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If nothing succeeds like excess then the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S deserves many an accolade.
The Turbo S arrived in February, succeeding the Turbo as the range-topping Porsche Cayenne model. Both share a 4.8-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V8, but the Turbo S is tuned to deliver 405kW of power at 6000rpm and 750Nm of torque across 2250-4500rpm.
That represents a 37kW and 50Nm hike, while the 0-100km/h sprint drops by 0.2 seconds to 4.5sec. At $259,600 the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S costs $37,500 more than the Turbo, and the extra grunt and reduced performance time absorb most of that surcharge. A Sport Chrono pack, with analog and digital timers, massive 21-inch alloy wheels and active anti-roll bars are also uniquely standard.
There’s no price to pay at the pump for the extra grunt, however, with both turbocharged models claiming 11.5L/100km combined. Grunt is transferred to the ground via an eight-speed torque converter automatic.
Air suspension with variable ride height and adjustable damping, speed-sensitive power steering, and torque vectoring control, which electronically controls torque between the rear wheels and the rear differential, are also standard.
The 2290kg kerb weight is both obvious and well-disguised in the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S.
Check the leathery luxury of the interior, the superb quality of the upholstery and dash trimmings, and Alcantara headlining; heady reminders that this SUV fjords well into the six-figure bracket. The controls, dials, touchscreen and even steering wheel are borrowed from the Porsche Boxster, Cayman and 911, just to ram the connection home with the Cayenne’s sports car siblings.
Space inefficiency, however, highlights the reality that this SUV has still been engineered with plenty of off-road hardware underneath – although we didn't get to test this Cayenne off road. Boot space of 670 litres isn’t hugely impressive considering the Porsche’s size, and nor is the rear seat the most spacious in the class. A Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz ML-Class feels roomier for rear-seat riders, while the contoured outer seats impact on fifth-passenger comfort.
With seats folded, a full 1780L makes this a truly versatile Porsche, though.
Other than extra accoutrements the Cayenne Turbo S interior is much like standard models that cost more than $150,000 less; what separates this large, practical SUV from its V6 petrol and diesel siblings comes purely down to performance and handling.
On the twisty mountain road of our test loop, it’s here the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S almost completely disguises its girth. Its dynamics impress to such a degree that calling it a Mitsubishi Evolution-on-stilts is no exaggeration.
With the adaptive dampers in Sport mode, and the 295mm-wide Michelin Pilot Sports thwarting the bitumen like Bigfoot, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S quickly shrugs off the luxury-hauler role associated with this genre.
Initially the high grip levels and lack of bodyroll means that when driving only moderately hard the Cayenne Turbo S feels inert and uninvolving. It is one of those cars – and pretty much the only SUV – that steps up and rewards properly hard hustling through corners.
It resists understeer unbelievably well when pressing on, yet the torque vectoring system helps to permit full throttle staggeringly early on corner exit. On one tight, uphill hairpin, the Cayenne Turbo S almost chirped all four wheels when powering out of the bend with some steering lock still applied.
The front end feels agile, the steering is consistent and sharp, and the whole car – sorry, SUV – has such a wonderful feeling of front-to-rear harmony.
Although this is the fastest and most powerful production Porsche Cayenne ever, the Turbo S actually feels heavy when accelerating, not cornering.
Once in the engine’s mid-range, it hammers. Porsche claims 80-120km/h kickdown in 2.9 seconds. Look closely at the power and torque curves, however, and at 1500rpm – the point where many modern turbo petrol engines are making peak torque – the Porsche twin-turbo V8 is producing ‘only’ 475Nm. Not bad, but feeding in 275Nm between 1500rpm and 2250rpm confirms this Cayenne’s boosty character trait.
Its not-quite-linear delivery isn’t helped by an eight-speed automatic that is well off the pace for a sports car or even a sports SUV. It’s a fairly fluent gearbox, but in normal mode it is too keen to keep the engine revving below – you guessed it – 2250rpm, making the throttle feel doughy and the performance sluggish around town.
Switch to the auto’s Sport mode, and it keeps revs inappropriately high for around town driving. Yet during on-limit driving it isn’t quite aggressive enough to match the Cayenne’s superb dynamics, either.
Swap to the dedicated manual mode, and the transmission is far too slow to respond to a slap of the left paddle to downshift coming into a corner. Equally, it auto-upshifts at redline, creating a less than harmonious performance drivetrain.
It’s here that the crispness of the dual-clutch automatics found in Boxster, Cayman and 911 is sorely missed. They all get a Sport Plus mode missing from the Cayenne, which is damn-near perfect for hard driving. The gulf in ability between the dual-clutch automatics and this torque converter automatic is huge.
The name of the Cayenne’s suspension – Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) – is shared with the coupe and roadster models, however. Yet despite the same acronym applied across all Porsche models with adaptive suspension, the results in the Cayenne don’t find the lofty heights of the brand’s sports cars. Or some SUV competitors.
In Comfort mode, the suspension feels too floaty yet occasionally more unsettled than in the firmer Normal setting. Considering the 35-aspect 21-inch wheels, the ride in the standard mode is generally excellent, but some intrusions are felt more than others and each is a reminder of the slight ride sacrifice this Porsche makes to handle so well in the bends. Sport mode should be reserved for flat, smooth twisty roads only; on bumpy backroads, it has the Cayenne bucking around way too much.
The three modes in Boxster, Cayman and 911 are three shades of perfection, and although the adaptive suspension in the Cayenne does a sterling job of reigning in up to 1000kg more overall mass (than a Boxster, for example), for a Porsche its ride comfort is mildly disappointing. Direct rivals like the Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG deliver more consistent compliance.
The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is in many regards an excellent full-sized SUV.
Its superb dynamics alone cement it as a true product of Stuttgart, transcending a genre not always renowned for outright handling. That enthusiasts can enjoy a car that still offers plenty of space, luxury and versatility is a fine achievement. The $260K price tag of the Cayenne Turbo S, however, serves to magnify the downsides with the gearbox and ride quality. The engine’s boosty characteristics had us longing for the naturally aspirated V8 Cayenne GTS, which costs a staggering $110K less and is only 1.1 seconds slower.
It’s a brilliant SUV, the Porsche Cayenne, but the most expensive model isn’t the pick of the range.