Is this the best Large SUV?
When it comes to large dynamic SUVs, there’s not an awful lot of competition for the Porsche Cayenne.
Since its introduction a good 14 years ago, the model that helped rescue Porsche from financial ruin remains true to the brand, by offering a sportscar-like SUV like no other. Now for the updated 2015 model, the Porsche Cayenne gets even better.
From the outside the changes are almost unnoticeable at first. It looks, well, like a Porsche Cayenne. It doesn’t gain the sharp 911-inspired rear-end of its smaller Macan sibling, but it does away with the overly curvy rear taillights for a smarter look that sees a whole new tailgate and rear diffuser.
The front end, too, is redesigned from the doors forward, with a new bonnet and headlights. The enthusiasts will notice the subtle changes like the shutters in front of the radiator that can help with both the thermo and aero dynamics but to the average punter, it’s just a more handsome Cayenne and that’s perfectly fine.
The most popular model, the $143,200 Porsche Cayenne S Diesel, remains relatively unchanged, with the 4.2-litre V8 twin-turbo diesel gaining 2kW of power to bring it to 283kW. The outstanding 850Nm of torque remains unchanged (and unchallenged), pushing the large diesel from a standstill to 100km/h in a staggering 5.3 seconds (with Sport Chrono package)
The big news is the swap for the $139,900 Cayenne S Petrol from a 4.8-litre V8 to a 3.6-litre bi-turbo V6 (similar to the 3.0-litre in the Macan S petrol). Despite losing 1.2-litres in capacity and two cylinders, the addition of the turbo chargers actually brings power up by 15kW (309kW) while there’s an additional 50Nm of torque (550Nm) to boot. It’s also now 0.3 of a second faster to 100km/h (5.4 with Sport Chrono package).
Of course, if you must have the best and have some friends in the police department to help rescue your licence, the $230,800 Porsche Cayenne Turbo is a hoot. With a 4.8-litre petrol V8 and two turbos, it’s a ridiculous SUV for Australia no matter how you try to justify it, but it’s irresistibly fun to drive and addictive at worst.
It offers a supercar-slaying 382kW of power and 750Nm of torque, helping it defy the laws of physics and move its 2,185kg weight from 0-100km/h in just 4.4 seconds. To put that figure in perspective, it will keep up with BMW’s new lightweight i8 supercar.
Of course, you don’t buy a Cayenne to compare acceleration figures, there are far better vehicles in Porsche’s range for that purpose, which brings us to the actual point of a Cayenne, a highly engaging yet very practical SUV.
Around the twisty mountainous roads of Byron Bay in northern new south wales, we found ourselves driving these oversized SUVs like small, nimble sportscars. There’s something certainly incoherent about the way the Cayenne goes around corners at pace, as it shames any other vehicle of its size without hesitation.
That is, afterall, the Porsche mantra, to be the best. While the Cayenne has some serious competition from the likes of the Range Rover Sport for interior quality and fit and finish, the overall package is hard to beat.
The base model Cayenne petrol ($108,000) and diesel ($104,700) do not arrive until early next year, so our test cars at launch were the two S models and the Turbo.
First, the turbo, because it’s insanity strapped into an SUV. What can you say? It’s so quick that it makes no sense at all. It should come standard with a mandatory opt-in system to fund the speed cameras in your state as it’s unavoidable not to feel the urge to give it some, then find yourself a good 50km/h over the speed limit without the slightest bit of effort.
It’s a valiant beast, one that will scare the daylights out of BMW M3/4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG drivers, not just in its sheer acceleration but in the way it goes around bends at terminal velocity. The symphony of noise that is extracted from its tailpipes is highly addictive. It’s what every SUV owner wishes of their car, alas, it’s $87,600 more than the Cayenne S Diesel, which is the sweet spot in the range.
The S Diesel has enough torque to tow a passenger jet, which means mid-range acceleration and in-gear acceleration is phenomenal. No, it’s not as quick as the Turbo, but for our market it’s already well past the required performance spectrum.
Its biggest surprise is its noise, or lack thereof. What little engine noise you can hear from the V8 is actually rather pleasant, which is unusual for a diesel. It’s effortless in traffic, highway and spirited driving situations and would easily be our pick of the range.
Unfortunately then, the Cayenne S Petrol isn’t nearly as good as its sibling. Despite faster acceleration than the V8 variant it replaces, it seems to be lacking mid-range torque and seemed to be wanting more power when pushed.
There are some benefits to the petrol though, the new V6 weighs 17kg less than the previous V8 and is 57mm shorter, forcing less weight over the front wheels, hence delivering an improved centre of gravity. Nonetheless, considering the price difference of $3,300 to the all-conquering S diesel, you’d really want to dislike diesels to pick the petrol in its place.
In truth, all the Cayennes we drove handled better than we expected. That probably has something to do with Porsche’s use of chassis mounts from the previous generation Cayenne GTS for all new Cayenne models, making an even more dynamic SUV than before, without the GTS price tag.
But like before, the Cayenne’s interior is perhaps only second to the Range Rover Sport in terms of the material used and fit and finish, but even then it probably comes down to personal preference. There are just so many buttons to press and that can get a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll probably get used to it, eventually.
Another negative is the infotainment screen, which at 7-inches is just too small for its mounting position and such a busy cabin. Porsche really needs to go down the BMW path and come out with larger screens.
The software (PCM) that drives the screen is also not up to Mercedes-Benz COMAND NTG5, Audi Connect or BMW iDrive standards, which is a shame considering the company’s obsession with attention to detail.
Speaking of which, Porsche has replaced the steering wheel inline with the new 918 style and although it could’ve just taken the one out of the Macan, it decided to add 30g of weight into the bottom spoke to better balance the package, as the Cayenne’s steering system remains hydraulic. That’s attention to detail.
The front and rear seats are both comfortable and there’s enough room to easily accommodate four adults. The middle rear seat isn’t all that pleasant but it’ll do for short trips. ISOFIX points will take care of child seats and you’ll have no issues with a rear or forward facing position.
The boot offers somewhere between 670 to 1780L (1705L for Turbo with its larger fuel tank) of luggage capacity depending on the position of the rear seats, if you option air suspension you can even raise or lower the Cayenne using controls inside the boot.
All models stick with the eight-speed tiptronic transmission, missing out once again on Porsche’s renowned PDK gearbox. Though it’s no dual-clutch, gearshifts are still relatively rapid and only in the S petrol did we feel the Cayenne hunting for the right gear at low speeds.
Apart from the base diesel and upcoming S E-Hybrid, the rest of the Cayenne range gets a proper active all wheel drive system with a map-controlled multi-plate clutch, for those rare occasions when you have to mount the grass on the school pick up.
The Cayenne is everything you’d expect of a luxury SUV with a Porsche badge, from the interior to the fit and finish and the extensive options list, it leaves its lesser (and cheaper) German rivals in its wake.
What it really does is present a case for an SUV that is both family friendly in the way it rides and the space and practicality it provides, while having the dynamic capability to outpace plenty of sportscars when the challenge is presented.
It’s an interesting proposition and one which I personally believe is better filled by the more nimble Macan, but if you need the additional room of the Cayenne or can’t wait 10 months (at the time of writing) for the Macan, there’s no doubt it’s the best in the business.