The first-ever Porsche Cayenne Coupe is everything the wagon version is and isn’t, if with a different roofline. Be it technically or experientially. That’ll either be a good or a bad thing, depending on personal perspective.
Porsche Australia had the base (just ‘Cayenne’), the middling S and high-spec Turbo version to sample at its brief one-day launch event in Canberra. Despite the variety on display, moving from one to the other during the drive program continued to reinforce the notion that the entire Cayenne breed is very good.
But, jeez, you’d have to back to back these new coupes with the established and familiar wagons to nitpick any practical differences whatsoever. This isn’t some new ‘sportier’ Cayenne experience anywhere other than visually.
For my money, this is good. Between the international launch in Greece in 2017 to our three-variant range review the following year, I’ve spent enough critical seat time in this third-generation large SUV to become convinced that Porsche got it right with the proper big-boot, five-seater version. And that it probably shouldn’t meddle too much with the DNA or the formula when it came to producing an alternative with a nicer looking, if potentially compromising, sloped coupe roofline and a questionable four-seat cabin arrangement.
I don’t quite believe Porsche really wanted to do a coupe version of Cayenne. It’s just that German contemporaries Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz had blazed the controversial trail prior, and now all have high-performance branded model iterations, which essentially forced Porsche to follow suit, like it or not.
Whatever the case may be, designers finally struck a cohesive and convincingly ‘Porsche’ look in gen-three of the once downright ugly Cayenne wagon. And with no small amount of pressure, they attempted to remodel the coupe version with more of a 911-esque façade. No easy task, then. But the coupe – and it is a coupe, by car design convention – execution is so successful that this Cayenne is much nicer looking from the waistline up than it is anywhere below it.
More windshield rake, plumper hips, new sheetmetal everywhere aft of the A-pillar: there’s a lot of stylistic massaging in subtle enhancement to get the coupe look ‘right’. Or, at least, an arguably more cohesive design than some rival coupe SUVs.
Outside of that, specific differences between the coupe and wagon families are pretty slim. The newie is 30mm longer and 18mm wider in the remodeled result, but apart from offering one-inch larger rolling stock, a retractable rear wing, and the addition of standard Power Steering Plus (sportier steering feel) and Sport Chrono (sportier driving mode options), features and spec are interchangeable with the wagon.
We’ve covered pricing and spec here but the short of it is that a sportier look and slightly sportier specification commands a larger outlay of between $10k and $12k depending on the variant. They’re not unexpected or outrageous premiums though the impact of value for money really comes down how attractive the added sportiness is to the buyer’s tastes.
There are, though, other observations. It comes standard as a dedicated four-seater that, while adhering to a classist mantra about the coupe format, seems quite ludicrous for a modern, large, family-oriented SUV. Thankfully, a five-seater rear bench is a no-cost option and, we advise, perhaps an essential one, if only because it undoubtedly makes for a more desirable resale proposal.
Further, Porsche doesn’t mind a lengthy options list and can charge a pretty penny or three for some listed items. For example, our Turbo test car’s standard pricing of $253,600 list balloons to $280,970 before on roads with extras that include Lava Orange paint ($5000), a sports exhaust ($5970), rear-axle steering ($4300), Torque Vectoring Plus ($3120), head-up display ($3070) and a smattering of other features. Point is, a quarter-mil outlay doesn’t buy you admission to an all-you-can-eat Turbo smorgasbord.
Our drive experience, though, starts with the $128,000 base Cayenne Coupe. And it’s the first impression that the coupe version is overwhelmingly indifferent to the wagon form behind the wheel. At half the price of the Turbo, it goes on to reinforce the same impression we had from our three-way wagon shootout in that, on the balance of the daily SUV experience, the entry version is way more than half the car. And it’s accomplished, upmarket and downright impressive enough in the user experience that it’s really all the Cayenne a good many owners will want for.
It sits on 20-inch wheels standard and is the only variant on steel sprung (if adaptive damped) suspension, but in a good many ways the ride and handling package is more satisfying and resolved than the air suspension fitted to S and Turbo. There’s a little more genuine feel and connection to the road, a little tighter body control, and it’s not quite as ‘wooden’ as the air system becomes in its firmer settings.
At 250kW and 450Nm, the ‘family’ single-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 found in all corners of the Volkswagen-Audi Group’s wider portfolio is quiet literally generates half the output count of the ultimate Turbo S E-Hybrid version, though it remains a refined, eager and generally unflustered unit that doesn’t feel undercooked hauling around 2030kg of SUV plus loved ones and luggage.
If there’s one purely subjective criticism with the base version, it’s that it looks half-baked unless you splurge extra for larger 21s ($5130) or 22s ($7260-$8260) to fully compliment the added $11,400 forked out for the coupe look to begin with. And, while we’re at it, a further $2300 for some tasty metallic paint.
Frankly, you need to step up to the S version, at $166,200 list, for the powertrain mojo to properly measure up to the Coupe’s sporty pretence. At this point, you get the lustier and, importantly, more raucous 2.9-litre biturbo V6 outputting significantly higher 324kW and 550Nm outputs that smartens pace from the base version’s leisurely six-second 0-100km/h sprint to more fitting five-second-flat performance.
We managed just 50 kilometres of mixed sealed and broken country road driving in the S but it’s enough to suggest that the sporty coupe pitch really wants for the added verve even if the SUV side of the equation doesn’t necessarily need for it. If, as we’d discovered prior, the entry variant really is the sweet spot in the wagon range, this mid-range S powertrain makes the coupe version fittingly more complete.
The S gets air suspension but wants extra ($6870) for the Dynamic Chassis Control loaded into the Turbo, but at a brisk and enthusiastic if legal clip on public roads the ride and handling doesn’t feel to lack for its absence. The brakes, too, are measurable larger six-piston units on the pointy end compared with the base car’s four-pot design, and there’s just more confidence underfoot when you want to push on a bit.
The S weighs just 20kg more than the base version – purely academic by the seat of the pants – and despite being a second swifter to 100km/h it’s ostensibly no thirstier, their combined claims (9.9L plays 10.0L) nigh on lineball. Kudos to the S, then.
The flipside is that it takes a deep dive through the features list to find much of an upgrade in niceties for the S’s $38,200 extra spend outside of powertrain, suspension and braking. Inside, for instance, the S brings seat heating, stainless steel pedals and 710-watt Bose sound, but they’re otherwise identical.
As you do, we saved the quarter-mil Turbo for last. It’s a huge ($87,400) leap up the investment tree from the S but brings with it a magnitude of extra purpose in almost every way. Even parked up, the lower spec versions are tough to pick apart, while the biturbo V8 behemoth strikes a distinguished presence, with or without that alarming Lava Orange paintwork.
Indeed, equally alarming is its manner once you sink the right foot and the Turbo flings its formidable 2.2-tonne heft towards the horizon, covering the march off the mark to triple figures in just 3.9 seconds. And complete with a Ride of the Valkyries soundtrack from four litres of force-induced bent eight fury generating 404kW and 770Nm. Alarming, too, is the sheer retardation of thing when you squeeze its preposterously humongous ten- and four-piston ‘surface coated’ brakes. And then there’s fuel consumption, returning 12s on the highway and 16s driven sensibly around town.
The Turbo really is a demonstration in the sort of excess that some suitably cashed-up buyers may consider is the only option. But in terms of dynamic ability for what Porsche calls a “five-door sportcar” range, I’m not convinced the Turbo is any better on a twisty road than its measurably more affordable S stablemate.
Sure, it’s got the brakes to arrive quicker into the corner and the poke to exit a curve more swiftly. But at a sane pace on public hotmix, they both leverage road-holding grip identical 285mm front and 315mm rear rubber footprints on similar suspension architecture and in the mid-corner, where dynamic ability really counts, the Turbo is managing an extra 150 kilos of weight.
But let’s get one thing clear: two-plus-tonne SUVs aren’t sportscars by any conventional definition. Sportscars have light weight and lithe handling. Fast (S) and faster (Turbo) SUVs leverage grip, smarts and brute force to negotiate curves. These are impressive performance and high-performance machines, but not terribly genuine facsimiles of a bona-fide sportscar experience.
Suitably, the Turbo feels cream of the crop inside. It gets a bespoke wheel and instrumentation, 18-way adaptive front seats, with unique smooth finish leather trim, four-zone climate control and other neat touches such as Alcantara headlining and cross brushed aluminium trim inserts.
Importantly, there’s no perceivable compromise in practicality or spaciousness, apart from the daft four-seat configuration. The rear seat base has been lowered to compensate for the sloping roofline, so headroom is more or less the same as the wagon. And while the coupes loses around 170 litres of bootspace to the wagons, the volumetric loss is directly under the glass area where useable space is impacted the least. Strangely, the Turbo’s 600L and 1510L measures with the rear seating up or down loses 25L and 30L respectively against the base and S coupes.
While Josh favoured the base Cayenne Coupe at the range’s international launch a few months back, I reckon the S made the compelling argument of the trio on mixed Aussie terra firma. Given the sporty pretensions prescribed by the bodystyling, the base car feels a little lacking in mojo on a nut and bolt level. And as intoxicating as the Turbo is, its excess in performance and outlay doesn’t necessarily augment pure sportiness in a genuine manner.
There’s just something about the vibe of S that’s not overly heavy or lightweight, but just right for where Porsche seems to be positioning its latest coupe-ish venture.