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Almost certainly without a hint of irony and without being able to predict the future, Ferdinand Porsche once reportedly said: “If we built an off-road model according to our standards and quality and it had a Porsche badge on the bonnet, people would buy it".
How right he was…
The Porsche Cayenne has, since 2002, been right at the pointy end of dynamic, full-sized SUVs. Its potent blend of power, poise and performance ensured that buyers kept walking into dealers and driving out in a brand new Porsche-badged SUV. Some would say the Cayenne saved Porsche when sales volume became more important than exclusivity - it accounts for half of all Porsche vehicles sold around the world.
The facelifted and subtly tweaked 2015 Porsche Cayenne therefore, has a hell of a lot to live up to. Julian Baumann, director product planning and sales for Porsche SUVs, agrees.
“With Cayenne, the aim was always to bring sportscar DNA to an SUV,” he told CarAdvice. “That has not changed, and the Cayenne must still deliver that driving feel, along with excellent day-to-day drivability.”
I’m tempted to state from the outset that my Cayenne impression might be dulled by the significant amount of time I’ve spent recently behind the wheel of the brilliant Macan. I head into my first fling with the 2015 Porsche Cayenne (in the hills outside Barcelona) with an open mind, and it’s no lesser vehicle because of the Macan - it may even be more impressive than it used to be. With buyers waiting up to a year for a new Macan in Australia, perhaps the larger Cayenne might become even more attractive.
Baumann claims Porsche has made a good car even better with the updated five-model range. Changes are subtle, but extensive, and there’s been a significant ($10,700) price drop for the plug-in hybrid model. Read our full pricing and specification story here.
Styling changes outside are extensive without being overly dramatic. At the pointy end, there are new bi-xenon or LED headlights (depending on model), a revised bonnet design and new front air dam, which is cleverly designed to open and close to shorten warm-up time in colder weather.
At the rear, slimmer, redesigned LED tai lights are attractive - until you look at them with the brakes applied. They light up as short, straight lines, nowhere near as attractive as the Macan’s sultry tail in the dark. The rear spoiler has also been dropped, to better integrate with the roof line, while the rear bumper is deeper. Front or rear, the Cayenne now looks tougher, more aggressive and more broad shouldered. Baumann says the company "wanted the Cayenne to look wider".
The Cayenne’s interior remains a supremely luxurious and high quality place to be. The roads surrounding Spain’s coastal playground are as good as the best roads in Australia so it’s hard to judge before we test drive the Cayenne at home, but the cabin is beautifully insulated from road and wind noise. The revised air suspension delivers a serene and comfortable ride regardless of the road surface - even off-road it manages to soak up nasty surfaces with ease.
The terracotta-coloured, two-tone leather option is a personal favourite and is classier than red, but more noticeable than black - it’s an attractive compromise. The central console doesn’t look quite as cluttered as the Macan’s, despite the usual raft of buttons and switches that anyone familiar with the outgoing Cayenne will have seen.
There’s a new multi-function steering wheel across the Cayenne range and if you opt for the park-assist package, you also get overhead surround view that is displayed via the central touchscreen.
The front seats offer extensive adjustment and you can get low into the cabin if that’s how you like to drive. There’s enough room in the second row for adults - three across would be a little tight though - and there’s no plan for a seven-seat Cayenne anytime soon.
My first drive of the Cayenne is behind the wheel of the 4.2-litre twin-turbocharged V8 Diesel S. Priced from $143,200, I’m immediately intoxicated by the diesel engine’s power and torque, and the meaty exhaust note. It sounds like a V8 should, but it has the low down thrust of a proper turbo-diesel engine. The rich vein of torque is available just off idle (2000rpm to be exact) and with 850Nm to play with, the Diesel S is faster than you will ever need. On the motorway it cranks from 30km/h out to 180km/h in the blink of an eye.
I drive two other models on road over the course of the launch and there’s no doubt in my mind that if you’re not hooked on hybrid technology, the Diesel S is certainly the sweet spot in the new Cayenne range. Even if the cost of fuel and the slightly thirstier V8 is of no consequence to you, the oiler packs real world power and fuel efficiency in equal measure, accompanied by an evocative bent-eight soundtrack.
Following my Diesel S spin, I head for the hills behind the wheel of the range-topping Cayenne Turbo. It’s not cheap at a tick above $230K, but it’s got power and performance to burn as you’d expect. Obviously, the Turbo is the real cross-continent performance weapon with 382kW delivered by way of a high-energy petrol V8 soundtrack, but the Turbo is almost too fast. Sure, too much power is never enough, but the Turbo is capable of piling on serious speed effortlessly and with draconian speed laws in Australia, I’d be more than happy to save a wad of cash and go with the diesel V8.
The Turbo also gets launch control, and while it’s no lightweight (2185 kilograms), it gets up to speed with a relentless surge and it’s only when you really start to work hard through tight corners that it ever feels as big as it is.
Lastly, I take a 100km drive in the price-leading Cayenne S. The 3.6-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 engine doesn’t sound incredibly special, nor is the S as alluring as its V8 siblings, but it still gets the job done effortlessly. An improvement by every measure compared to the V8 it replaces, the Cayenne S is definitely a smart option for Cayenne fans on a tighter budget. At $139,900, it isn’t cheap as such, but it’s a lot cheaper than some other model grades.
There’s a lightness to the front end given the smaller engine over the axle and the S delivers an engaging drive through the twisty mountain roads. There’s no more or less grip on offer, it’s just that with less engine heft, the S has a lighter overall feel to it.
Across the range, the Cayenne shines on the open road. The handling is sportscar like, despite the heft of a large SUV being bullied into and out of corners. There’s little body roll, exceptional balance and supreme grip regardless of road surface.
The steering is confidence-inspiring at any speed and all inputs are sharpened up by selecting ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport Plus’ modes. Even the default ‘Comfort’ mode is sporty enough for the average punter. It won’t matter which engine you opt for, you’ll be able to drive your Cayenne in a manner (and at speeds) which SUV drivers couldn’t have dreamed of 20 years ago.
Baumann explains that this apparent driving enjoyment is an absolute must for any Cayenne regardless of the engine variant.
“The Cayenne must remain a ‘sportscar-like SUV,” he says. “Especially on twisty roads, where the Cayenne must provide exceptional driving dynamics.”
Off-road, the Cayenne is capable of significantly more than any owner will ever require - in Australia or Europe. The Porsche off-road driving instructor who accompanies me on the course tells me their research indicates less than two per cent of Cayenne owners ever go anywhere near a dirt road, and I’m inclined to think the same is true of Australian Cayenne owners.
Regardless, the Cayenne is mightily impressive traversing a track that is very similar to what you’ll find off-road in Australia. Over sharp, jagged rocks, washed out uneven ruts, steep scrabbly ascents, and sharp descents, the Cayenne tackles it all with gusto and poise. Our off-road-pack equipped test vehicle has three locking differentials, height adjustment and hill descent control. There’s no low range, but you won’t ever need it, such is the trickery of the gearbox and the electronics.
The 2015 Porsche Cayenne might only be a facelift in the overall scheme of things, but there’s enough changes for the aficionados to tell the difference. Cayenne is still a large SUV, there’s no hiding that, but like it’s Macan sibling, it is as sporting as an SUV gets in the large SUV sector.