We drove the all-new third-gen Cayenne: this is still the SUV to beat.
A quick scan of Porsche’s financials over the past 15 years will tell you that the Cayenne and not the sports cars have been contributing the most to the company’s healthy annual balance sheet. And more recently, the Macan and Panamera have added their share to these significant black numbers. Fans of the much lower volume Porsche sports cars should be grateful, since the continued development of these more exciting models is predicated on the success of these four and five-seat 4WD models.
While the first two Cayenne models shared their platform with the VW Touareg, the latest car is built on the VW Group MLB platform, which is also common to the Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentayga. It is 63 mm longer than before, 23 mm wider and 9 mm lower, while space utilization is improved by using a moveable rear seatback that can give the boot an extra 100 liters capacity, bringing it to 770 liters. The cabin is where you can see the most radical changes, and the center of attention is the big 12.3-inch touchscreen, with two 7.0-inch displays in the instrument cluster.
Other state-of-the-art electronic features of the fully networked PCM (Porsche Communication Management) system are online navigation, LTE telephone module, Intelligent online voice control, WiFi hotspot, Porsche Connect services and four USB ports. While diesel and hybrid models will be along shortly, for now there are two V6 and one V8 engines, all linked to a new eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle shifters. All engines are turbocharged, but the base 3.0-liter gas engine has just one turbo, while the 2.9-liter V6 in the Cayenne S has two, as does the V8 engine in the Turbo.
The entry-level Cayenne’s 2,995cc single turbo engine makes 340 hp between 5,300 and 6,400 rpm, and torque is 331 lb-ft of torque from a low 1,340 rpm until 5,300 rpm. All models are lighter than before, and at 1,985 kg, this base model is 55 kg lighter than its equivalent predecessor, the first ever Cayenne to come in under two tons. With 0-60 mph coming up in 5.9 sec (5.6 sec Sport Plus) and 100 mph reached in 14.1 sec (13.8 sec with Sport Plus) and a 152 mph top speed, the Cayenne is brisk rather than rapid by Porsche standards. The twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 in the Cayenne S makes a healthy 440 hp between 5,700 and 6,600rpm, underpinned by 405 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,500 rpm.
That is enough to thrust this 2,020 kg SUV (65 kg lighter) to 60 mph in just 4.9 sec, and to 100 mph in 11.6 sec. These numbers tumble to an even more impressive 4.6 and 11.3 sec respectively if you have the optional Sport Plus package, and top speed is pegged at 165 mph, which is going some for an SUV. To put that in perspective, any car that could break the 20 second mark to 100 mph in the 1980s was considered quick. Today a big, heavy SUV that can almost halve this number is remarkable, and this is not even the most powerful model in the Cayenne range! Fuel economy? Porsche claim a combined average of 9.2 L/100km for the Cayenne S that I drove first, which is 25 mpg (US).
After a hard cross-country blast with some highway driving too I tallied an 11.7 L/100km average on the trip computer, which works out at 20.1mpg (US). Like all these manufacturers numbers, real world driving with multiple stop lights, unpredictable traffic, and occasional full throttle overtaking skews the whole equation. With this in mind the numbers I got are not at all bad for a big, heavy SUV being driven spiritedly. A significant change to the latest Cayenne’s footwear comes with the move to wider rear wheels and tires, putting the flagship Porsche SUV on the same handling and grip ideology course as its sports car range.
Porsche uses three-chamber air suspension on both the latest Cayenne and Panamera to deliver as wide a performance envelope as possible in terms of ride comfort on the one hand and handling and grip on the other. However, you cannot change the laws of physics and there is no getting away from the fact that the Cayenne is a much taller vehicle with a higher center of gravity. Thus, it needs to be a be a bit stiffer to resist roll, so while its ride is comfortably better than before it still cannot match the limousine like comfort of its lower and sleeker Panamera sister.
It was also interesting to compare the ride quality of the Cayenne S models I drove on the basic 19-inch wheels with one on 20s and the Turbo, which has 21-inch footwear as standard. Surprisingly there was a lot less in it than you would think, which shows how well the chassis engineers and their tire suppliers have resolved this issue. However, the extra mechanical grip of the wider rubber is indisputable. Capable of covering ground rapidly, the Cayenne S proved to possess enough sheer grunt to exit bends with satisfying thrust, and then shrink the straights in between. As this is a Porsche, the soundtrack is also important and the V6 gives off a lovely howl in the distance under firm acceleration.
It sounds especially good if you drop the window in a tunnel, the counterpoint being the fact that you can dial the muted soundtrack level up or down with your right foot when you are cruising. Thus, at 80 mph on the highway on a light throttle the cabin is bereft of engine noise and with the supportive seats with the option of heating and fan cooling, you could put away 500 or more miles in a day in relative comfort. Better still this large, refined cabin allows you to best experience the fine detail and sound staging of the optional Burmester audio system. If the V6 powered Cayenne S is a good all rounder, as with the E1 and E2 generations, the twin-turbo V8 is undoubtedly the engine that makes the Cayenne Turbo.
From the moment you turn the key and it bursts into growling life, the V8 motor sound angry. It gives the Cayenne Turbo a proper grown-up feeling, and even before you bury the throttle in the carpet for the first time, the Turbo sounds and feels exactly how a flagship Cayenne should. The 3,996 cc twin-turbo V8 develops a rousing 550 hp between 5,750 and 6,000 rpm, with a stump pulling 567 lb-ft of torque between 1,960 and 4,500 rpm. While the Turbo S weighs a substantial 2,175 kg, all that extra power and torque put it on another plane altogether.
Without reference to the vehicle to which these numbers are attached, you would think that 0-60 mph in 3.9 sec (3.7 with Sport Plus) and 0-100 mph in 9.4 sec (9.2 sec with Sport Plus) defined the performance of a junior league supercar, even if its 178 mph falls a bit short. The Cayenne Turbo even beats the latest turbocharged 991.2 Carrera against the stopwatch. The extra weight in the nose gives the car subjectively greater heft and feeling of purpose as goes down the road, even at speeds below 40 mph. However, when you start to really motor, the Turbo makes you realize those wider rear wheels and tires are not just for show, but are actually necessary.
More than once, I felt the back end wiggle when I deployed the full might of the V8 motor in second gear on a dry road. Even with the clever diffs hunting for optimum traction by shunting power between the two axles and each individual wheel, it was clear that the big hit of raw torque was able to momentarily overcome the mechanical grip of the big rear tires. For the experienced driver that means a lot of fun can be had when you have the space to play in safely. The narrow, twisty and occasionally bumpy mountain road part of our test route was very challenging for such a big vehicle, and I quickly found that the optional rear steering was worth every penny it costs.
This effectively makes the car ‘shorter’ and more agile at low speeds, and ‘longer’ and more stable at high speed, so negotiating bends of all stripes is made that much easier. Turning into a bend under trail braking to settle the nose was noticeably aided by the rear steering, and the optional active anti-roll bars whose potential 885 lb-ft of twist comes from electric motors powered by the partial 48-volt power supply. Plenty of throttle past the apex actually delivered power oversteer exiting slow bends in second gear. The Turbo is undoubtedly the drivers’ car of the Cayenne range and is indecently fast for a car of its size and weight.
Some rival SUVs like the Range Rover Sport might appear to have sporting pretensions, but they could not live with the Cayenne Turbo on challenging roads like these. So does the third generation Cayenne still rule the roost? Better in every way than its predecessor, its character is down to the engine you choose. The Turbo is a real hot rod and the one that puts the biggest smile on my face, but for most people the Cayenne S will be the best all rounder, and its comprehensive blend of strengths makes it the best car in its class.