2023 Porsche Cayenne S returns to top form

V8 power makes all the difference

28 November 2023 - 09:08
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In typical Porsche fashion, the styling updates are minor.
In typical Porsche fashion, the styling updates are minor.
Image: Supplied

The Boxster is widely credited as the model that rescued Porsche from its commercial slump as the new millennium approached. 

But it was the Cayenne that really catapulted the famed Stuttgart manufacturer into mainstream market success, becoming an instant sales hit, even if the purists scoffed at the prospect of a sport-utility vehicle donning the golden crest emblem. 

It might have appeared ungainly in original form, with a 911-inspired countenance grafted onto a bulky frame. But this was in the early days of the performance-orientated SUV: it never mattered that the Cayenne looked strange, it mattered that it was the first of a breed. 

Fellow Germans BMW and Mercedes-Benz had the X5 and ML-Class respectively. Volkswagen had the Touareg, which shared a basic structure with the Cayenne. But none of these could match the Porsche dynamically, as it was imbued, in typical fashion, with the sporting hallmarks expected from the firm. 

Having turned 20 last year, the nameplate has come of age. And throughout its evolution, the stylistic character of the model has matured considerably into a contemporary icon, much like other Porsche models. 

We have grown accustomed to the design template of the Cayenne and similar ilk. Nowadays, virtually every high-end manufacturer worth mentioning has a performance-orientated SUV of some variety. That includes Lamborghini and Ferrari. 

In 2019 Porsche offered another expression of its Cayenne, in coupé format. It retained a practical five-door configuration, adopting a sloping roofline vs the upright, wagon-like rear of the familiar standard version. 

Sounds like a straightforward job, but there are subtler nuances to the mode you could only identify parking the siblings side by side.

The front roof edge is positioned lower, while its revised doors and wings make for a slightly wider girth. To offset the headroom compromise of the tapered roof, the rear seat bench is purportedly set 30mm lower than in a standard Cayenne. 

Buyers get slightly less space in the luggage compartment, but this trade-off is unlikely to matter. The intended audience is shelling out for a sleeker, more aerodynamic silhouette, in addition to exclusivity. 

Porsche aficionados know that when it comes to product life cycles, the brand adopts a conservative approach. A Porsche is never radically changed from one iteration to the next. 

Coupé body adds further credence to sporting ambitions of Cayenne.
Coupé body adds further credence to sporting ambitions of Cayenne.
Image: Supplied

Earlier this year Porsche released the updated Cayenne range. A slightly more assertive frontal design, restyled rear lighting clusters and fresh colour options comprise the notable visual tweaks. Matrix LED headlamps are now standard. 

But customers will find more significant revisions inside and in the case of the S version we drove, under the hood. 

The gear selector has been moved from the centre console to the fascia, left of the driver. Porsche says the intention was to declutter, creating space for further storage spaces and more elegant ventilation slots. 

My smartphone fitted snugly in the newly created compartment, which also benefits from cool air courtesy of the climate-control system. 

The door release levers of old, which offered a satisfying tactility akin to gripping the handle of a mug, have been swapped out. Black-hued metallic slivers now do the job.

Also new is the 12.6-inch digital instrument cluster ahead of the driver. Rates well for clarity and display, but my eyes yearned for the analogue clusters of before, with their precise markings, slim red needles and other meticulous details. For the passenger, a separate 10.9-inch screen can be optioned, allowing control of infotainment functions. 

Build quality is textbook Porsche. That said, the brand should consider relegating piano black inlays to the early 2000s, where they belong. 

The Cayenne S was powered by a 2,894cc V6, delivering 324kW and 550Nm. Now, the V6 options in the range comprise the base model, E-Hybrid and S E-Hybrid, using the proven 2,995cc turbocharged-petrol. 

Slightly confusing to those of us on the outside, but Porsche buyers generally know what they want when it comes to flavours. 

This updated, third-generation S heralds the return to V8 power, as was the case with the S derivatives in the first- and second-generation models.

It uses the same boosted motor found in the Turbo E-Hybrid and Turbo GT derivatives, but in a milder state of tune. 

Displacement is 3,996cc, output is 349kW and 600Nm. A hearty set of numbers, complemented by a claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.7 seconds. 

In the current climate of road-shredding electric vehicles able to sprint to 100km/h from standstill in under three seconds, the acceleration of the Cayenne S is described as expedient, not earth-shattering. 

More digitisation for the interior.
More digitisation for the interior. 
Image: Supplied

The average buyer will find it more than sufficient. He or she might not even care too much for that type of straight-line business, instead taking pleasure from the soulful acoustics of the V8. 

In 2023, authentic, unfiltered sounds, from a large-displacement motor, are a rarity. 

On cold start the Cayenne S fires up with a boisterous tone, settling down into a very sultry, rhythmic idle.

Flooring it reveals a throaty rumble that is as addictive as it is empowering, punctuated by animalistic chortles and mighty rips from the quad-tailpipes. A true V8 symphony and easily one of the best soundtracks of its kind still available today. Its eight-speed automatic will allow for limiter-bouncing fun when manual mode is engaged, offering buttery shifts when left to its own devices. 

The Cayenne S coupé strikes a pleasant balance, obviously not as visceral as the Turbo GT in its overall makeup, nor is it as tame as the standard car. 

With unladen mass of just over 2,000kg; it is a heavy vehicle. The fitment of pneumatics, bolstered by the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) electronic systems, ensure dynamic handling abilities and assured cruising manners when not exploiting the loud pedal. The change in feel from snarling Sport Plus mode to docile Normal is quite distinctive. 

There is a lot to be contemplated about the evolution of the automobile amid developments in electrification.

Porsche is no opponent of zero-emission, battery-powered propulsion, but it is nice to see that it remains well-versed in the practice of big displacements too. 

Cayenne coupé base pricing starts at R1,933,000. The S model is upwards of R2,232,000.

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