The third generation of Porsche Cayenne has introduced more changes under the skin for the large SUV than the restrained remodelling of its exterior facade suggests. There’s been much effort, a few shake-ups, and a lot of massaging that has culminated in positive impressions of the revised range in reviews to date: a 9/10 rating (by yours truly) at the global launch of the S and Turbo, a slightly more sober 8.6/10 appraisal once the base version joined the line-up for the local launch assault, plus another stellar nine-point rating overseas for the soon-for-Oz petrol-electric hybrid version. So far, so impressive.
With Porsche putting diesel power on hiatus across the board, it’s a lean all-petrol-motivated three-variant Cayenne affair for CarAdvice’s first-ever premium range review. Light on numbers, perhaps, but as we’ll see this trio is heavy in detail, choice and options for the buyer keen to park large-sized family friendliness wearing the famed Stuttgart crest into the home driveway.
We’ve dived deep into Cayenne version 3.0’s myriad changes in reviews mentioned above, but here’s the quick nutshell wrap. Size-wise, it’s larger and lower in overall height, more squat and a little more 911-esque in appearance, and for the first time features staggered wheels with fatter rubber in the rear. It’s roomier inside, with up to an extra 100 litres of luggage space, but the real knockout is the cleaner, slicker cabin redesign robbed from the latest-generation Panamera.
Under the skin there are revised powertrains, new chassis systems, world-first tungsten-carbide-coated brakes, optional rear-wheel steering, and even an active rear wing as standard on the Turbo. Even the familiar stuff – steel-sprung base Cayenne suspension, airbag application on the S, the V8-powered flagship – has all been tweaked, revised and improved.
A quicker and fitter breed all-round? That’s been the consensus thus far.
Where the sudden and sizeable rift amongst the trio surfaces is in pricing. The base version, simply called Cayenne, lobs at $116,300 list. From there it’s a decent $39K-odd step up to $155,100 list for the mid-range S version. And Turbo? You might want to grab a ladder, because it’s a fair old fiscal climb to the $239,400 Cayenne summit.
That’s right, you can buy two base Cayennes for the price of one Turbo… And still have change.
Of course, the pricing skew is such that some SUV-sized elephant lurking in your car space is yelling “Nobody is ever going to cross-shop different Cayennes”. Not true. Porsche Oz is mum on projected sales splits, but historically the base petrol and Turbo/Turbo S have only accounted for 10 per cent of total range sales apiece, with the middling S (and GTS) double that. Interestingly, diesel power has in the past been the most popular Cayenne choice, representing a whopping 60 per cent of sales.
With no diesel currently on offer, there’s renewed focus on this new-gen entry-level petrol version. Is it a more viable cross-shop to the popular S? How cheap is it if it’s half the price of the Turbo? Is the heroic Turbo that much better? And should those who could afford the Turbo’s near quarter-mil’ ticket instead opt for a base Cayenne and a Boxster/Cayman for fair-weather weekend punts, if the entry version serves well enough in its primary premium SUV role?
Rather than start with the cheapest Cayenne and work our way upwards, let’s kick off with the Cayenne S, what’s traditionally been the most popular petrol version – and thus the buyers’ sweet spot – as a baseline. That way, it’s easy to see what you lose going down the range or gain by going up to the Turbo.
Let’s start with looks. And even a cursory glance of our assembled trio suggests that very little separates Cayenne variants for upmarket street presence and appeal.
But there are differences. The S version gets high-spec Dynamic Light System LED headlights shared with the Turbo – rather than the base version’s regular static LEDs – as well as quad tailpipes and a panoramic glass roof. Its 20-inch wheels wrap large six-piston/390mm front and four-piston/330mm rear brakes with grey calipers, while the adaptive air suspension system shared with the Turbo is also standard.
The interior of the S presents really nicely. The S gets the more relaxed Comfort-style seat shape front and rear that balances plushness and support well. They are a mix of real and faux leather, though Porsche is so on top of this game it’s tough deducing which surface is which. A high-level fit and finish, neat double stitching everywhere, no noticeable cost-cutting with plastics… It’s a class act.
The S also gets the higher-spec Bose-branded audio boasting 710 watts, 14 speakers and surround-sound system, complete with a high level of customisation. It sounds good, though a little short of exceptional to this reviewer’s ears, and not quite the quantum leap you might expect over the base Cayenne’s proprietary 10-speaker system.
The most conspicuous change in the gen-three Cayenne range is the interface and controls: out is the old, busy button fetish, in is the super-slick, cleaner and simpler haptic glass surface effect across the central control stack and the incredibly crisp high-definition 12.3-inch touchscreen. How this neat application fakes a button click effect using synthesised sound and an electric impulse through the fingers is a marvellous party trick, if one not exclusive to the S. Even the base Cayenne gets an identical design. If there’s a downside to the glass effect, it’s that both the console and touchscreen quickly become a mess of fingerprints.
The S’s sharp driver’s instrumentation places digital readouts either side of a 911-esque central analogue tacho, but again this is common on all three variants (bar Turbo logos on that version). The multifunction wheel, in typical Porsche manner, has a tactile leather rim with an excellent profile that fits nicely in the hands, with a neat and compact design look lifted from a sports car.
In fact, the cabin design varies so little across the range that the only notable difference is the Turbo gets a ‘manettino’-style drive mode selector dial on the wheel – a disappointingly cheap plastic dial at that – while drive modes in the base and S versions are accessed through the glass console interface as standard.
Row two in all variants offers ample roominess for adults in all three positions, with the added flexibility of (29-degree) tilting and (16cm) sliding the 40:20:40 split-folding seat sections to tune up comfort and space, plus dual USB ports front and rear and three 12V outlets. Both the S and base Cayenne get rear vents, and once the rear seating is folded flat it converts a decent 745 litres of luggage space into 1710L of stowage (though strangely the Turbo loses 30L of maximum volume space).
So, the S is suitably upmarket and seemingly befitting its $155K price point outside and in, but clearly it doesn’t look to add much – that Bose audio and front seat heating, mainly – for its $40K-odd premium over the base version.
So where are the key S extras? The answer is mostly in engine, suspension and the aforementioned brakes.
The 2.9-litre bi-turbocharged V6 is, by six-banger measures, an absolute gem. Take a peek into corporate cousin Audi’s stable and this is the same engine you’ll find in heroic RS4/RS5 high-performance wagons and coupes. Bury the throttle and its 550Nm shove is quite assertive, even with four adults on board. Push on and there’s a satisfying growl and top-end surge as the unit spins to redline with a surly 324kW.
Porsche claims 5.2sec 0–100km/h prowess for the S, but perhaps more importantly there’s effortless merging/exiting/overtaking stick and a function of safety for you and your loved ones.
All Cayennes get steering wheel paddle-shifters, though the smooth eight-speed automatic has impressive enough self-shifting calibration that, in the S at least, their functionality is pretty much redundant.
The air suspension errs towards comfortable pliancy and the ride is exceptionally nice, even on our test car’s optional 21-inch wheels ($8020). Although, some CarAdvisers who drove it didn’t like its slightly floaty nature, opting for the firmer Sport mode as the around-town default, which dialled out some dive and float. You can option Dynamic Chassis Control to the S version to tighten body control somewhat, but it’s an added $7690 cost.
Generally speaking, the S’s ride and handling balance favours cruising over corner carving, but when viewed as a non-performance luxury SUV, the S’s dynamic capabilities transcend merely decent. Push on through a corner and it’ll run out of grip well before it loses composure, and always delivers an impressive degree of control and decent amount of feedback to the driver.
While the entry-level Cayenne saves around $40K over the S version, it certainly doesn’t look it. In fact, with its fetching metallic blue paint ($2190) and optional 21-inch wheels ($7660) in lieu of standard-fit 19s, some observers thought it looked the priciest of the trio despite the modest twin single-outlet exhaust tips. Yes, key differences are very minor indeed.
The same could be said for the interior treatment, with our test car fitted with optional partial-leather treatment in two-toned Black/Mojave Beige, a relative bargain at $870 for the lift in presentation, especially given the same effect in full leather is a whopping $9140 option. Bar losing seat heating and fitting more modest audio, the base Cayenne is otherwise identical to the pricier S.
In fact, comb through the specification details and from the driver personalisation settings to the powered tailgate, the static experience between the base and mid-level S versions is virtually indistinguishable.
However, the regular Cayenne does make do with a 250kW single-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 – the Macan S and Audi S4/S5 engine – which, at 450Nm, is a full 100Nm down on the Cayenne S’s feistier and harder-edged 2.9-litre unit. Loaded up with adults on test, it’s noticeably tardier off the mark, which isn’t unexpected for what must be, at 6.2sec for the 0–100km/h amble, the slowest Porsche you can buy.
What’s both surprising and impressive is the 3.0-litre package’s rolling response and energy on the move. It’s a quiet operator, one that’s keenly married in calibration to the eight-speed auto, and despite remaining characterless regardless of RPM, the base Cayenne can certainly get a hustle on when need be.
Even more impressive is the steel suspension. Adaptive damping is standard fitment, and the ride is impressive enough that you’re splitting hairs deciding whether steel or airbag hardware offers the nicer on-road experience. Better still, the steel design doesn’t have the slight wobble and float evident in the suspension design fitted to the pricier Cayennes.
What’s brilliant – even in the base version – is the camera system: wide and crystal-clear front and rear views not merely handy for parking or off-roading (in forward perspective), but both cameras also swivel in the direction of steering lock for more comprehensive viewing. Not so brilliant is that there’s no standard signpost recognition – it’s part of a $3280 head-up option – yet speed-limit warnings appear inside the sat-nav, causing our test cars to incorrectly display speed limits. In one roadworks situation, some 30km/h too optimistic…
It would be remiss not to throw a Porsche through a corner, even if it’s the slowest in breed and regardless of whether owners ever will. It distinguishes differences in the range not merely by measure of dynamic capability for fun, but also in measure of safety in control and grip. And at anything like socially responsible public speeds, nothing separates the base and S Cayennes for safe-as-houses transit once the going gets twisty. Nitpick and there probably isn’t enough torque in the base spec to slide the tail under throttle, but frankly, who cares?
Crucially, though, you don’t treat the base version like a racecar. Its modestly sized four-piston/350mm front and two-piston/330mm rear brake package is more than ample stopping power for the most enthusiastic A to B family hauling regardless of the terrain.
Left foot hard on the brake, right foot flat on the throttle, our Sport Chrono ($2690 optional) equipped Cayenne Turbo fires out of the blocks like it’s shot from a cannon.
All fiery acceleration, all furious soundtrack, and just 3.9 seconds to triple figures. It’s a great party trick that’s almost as breathtaking with three or four adults aboard as it is driver only.
It’s a trick performed once in our week with all three Cayennes, and none of the senior journos – Trent, Rob, yours truly – who drove them were convinced that trick alone was worth the $83,400 premium over the S, let alone more than twice the price of the entry Cayenne.
Where else lay that Turbo’s extra goodness? The 10-piston, ‘world-first’ tungsten-carbide-coated braking hardware? No. Besides having excessive low-speed squeal, their take-up is uncomfortably bitey.
Handling on- or off-road? There was absolutely no tangible difference between the air-suspended Turbo and the vastly more affordable S, other than the latter’s 21-inch wheel/tyre combination commands an extra $8020… And even then our Turbo’s Exclusive Design rims garnered an added $5400 surcharge.
Frankly, the Turbo didn’t steer better. In fact, all our test cars copped an extra $650 hit for Power Steering Plus that brings speed-dependent assistance, which you’d expect might be standard fitment on any premium SUV. Nor was the Turbo any more dynamically adept or grippier in the corners at sane road speeds than the lesser Cayenne pair, despite the big banger benefitting from pricey extra trickery such as Rear Axle Steering ($4590) and Torque Vectoring Plus ($3590).
In fact, to our collective surprise, the only real advantage the Turbo brought to the Cayenne party bar sheer accelerative stonk was in sonic comfort: at a cruise, it was the quietest SUV on test. It seems as though that thermal- and noise-insulating privacy glass option – yes, option – is $2990 well spent.
Yes, the Turbo does get nicer stuff here and there. It exclusively fits an active roof spoiler… That’s superfluous at velocities below those legally achievable on derestricted autobahn. There are small, trainspotter-level appearance tweaks inside and out, such as unique quad exhaust tips, plus 18-way Sport-style seating that adds seat heating in the second row.
You do get so-called “smooth-finish” full leather rather than the base- and S-spec partial leather, but realistically, the lift in comfort and tactility is negligible.
There’s a kerb-view parking aid, auto-sliding comfort access for the driver’s seat, and Turbo badges left, right and centre, but besides the heightened effortlessness in progress provided by that biturbo V8 undertow around town, we really struggled to find much justification for that lofty price tag. So many of those abovementioned extras should really be fitted as standard in Turbo spec, whether they bring meaningful benefits to everyday ownership or not.
For instance, the Turbo could bundle in more active safety features as standard. All Cayennes cover basic active safety such as AEB and lane-departure warning, but want extra for active lane keep ($1390) or conveniences such as adaptive cruise control ($3790). Even the multi-mode sport exhaust costs an extra $6390.
Really, the Turbo, as a near quarter-million-dollar prospect, should be fully loaded. Or at least more fulsome in standard equipment. That the as-tested price of our sample car hits a lofty $272,150 before on-roads, it just doesn’t stack up value-wise, particularly in the presence of its likeable and desirable six-cylinder-powered stablemates.
What became stunningly apparent early on in our week-long adventure with the Cayenne trio, is that Porsche has done an excellent job improving the core product in this new generation. That it’s so good in base form convinces us of two things.
Firstly, adding big-ticket areas such as engine and suspension doesn’t really improve upon that core goodness by leap-and-bound measures. And, secondly, that same goodness is so inherently ingrained that it seems Porsche has struggled to remove much of it in a cost-competitive entry-level version. Perhaps it was the fetching metallic paint ($2190), the 21s ($7660) or that neat tan interior effect ($870), but the combined effect of minimal options made our base Cayenne look and feel at least as upmarket, if not more upmarket, than its pricier brethren on test.
The base Cayenne won our range review, hands down. And easily. But even then, we were cautiously skeptical it was the dramatic price spread between all three versions that merely suggested the entry version was some absolute bargain. That it in fact appeared affordable in Porsche money, yet didn’t stack up quite as impressively with a broader segment view.
So, we went looking further afield. Audi? The affordable Q7s ($98–$107K) are diesels. BMW? The cheapest petrol alternative from Munich is a four-cylinder petrol-electric 40e hybrid that’s $10K pricier. ’Benz? The petrol V6-powered ‘43’ enters up at $134K, while Maserati’s equivalent wants for $170K. If you want a premium petrol-powered all-paw SUV to cross-shop against the base Cayenne for similar money, your choice might be more limited than you think: Volvo XC90 and Rangie Sport – albeit 2.0-litre fours and hybrids – and a choice of six-cylinder Lexus RXs.
With Porsche (temporarily) dropping diesel power like a hot, oily potato and looking to push harder towards a plug-in hybrid future – the Cayenne E-Hybrid arrives soon at $135,600 list – this reformatted entry-level petrol version finds itself as quite the enticing proposition for buyers who fancy turbo-six luxury SUV goodness, badge cachet notwithstanding.
That it does wear the Porsche crest and backs its pitch up with a highly polished and upmarket experience makes it look a bona-fide bargain, not merely within its own family, but well and truly on individual merit.