First Drive: 2018 Porsche Cayenne

Thomas Falkiner samples the new Porsche Cayenne across the rural roads of the Western Cape.

17 September 2018 - 13:52 By Thomas Falkiner
The new Porsche Cayenne Turbo
The new Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Image: Porsche AG

Stop the boat — is this really an 'all-new' Porsche Cayenne or just another one of those sneaky facelifts masquerading as such?

Oh stop being such a cynic. Yes, what you’re looking at here is the all-new-from-the-ground-up, third-generation Porsche Cayenne: that much-loved — or much- derided, depending on what side of the fence you sit — SUV that has been nothing but a runaway sales success for the Zuffenhausen brand since its initial launch back in 2002.

Yep, if it wasn’t for the Cayenne there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be blessed with sweet nuggets of road candy such as the Cayman GT4 and 911 GT2 RS. Speaking of which, Cayenne version 3.0 borrows much from the current 911 in terms of exterior styling. From that chiselled nose, sloping roofline and wide derrière, the new Cayenne gives a hearty hat-tip to the marque’s headlining sports car. Especially at the rear where that light bar bridges the two tail lamps.

Compared to the outgoing model the third-generation Cayenne is 63mm longer (though the wheelbase remains the same), 9mm lower courtesy of that reduced roof height and 55kg lighter thanks to the more liberal use of gravity-cheating alloys. All the exterior body panels, for example, are now made from aluminium.

What’s happening underneath the bonnet? What engines can we expect?

Porsche’s new range-topping SUV comes in three flavours. The entry-level Cayenne gets a single turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 that’s good for 250kW and 450Nm. It offers strong performance and is, quite honestly, all the motor you’ll ever need in a machine of this ilk.

Next up is the Cayenne S, which comes loaded with a twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 capable of 324kW and 550Nm. Slow it is not. Flirting with the realm of the ridiculous is the Cayenne Turbo: a proper blacktop bruiser armed with 404kW and 770Nm courtesy of a 4.0-litre V8 force-fed by two turbochargers.

It culminates in obscene levels of performance. Well, obscene for an SUV, that is. Porsche claims a maximum speed of 286km/h for the Turbo and I got within 20km/h of that — frighteningly easily. Regardless of what model you choose all get the same eight-speed Tiptronic S gearbox.

Though not quite as sharp as the Porsche PDK transmission, it still snaps through the cogs with a satisfying efficiency. One thing to note is that the new Cayenne no longer comes with the option of a diesel motor. Yeah, you can thank Dieselgate for this. There is an E-Hybrid model though, if that’s your thing.

New Porsche Cayenne
New Porsche Cayenne
Image: Supplied

There’s a Porsche crest stuck to this thing — it must handle well right?

Spot on. You might think I’m being biased here but the cold, hard truth is that Porsche doesn’t build an ill-handling car these days. The new Cayenne is testament to this. Find a challenging ribbon or rural asphalt and you’ll discover that it changes direction with a delicacy that belies its close on two-ton kerb weight. It’s most impressive.

Even more so on the Cayenne S, which features Porsche’s tried-and-tested adaptive damper system as standard. The most impressive whip of them all, however, is the mighty Turbo model. Decked out with the firm’s trick new three-chamber air suspension system, optional rear-wheel steer and active roll stabilisation, the pace I was capable of carrying through corners was staggering.

With a good driver at the helm, the Turbo has the capacity to hunt down and devour traditional two-seater sports cars with ease. Criticisms? Well if I have to nitpick I’d say that new Cayenne has lost a bit of steering feedback — particularly around the centre point and on initial turn in. The previous model seemed a little crisper and more detailed in this department. But then again does this really matter on a large, family-sized SUV

Be honest — can it really go off the beaten track?

Though most Porsche Cayennes will probably never leave the asphalt, they do have the potential to perform a certain amount of bundu bashing. All models come equipped with an active all-wheel drive system that automatically, and depending on conditions, distributes torque between the front and rear axles.

Porsche also gives you four pre-programmed off-road modes — Mud, Gravel, Sand and Rocks — that tweak the car’s drivetrain, differential locks and chassis to suit. Specify the optional air suspension system and you get some pretty decent off-road assault numbers too: maximum ground clearance clocks in at 245mm while the front and rear slope angles sit at 27.1- and 24.1-degrees respectively. Wading depth? You’re looking at a fairly reasonable 525mm — should be enough for most.

The interior of the old Cayenne was a bit of a dog’s breakfast — has Porsche improved upon it?

I agree — the interior of the previous Cayenne was let down by a rather messy explosion of buttons and switches. This time things couldn’t be more different as the new Cayenne has adopted the sleek and ultra-streamlined Porsche Advanced Cockpit layout first seen in the current Panamera.

Anchored by a massive 12.3-inch touchscreen plus a centre console peppered with intuitive haptic feedback buttons hidden beneath a black glass-look surface, it represents a quantum leap in usability. Fortunately it’s not all digital trickery as Porsche has retained some old-school analogue switches for easy, no-eyes-required adjustment of crucial things like temperature and fan-speed — rival manufacturers like Volvo should take note of this.

No matter what model you pick, all come standard with satellite navigation, park distance control, cruise control, voice control (handy when you absolutely have to keep your eyes on the road ahead) and twin HD driving data displays housed inside the instrument binnacle.

Sounds like a class act. So, which one is your pick?

I loved the ridiculous, almost comical speed of the Cayenne Turbo but, quite honestly, if the money were mine I would choose the entry-level Cayenne with the optional (R66 670) adaptive air suspension system. Possibly the optional (R32 320) Off-Road Package too.

Fast Facts: Porsche Cayenne

Engine: 2995cc V6 Turbo

Power: 250kW at 5 300rpm

Torque: 450Nm at 1 340rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

0-100km/h: 6.2-seconds (claimed)

Top Speed: 245km/h (claimed)

Fuel Consumption: 9.2l/100km (claimed combined)

Price: From R1 192 000