You could argue the latest Porsche Cayenne V6 Diesel offers buyers short-term pain for long-term gain, because while it isn’t the cheapest family-size Porsche SUV up front, it is certainly the most economical to run.
The $101,100 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel Porsche Cayenne is just $900 more than its 3.6-litre V6 petrol sibling and claims combined average fuel consumption of 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres against 9.9L/100km for the latter.
But when it comes to outright straight-line performance, there’s nothing in it. The diesel makes 40kW less power (180 versus 220), but gains a whopping 150Nm torque advantage (550 versus 400) to give it a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.8 seconds – exactly the same time as the petrol Cayenne.
Mind, while it might wear the iconic Porsche badge on the bonnet, there are quicker rivals in the segment including the $111,400 180kW/540Nm BMW X5 30d (7.5sec), $101,400 190/620Nm Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec (7.4sec), and the $102,800 190kW/600Nm Range Rover Sport SE TDV6 (7.6sec), all boasting similar 3.0-litre turbo-diesels.
It’s also exactly the same engine that appears in the $79,990 Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI model, which produces the same outputs and identical acceleration performance and economy numbers as its more expensive Porsche cousin.
For those worried that the diesel engine under the bonnet might in some way dull the whole Porsche driving experience, don’t be. It still goes just like a Porsche.
Unlike the twin-turbo Range Rover Sport, which suffers from noticeable turbo lag under heavy loads (though it is slightly quicker to 100km/h), the Cayenne’s throttle response is wonderfully sharp and lag-free. And despite weighing 2100kg, it’s also one of lightest luxury SUVs in the segment, so it feels punchy and as quick off the line, as any one of its more powerful rivals.
All the pedals in the Cayenne have a lovely precise feel to them, especially the throttle, allowing the driver to properly regulate the power in those corner exits when you’re having the most fun.
That said, it’s better to drop it into the Sport setting so you can ensure a sharper throttle response and plenty of revs on tap when you urgently need more power.
Like most rivals in this Luxury SUV segment, the Porsche is equipped with an eight-speed transmission (beautifully refined in this case) to get the power down to all four wheels.
If there are any disappointments with the Cayenne, it’s with the absence of standard-fit paddle-shifters, though they are optional. Instead, you get Porsche’s hopelessly unintuitive steering wheel push/pull buttons that you never quite get the hang of.
While passing power is also more than satisfactory, peak torque is only available between 2000-2250rpm, so it doesn’t feel like it will keep on pulling forever like the outrageously potent (and more expensive) V8-powered Cayenne Diesel S (281kW/850Nm).
Those of you who might be contemplating a diesel-powered vehicle for the first time and are rightly afraid of any embarrassing tractor-like engine rattle while sitting at the lights, there’s little to worry about with the Cayenne Diesel.
While there’s still a bit of clatter heard when outside (largely at idle), its diesel soundtrack is all but imperceptible for those inside the cabin, and arguably the class-leader in this regard.
And nothing beats diesels for long hauls and highway cruising, especially when the Cayenne Diesel is equipped with a 100-litre tank. It means little or no stops at the bowser for more than 1000km at the legal speed limit.
Like all other Cayennes we have tested, the 3.0-litre Diesel remains true to its Porsche breeding in the handling department. The chassis is tight, well sorted and super-rigid for uncannily roll-free cornering.
The Cayenne’s suspension (double wishbones up front, multilink down back) assists, with a near-perfect balance struck between ride compliance and composure.
The Porsche’s optional adaptive dampers fitted to our test vehicle offer three settings (Comfort, Normal and Sport) and each mode performs exactly as they are labelled.
Even in the sharper Sport mode, there’s a level of passenger comfort and general compliance that rivals may find hard to match – even riding on these optional 20-inch wheels.
And importantly, there’s loads of grip from the Pirelli tyres.
The Steering is responsive on-centre and nicely weighted, with more feedback and precision than rivals.
Behind the wheel, it simply doesn’t feel like you’re piloting a full-size SUV. Instead, the Cayenne encourages you to push on and enjoy its cornering mastery in much the way as you would driving an accomplished German sports sedan.
Up against newer rivals, such as the third-generation BMW X5 and recently launched Evoque-styled Range Rover Sport, the second-generation Porsche Cayenne doesn’t look out of place.
Its rounded-off SUV shape is aging well in comparison to the similarly mature Mercedes-Benz ML, though you’d be forgiven if thinking the Porsche’s smaller looks meant less cabin space than its rivals.
In fact, it’s between 57mm and 91mm lower in height than its competitors, on a shorter wheelbase, though at 4846mm, its 42mm longer than the ML-Class.
Raise the power tailgate and you find 670 litres of cargo space, which is less than the Mercedes (690L) and Range Rover (748L), but more than the BMW (650L).
Rear seat space is on par with the larger X5, with longer legs accounted for through the Cayenne’s sliding seat rails, along with ample headroom, too. Better still are the well-bolstered, well-cushioned and superbly sumptuous front buckets.
Overall, it’s a first-class cabin, with plenty of leather and nicely crafted polished metal accents up front.
There’s the classic five-bezel Porsche instrument cluster and the flight deck-style centre console borrowed from the Panamera.
While the Cayenne Diesel is equipped with plenty of standard kit, such as a 7-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Bose audio system and climate control air-conditioning, it does miss out on a few key features.
Optional equipment includes a reversing camera (reversing sensors are standard), a powered steering column, heated seats and even voice control for the infotainment system – items that are standard on many Korean and Japanese vehicles costing much less.
You can quite reasonably argue that the Volkswagen Touareg and Audi Q7 equivalents represent the smarter buy, but that’s only partly true.
While both those vehicles might use the same 3.0-litre diesel with essentially the same outputs, the only thing of any real consequence for most buyers will be the Porsche emblem on the bonnet and whether it still goes like a Porsche.
The Cayenne Diesel smashes all the critics by being the driver’s SUV with a level of responsiveness, agility and comfort (not to mention build quality) unmatched by even its newer rivals.