inherent chassis balance and instead of feeling like an overpowered van (which, with all due respect, is what vehicles such as Jeep’s SRT8, Ranger Rover’s Sport and Mercedes-Benz’s ML63 feel like on the limit) the Cayenne proved unflappable.
Like all proper performance cars, as the tempo of dynamic demands amplify (more severe bursts of acceleration requiring commensurate increases in brake fade resistance and greater active damping interplay to counter body roll) the Cayenne, despite its SUV configuration, became better to drive.
After an exhilarating blast in the V8, we stopped for lunch in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. With dessert settled courtesy of some still water, it was time to settle into the bucket seats of Porsche’s headline Cayenne, the turbo.
At this stage of the ride-'n-drive the Cayennes had been hugely rewarding to drive, challenging my established notion of what was possible in term of roll control and turn-in crispness with avehicle in excess of two tons and sporting 228mm of ground clearance.
If there is a slight dynamic demerit, it's that the Cayenne's steering is too light – an inevitable engineering compromise to aid parking convenience and low-speed driving agility – but simultaneously it happens to be quick and accurate. As lateral forces load the chassis at speed through a challenging stretch of road there is not the amplified level of tactile feedback one has come to expect from Porsche’s traditional sports cars. In all fairness, though, no performance SUV (not even BMW’s X6 M) has what could authentically be classed as linear, wheel-scrub telepathy steering feel.
The Cayenne turbo had a full set of dynamic driving aids, including an optional torque-vectoring system.
Despite being the heaviest of all Cayenne models (2.3 tons), its twin-turbo V8 has 368kW-worth of shove and despite not bearing the PDK transmission functionality of the Panamera, the Cayenne Turbo still manages to be stupidly quick. Porsche’s (always conservative) 0-100km/h claim is 4.7sec and when the Cayenne Turbo’s (considerable) mass gets moving progress is stupefying.
Fortunately the upsized brake discs (390mm front, 358mm rear) are, in true Porsche tradition, able to stop time, let alone a 2.3-ton Cayenne...
One feature of the new Cayenne, which it shares with the Panamera, is its ambidextrous thumb-shift manipulators, an unusual ergonomic faux pas for Porsche. With the thumb shifters you push away to shift up and pull towards you to down. The positioning is dreadful, with the dual selectors mounted where the horizontal steering wheel spokes meet the wheel rim. Consequently, at speed and mid-corner with your thumb wrapping rim to tighten your grip on the wheel, you sometimes inadvertently engage a ratio up or down.
Traditional left-down/right-up shift paddles are infinitely superior; thank goodness the Turbo has such, enabling one to fully exploit its superb dynamics. Obviously PDK transmissions would prove the ultimate interaction, simulating ‘proper’ engine braking and enabling you exploit your driving craft to the full.
SENSIBLE PERFORMANCE SUV
After an exhilarating blast back towards Franschhoek, I switched to the Cayenne Hybrid for the last leg back to Cape Town.
ÜBER SUV: Turbo offers phenomenal performance; very much the ultimate performance SUV – and that includes ML63 and X5 M in the equation…
Powered by Audi’s 3.0 TFSi supercharged V6 (borrowed from the S4), Porsche’s first production car featuring an alternative power source totals 279kW of combined hybridized power, supported by 580Nm of torque.
The system is seamless and majors on enhancing the dynamic driving experience (give or take, it's as quick as the Cayenne S), not necessarily reducing fuel consumption. Suffice to say then, that after a week of being exposed to the hooligan driving habits of the local motoring media, the Cayenne Hybrid’s trip computer was levelling off an average consumption figure of 15.8 litres/100km...
There are many compelling reasons to consider the new Cayenne. First, it looks infinitely better than its predecessor. Second, the range has a comprehensive collection of drivetrain options from the frugal (V6 hybrid/diesel) to the frightfully fast (Turbo). Thirdly, the reduction in mass and expertly Porsche-tailored suspension and steering elevate the dynamic ability way beyond its Touareg underpinnings.
Then there's the question of the new Cayenne as a value proposition, which may sound odd when discussing a new range of Porsches, but...
Look at the price entry point – considering the technology on offer – and the Cayenne V6 at R655 000 is surprisingly good value, especially considering the build quality.
HAILEY'S POINT OF VIEW
I’d be the first to admit that I was not an automatic fan of the first-generation Cayenne. It was – to my mind – huge, ungainly and ugly. The prettier second-generation SUV is a lot more laudable, if only for the many things that are not too visible.
Having driven the same cars Lance, though on a different day, I can attest to many of his observations. The Cayenne – especially the higher-performance models – is more sports car than high-riding SUV and the more refined chassis seems perfectly tuned to the car’s easy steering. The Cayenne laps up switchbacks on mountain passes and powers through straights (and there were quite a few on the route) with so much ease it was almost uncanny.
So, when you’re into your groove after spending some time behind the wheel, you’re happy to jump on the brakes a little later, brush off a little less speed into those corners, and more keen to power out.
That’s also part of the appeal, for me, where Porsche is concerned. Most of its cars, including the Cayenne, are just so easy to use. There isn’t much that’s complicated about it and, after a while, even the Cayenne’s fussy new fascia is a doddle.
We had the chance, over close to 500km of winding roads from Cape Town to Hermanus and back, to become acquainted with the five models in the range, from the entry-level V6 to the range-topping V8 twin-turbo Turbo. While the Turbo, with its crazy power reserves and aggro demeanour, seemed a little over the top the turbodiesel V6 is arguably the best of a very decent bunch.
The proportion of power to body size feels perfectly matched – there’s ample torque to get you going when you need to without having to blast everything in sight out of the way. It’s biggest drawback, perhaps, is that the ready availability of 50ppm low-sulphur diesel remains a struggle but the Cayenne’s large fuel tank (80 litres is standard) should help somewhat.
The baby of the range, the new V6, at R645 000, makes an appealing entry to the range. Although it did require generous use of the right foot to keep up with its quicker brothers on the launch route it should – given the absence of peer pressure – perform quite capably under “regular” conditions.
The greener Cayenne Hybrid was probably the most entertaining model, especially after it emerged that we had covered a substantial part of the route with the SUV issuing zero emissions. And it certainly wasn’t anything we were consciously trying to achieve since, with the supercharged V6 and hybrid system working in tandem, this Cayenne was not lacking power.
However, if you’re keen to do your bit for the environment but love a like of speed on occasion, the hybrid is one of three Cayennes in the line-up with average fuel consumption figures of less than 10 litres/100km, the company says.
That Porsche was able to achieve this manner of fuel consumption with a vehicle that is bigger than the car it replaces shows some resolve. Engineers were tasked with shaving 185kg off the second-generation Cayenne’s mass, a task achieved mostly by the use of light materials for various parts of its body.
About its body... there’s no disputing that the Cayenne’s size is as imposing as ever despite the scales registering a substantial difference but one other thing remains – for shorter ladies, there really is no elegant way to clamber aboard. Car changes on launches are usually required to be a quick-fire affair but those conducted on the Cayenne were characterised by flailing limbs and clumsy plops into seats.
At least the Cayenne’s size doesn’t become an issue when you’re driving it. The seats adjust over a wide range and all the switches and dials are so conveniently placed that the SUV never feels particularly big when you’re in the driving seat.
A chance to experience the “very strong off-road capability” Porsche talks of would have been appreciated though the reality is that most Cayennes (and their owners) would probably consider navigating our pothole-ridden streets as “off-roading”.
All in all, Porsche’s Cayenne is the most unlikely SUV you’ll come across. It looks like an SUV but behaves a lot like a sports car and, given the price you pay relative to the brand’s cache (and largely ignoring its Volkswagen Touareg pedigree), it should make a fair show on the daily school run in the leafier suburbs.