2018 Porsche Cayenne review

The revised 2018 Porsche Cayenne is actually the fifth version of the popular large SUV – if you include midlife updates. It continues its push as the performance SUV to watch with a potent blend of power and balance.

The 2018 Porsche Cayenne might not immediately appear to be different from the model it replaces – and why would it be, given the success the large SUV has brought Porsche both globally and here in Australia? Dig a little deeper, however, and the raft of changes become more apparent. In the grand tradition of honing something that is already impressive, Porsche hasn’t rocked the boat either.

Read our pricing and equipment guide for specific details, but at launch in South Australia we drove a $116,300 base Cayenne (on- and off-road), a $155,100 Cayenne S, and a $239,400 Cayenne Turbo (all prices exclude on-road costs) for a solid immersion across the new Cayenne range.

Is there a lot to like? You bet there is, even for a scribe like me who’d prefer sports car manufacturers stay right out of SUVs. Don’t forget, though, that vehicles such as the Cayenne allow manufacturers like Porsche to keep pushing the development envelope of sports cars like the 911, so we should all rejoice in one way or another.

As Curt wrote on the back of his international launch drive, this is in fact the fifth version of the Cayenne – including midlife facelifts – and in many ways, it’s more of the same. Exterior changes are both subtle and not so subtle the closer you look. The restyling – 9mm lower, 63mm longer and 23mm wider while sitting on the same 2895mm wheelbase – helps to toughen up the exterior of the Cayenne, giving it a more squat, muscular look. And to my mind, that’s no bad thing in a brash segment like luxury SUVs.

Like some of the competition, you can for the first time get wider rubber out back than up front, and Porsche will offer wheels right up to whopping 22-inch hoops as optional equipment too. The headlight and grille have been tweaked as well, giving the snout a much less bluff appearance than the earlier iterations. At the rear, there’s a slash through the middle of the light array that echoes 911 styling, and somehow, even standing next to the Cayenne, Porsche has managed to hide some of the heft.

The Cayenne is, after all, a large SUV, and it’s no lightweight either – just under 2000kg for the base Cayenne, up to 2175kg for the Turbo. However, it does hide a lot of that weight on the road too, but more on that in a minute.

Across the Cayenne range, the cabin is (boring I know) an exercise in understated elegance. Porsche has always had a knack for making eleventy-million buttons and switches seem purposeful, organised and clean in design. There’s a bit to familiarise yourself with, and some of the switchgear – like the HVAC controls for instance – could be a little easier to work out, but they remain classy in the way they appear. Gone, though, is the sea of individual switchgear, instead replaced by controls sitting beneath a clear touch surface.

Infotainment is well catered for too, a whopping 12.3-inch central screen with smartphone connectivity, and a 7.0-inch TFT screen for the driver delivering crisp, clear information in any light. While there’s a familiarity to the array and layout of the system, there’s a classier feel to the finished product.

I’ve always loved Cayenne seats, the driving position and visibility for what could be an intimidating big 4WD to pilot around. You can even get yourself into a somewhat sporting position for those so inclined – not really a big deal until you get seated in the Turbo and nail the throttle the first time. Cannon fire comes to mind. The only Cayenne challenge in the cabin against the competition in the real world is second-row leg room. The new, lower roofline doesn’t eat into head space according to the German manufacturer, but the Cayenne doesn’t have as much leg room in the second row as the segment leaders. There’s room enough for two adults, though.

As always with Porsche, there’s a surfeit of options both inside and out – too lengthy to list here, but make sure you scrutinise that list carefully. Some features you’d think would be standard aren’t, and some options can be costly, and you might not need them. On the flipside of options complexity and cost, though, there’s the reality that a base Cayenne is still an attractive proposition starting at just over $116K.

While the head-kicking Turbo will get all the fanboys salivating – 404kW and 770Nm is actually worth getting excited about – even the base Cayenne’s 3.0-litre V6 is worthy of mention with 250kW and 450Nm. Across the range there’s an eight-speed automatic and AWD of course too. And while the S makes do with a 2.9 rather than 3.0-litre V6, it’s a performance surprise too.

It’s the Turbo obviously, though, that most resembles the ‘it must feel like a Porsche’ mantra championed by anyone associated with the brand.

Like Curt on the international drive, we spent as much time firing the Turbo through twisty back roads as we did pottering around off-road in the base Cayenne. The Turbo’s new dynamic smarts make what is a large, heavy platform unbelievably sharp and agile.

Of course, there’s more to be accessed via Sport and Sport+, but we’ll look into that more when we get the Turbo in for a week at the CA garage. The thunderous exhaust note, serious turn of pace and all-round balance mean you can drive the Turbo significantly faster than you’d ever want (need) to.

The revised, multi-link suspension – front and rear – delivers balance and poise that is more sports car-like than off-road truckster, and while a Cayenne will go a long way off-road, it’s more at ease thundering through sweepers on a quiet mountain road. There are also new aluminium subframes, air suspension, 48-volt anti-roll stabilisers and active rear steering for the Turbo too. It’s a heady blend of track tech that translates to on-road smarts and certainty.

For me, the only strange part of the new tech wizardry pertains to the Porsche Surface Coated Brake system. The metal discs get a tungsten carbide coating and seemingly sit between traditional brake rotors and ceramic versions in both theory and execution. While the braking performance is savage when needed, I found them to be touchy at low speed and hard to modulate smoothly until you’ve spent time with them. No biggie, though, as owners will have plenty of time for familiarisation.

While the Cayenne is more than capable off-road (leave the 22s at home perhaps), you get the sense that there’s no real need for this sideshow ability. I get that Porsche wants buyers to know that it’s capable, but will they ever hit the dirt? Unlikely, unless it's a gravel driveway to an expensive weekend retreat or farm stay. Regardless, the off-road drive modes – Gravel, Rock and Mud – work as the maker intends, and the suspension articulation is one aspect that impresses when we do head off the beaten path.

The argument as to how much better this new Cayenne is than the model it replaces is somewhat moot – in that there was nothing especially wrong with the Cayenne before. If you wanted an exclusive, hewn from granite, large SUV, the Cayenne has long been right up with the best of them.

The fact that this new variant is more dynamic, capable of being punted harder and with more certainty than before, and kicks the class factor up a notch, is an impressive feat from a manufacturer that is more than most saddled with heritage and history. They say when you’re on a good thing you should stick to it, but that doesn’t factor in incremental change.

The new Cayenne appeals for all the same reasons, and all the right reasons, in a segment that demands quality and street cred in equal measure. Regardless of which model sits in your price range, you’d be well advised to spend some time with one before you decide on your new large luxury SUV.