The 2015 Porsche Cayenne represents an evolutionary improvement on what was already an exceptional road-focused large SUV from the German sportscar manufacturer. Before the first Cayenne broke cover, many were skeptical whether Porsche could create an SUV that delivered on the promise of the brand’s history of exhilaration and everyday sensibility.
Turns out the skeptics were wrong. If the original BMW X5 set the first benchmark for road manners and car-like dynamics from an otherwise lardy SUV, then Porsche refined those parameters with the Macan and now this, the new Cayenne. I wondered at the international launch of the Cayenne last year, whether a week behind the wheel of the brilliant Macan before leaving Australia would dull the experience of its big brother. It didn’t, and I think the Cayenne might be even better because of the Macan.
Curt recently tested the Porsche Cayenne S Turbo in our twin-test comparison, and now we get to spend a week with the variant we think is the pick of the range - the Cayenne S Diesel. You could argue that buyers with deep pockets don’t care much about fuel consumption, but the fact that a vehicle with a monstrous slab of torque and head kicking turn of speed can return an average fuel usage figure of 11.3 litres/100 kilometres in the real world is quite simply sensational. I’m not even sure what the saying means, but with the Cayenne S Diesel, you can have your cake and eat it too, it seems. The petrol S can’t even get anywhere near the diesel engine for fuel efficiency no matter how gentle you are with your right foot.
The petrol engine does edge the oiler when it comes to outright theatrics - especially the bellowing soundtrack as the revs rise - but at start up and idle, you’d be hard pressed to pick the diesel engine as a diesel. The meaty thump as it bursts to life when you twist the key is especially deceiving.
So, a week in the cockpit of the pick of the range should be rather enjoyable then…
Money is usually the great leveler and the great limiting factor when it comes to a purchase like a motor vehicle. That’s why the V8-powered S Diesel Cayenne is the choice of the smart punter. It costs $142,300 plus on-road costs, meaning it is a step up of around 40 grand from the base 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6. That sounds like a lot – and it is – but the V8 S Diesel is also 10 grand cheaper than the Hybrid Cayenne and GTS model, while it also weighs in a staggering 120 grand less than the range-topping Turbo model.
Our test Cayenne has been optioned with some tasty (read: costly) tidbits, which bumps the price up a significant amount. Take a deep breath…
Full leather interior $7690, yachting mahogany interior package $6590, 21-inch Sport Edition wheels $5610, soft close doors $1790, yachting mahogany heated multifunction steering wheel $1450, black roof rails $1390, panoramic roof system, $1190, saddle brown seat belts $1090, compass $760, Porsche crest emboss on head rest $490, monochrome black exterior package $450. That brings the grand total to an eye watering $171,840 plus on-road costs. It’s fair to assume most Cayenne buyers will tick some options boxes, but the point needs to be made that your ownership experience won’t be diluted if you don’t tick any of the above options.
Lurking behind the Cayenne’s facelifted front end, there’s an absolute monster of a turbo diesel V8 engine. Despite it’s obvious appeal, the beautifully tuned exhaust note is only part of the story though, the power and torque this engine generates is sensational not matter what kind of driver you aspire to be.
While the step from V6 to V8 turbo-diesel power comes with the aforementioned 40 grand kick, there’s method to Porsche’s madness in terms of what that leap affords the buyer. Lets start with the engine specs. The 4.2-litre twin turbo diesel engine is a beast. A healthy 281kW at 3750rpm and 850Nm between 2000-2750rpm translate to monstrous performance on the open road.
To put that into perspective, the power figure is only slightly less than the petrol V8 engine under the bonnet of the Cayenne S, and the whopping torque figure is the most of any Cayenne available including the most expensive Turbo S. Sure, the oiler doesn’t rev as hard or as vigorously as the naturally turbocharged petrol V8, but the hefty shove in the back and accompanying soundtrack under rapid acceleration is an experience you never get sick of.
Porsche quotes a 0-100km/h run of 5.7 seconds with an ADR fuel claim of 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres. Over a week, and more than 300km of largely city driving, we saw an indicated return of 11.3L/100km, impressive for a heavy duty SUV. On the freeway at 110km/h with the diesel V8 barely ticking over, you’ll see the instantaneous fuel usage drop into the sevens.
That figure of 11.3L/100km was also achieved with stop/start largely deactivated, so it’s a genuine figure you could expect to replicate. The 100-litre fuel tank means you can expect to safely get 1100km between fuel stops on the open road. As tested, the Cayenne tips the scales at 2100 kilogrammes.
The engine’s giant-killing peak torque figure is achieved through a narrow rpm band, but when you think about it, that’s where most of your give and take city driving will work the engine. On the freeway, if you need to roll on overtake, the engine quickly dips into the meat of that torque curve and piles on speed rapidly. There can be some lag depending on how much you grab the Cayenne by the scruff of the neck at takeoff speeds but it’s never infuriating.
The piece de resistance of the diesel engine is the fact that it doesn’t sound even remotely like a diesel. At start up, where it thunders into life, under light application where there’s a discernible rumble from the tailpipes, and under heavier load, when the V8 roars up to it’s redline, there’s not a hint of diesel clatter. It’s a sensational tuning effort by Porsche, and it means buyers get the benefits of a diesel engine without the shortfalls.
Inside, the Porsche Cayenne is ridiculously short on storage for such a large SUV. The cabin actually feels compact, either behind the wheel or in the front passenger seat. The second row is roomy enough for adults, but squeezing three across that row would be tight. The Cayenne is as wide as it is large too, so the apparent lack of shoulder room is a little strange. If you’re a family with two teenage children though, the Cayenne is a perfect luxury weekender.
Up front, there’s nowhere to hide my wallet or phone, apart from the console bin beneath the armrest - which is on the small side. The door pockets are large enough to hold plenty, but they aren’t my first port of call for smaller items like phones and wallets. Female drivers will be left depositing their handbags on the passenger seat or in the footwell
I do appreciate the dash-mounted receptacle for the ‘key’. It doesn’t look like a key (it actually looks a bit like a tiny car), but you insert it and turn it like a key. There’s also the added bonus that it isn’t flapping around the centre console or digging into my leg in a pocket either. It’s a minor point to note, but the key feels and looks special also. There’s nothing worse than an expensive car with a daggy, cheap looking key and the Cayenne’s will ensure owners feel good about their expensive purchase.
From the driver’s seat, there’s a high and mighty air to the driving position - as there should be in a large SUV really. Visibility is excellent and maneuvering the Cayenne, even in tight carparks is a breeze. I’ve long thought Porsche consoles especially feature too many buttons and the Cayenne is a good example of that school of thought. The Macan is a similar offender and the surfeit of buttons is immediately evident as soon as you get comfortable in the Cayenne. Some might love it, but many won’t. There’s switchgear and controls everywhere you look, and it will take a newbie some time to work out where the most useful controls are and be able to access them quickly without thinking first - especially on the move.
CarAdvice testers find the Porsche satellite navigation system and infotainment controls intuitive and easy to use. Pairing your mobile phone is simple and fast, and the Bluetooth connection is crystal clear at all times. I found the audio streaming worked exceptionally well - in fact it is one of the easier systems I’ve ever used.
Buyers who desire adjustability can alter the ride height and suspension damping on their Cayenne and it’s a system that offers tangible differences. Around town, I leave the ride height in the ‘Normal’ position with the dampers set to ‘Comfort’. The ride is firm, even with these settings dialed-up, suggesting that the Cayenne is capable of handling competently at the limit but it’s never uncomfortable around town. Even with the optional 21-inch wheels and low profile tyres fitted to our test example, the Cayenne’s ride is cushioned enough to soak up nasty surfaces without disrupting the sense of calm in the cabin.
After a few days crawling around the city, I head for the highway and in typical fashion it starts bucketing down. Blasting along the freeway at 110km/h into driving rain though, the Cayenne is effortless in the way it eats up the kilometres. I opt for the lower ride height on the freeway, which stiffens the ride ever so slightly even with the dampers in the same comfort setting. The Cayenne is laser straight at speed, with the diesel engine barely ticking over at 1600rpm at 110km/h via the cruise control. Drop back down to 60km/h for a roadwork zone and once you’ve cleared the worksite, you rocket back up to 110km/h in the blink of an eye.
It’s still pelting down as I turn off the highway and onto a lengthy stretch of 100km/h winding country roads. The Cayenne is again rock solid on the slick, coarse chip surface. At launch in Barcelona, the roads were typically European and buttery smooth, so I was looking forward to testing the Cayenne on our own, local hot mix.
I find myself driving like I’m in a sportscar, without even realising it. There’s a deft, balanced feel to the steering, with subtle inputs on long sweepers returning the kind of feedback through the wheel you struggle to comprehend in a vehicle so bulky. Even mid corner bumps and ruts don’t unsettle the Cayenne’s balance.
Porsche has yet again delivered a power steering system of exceptional feel and precision. The front-end grip at speed is likewise impressive and you can brake hard, turn in and hammer out the other side of the corner without remotely raising a sweat in the cabin. The word competence springs to mind, but the Cayenne is so much better than that, it’s a true driver’s SUV. Most Cayenne owners will never ask their SUV to work as hard as I have on this test, but to know it can is quite possibly enough.
The Cayenne, like all Porsche vehicles, is covered by the German company’s 36-month, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
After a week, and plenty of kilometres covered (many of them in awful weather) the Cayenne Diesel S has left an indelible mark on me. I’ve never professed a desire to own a Porsche SUV, but if I were ever to stump up for one, this exact model would be it – without the eye watering options list. Its broad portfolio of proficient skill makes it the perfect high-end SUV for any given task under any conditions.
The Cayenne S Diesel isn’t cheap and it’s not perfect either, but it delivers mighty performance while being easy and intuitive enough for anyone to drive. Porsche keeps doing it with the 911 and so it goes with the Cayenne - every new iteration is markedly better than the model it replaces.