New Porsche Cayenne: the lowdown
Love it or loathe it, the Cayenne has done wonders for Porsche's profitability. Purists can argue all day long that it diluted the brand DNA with all those common VW 4x4 genes - but there's no questioning its commercial success. Now, four years after launch, it's time for a mid-life nip 'n' tuck. Porsche has wielded the scalpel to undo some of the damage caused by the ugly stick at birth; new lights front and rear, a redesigned grille and the availability of 21-inch wheels mark out the latest model. It's still no beauty, but the softened looks may offend fewer Porschephiles. However, the biggest changes lie under the skin: each engine gets direct fuel injection to achieve the seemingly contradictory goals of better economy and extra power; and the Cayenne is the first Porsche with the option of active anti-roll suspension (more of which later).
Which models are available this time round?
There's still a three-rung range, of varying degrees of lunacy. The entry-level Cayenne gets a brawny new 3.6-litre V6 boasting an extra 40bhp and 24 percent more torque over the old 3.2 (both engines are VW-sourced). Considering the extra muscle on tap, the £1540 price hike to £37,100 doesn't seem too bad. Joint biggest seller in the UK is the Cayenne S. For your £46,610, you step up to V8 power, now with an extra 300cc taking the bent eight to 4.8 litres and 385bhp. You can pick a six-speed manual or auto on both the Cayenne and S, although we'd recommend ordering the auto on both. For SUV fans who love nothing more than scaring Ferraris (and their bank managers), there's always the £74,650 Turbo. It bolts not one but two turbochargers to the V8 to swell power to 500bhp and is only available as an auto. Naturally, the Turbo also comes with every conceivable luxury, including leather-trimmed dashboard, a DVD sat-nav system and Bose surround sound. Lovers of bling, look no further.
Sounds like it's a lot faster than the old one?
You bet. The Turbo hammers to 62mph in just 5.1sec and feels every bit as fast as that 911-threatening time suggests; there's also a delicious V8 rumble as you prod the throttle and unleash serious, seat-squeezing acceleration. The blurred landscape melting past the windscreen is quite at odds with the SUV driving position. Quite addictive.
The naturally aspirated Cayenne S is a better bet in the real world; it's still quick (6.6sec to 62mph) and has a fruity exhaust note, but with a marginally lesser greed for fuel. Keep the word 'economy' in perspective,though: we're talking 20.6mpg against the Turbo's 19mpg. The brakes on all models are as powerful as you'd expect of a Porsche, wiping off speed confidently and reliably on our hilly test route.
What of the budget-spec Cayenne? Well, it's adequately rapid for most needs, but you'll have to thrash the V6 to maintain progress up hills or when fully laden. Equipped with the six-speed auto, as most owners will, it ends up hunting for lower ratios with some abrupt cog-swapping and distinctly unpremium clatter. This entry model will be too noisy for many tastes, and its 21.9mpg is barely better than the V8s'.
Can a two-tonne Porsche really handle?
Pay attention, because this is one of the major highlights on the Cayenne. The BMW X5 was the first premium SUV to introduce sports saloon handling to the 4x4 market - but the Cayenne takes things on to a new level. For such a heavy car (2160kg upwards), this thing is incredibly poised along a twisty back road. There's plenty of grip, naturally, and the steering is accurate, well weighted.
But the real trick here is the new optional anti-roll system. An active anti-roll bar acts independently on either wheel at each axle, limiting body roll; the car corners neutrally with zero lean until you're developing 0.65g of lateral acceleration. The engineers dialled in some roll at this point to warn drivers they're approaching the limit.
It's deeply impressive. We drove Cayennes with and without Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control and it keeps thing tidy even when hustled through an arm-twirling slalom at speed. Cars with PDCC are much more comfortable and do away with the usual body-swaying that tall, heavy off-roaders are prone to suffer. You'll have to dig deep, though; you need the £1973 air suspension first (optional on all but the Turbo) before you can tick the box for PDCC. And wave goodbye to a further £2140. Ouch.
What's the Cayenne like inside?
You won't mistake this for anything other than a Porsche; switchgear and design themes echo the general look sired by the 911 over the years. Some of the buttons are a bit fiddly, then, but the controls are where you'd expect and it's all lovingly crafted. The Cayenne feels built to last. There's loads of room, too, although not quite as much leg and foot space for rear-seat passengers as in some rivals. The boot is large and flat, and you can specify no end of electrical gizmos to lift the tailgate or swing out the tow bar. Honestly, are modern motorists really that lazy?
Browse used Porsche Cayennes for sale
I know, I know - it's a Porsche... but what if I do mount that Chelsea kerb and head for the wilds?
We didn't get the chance to throw the Cayenne around an off-road track on the official launch in Spain; heavy rain and a deep frost forced worried officials to cancel the mud-splattering exercise - and that speaks volumes about the car's purpose. The Cayenne is designed for on-road endeavour, not crossing the Sahara. However, should you need to tow a horsebox or cross a muddy field, it should equip itself well. The four-wheel drive system shunts power to either axle depending on traction and you can specify a hard-core off-roading pack, complete with lockable rear diff and underbody armour for an extra £1514. In day to day driving, even on slippery roads, drive is sent 38/62 front/rear and traction simply isn't an issue. Another neat trick of the PDCC chassis option is that the anti-roll bar is effectively disengaged during off-roading, allowing even greater wheel articulation.
It's hard not to walk away impressed from the Cayenne. It goes, stops and steers better than any other premium SUV and it's a practical, well built package. The controversial looks have mellowed with age, but it's still no looker and there will remain those who rue the day Porsche branched out from its sports-car roots. Our major concern is the refinement of the noisy V6 entry model, but elsewhere Porsche has polished what was already a successful product. That the new model is quicker, more economical and better to drive merely seals the deal. If you can reconcile the Stuttgart badge stuck on the bonnet of an off-roader, you can't go far wrong here.