Review: Stripped-down Cayenne enhances Porsche's SUV mastery
Porsche has just launched its new third-generation Cayenne SUV, the most popular Porsche ever. Jack Evans puts it to the test
WHAT IS IT?
Since the first-generation Porsche Cayenne was unveiled in 2002, more than 770,000 units have been sold worldwide - making it the brand's most popular car. Now there's a new third-generation model, bringing with it better technology levels as well as elevated performance.
There are three models available from launch - Cayenne, S and Turbo - all offering a certain degree of sports-car-like performance transplanted in an SUV. We tested the middle-powered S.
There's quite a lot that has changed in the new Cayenne over the previous-generation car. It's lighter, for one, with weight stripped back thanks to an extensive use of aluminium throughout the body. All the engines on offer are downsized too but up on power - a benefit of turbocharging.
A new eight-speed gearbox has been fitted to provide seamless shifts, and rear-axle steering is now available - a first for the range - which comes alongside Porsche's new Surface Coated Brake, offering better stopping performance than a conventional brake. Inside, the Cayenne benefits from Porsche's latest infotainment system, similar to that found in the current-generation Panamera.
What's under the bonnet?
As mentioned, three powertrains are available with the new Cayenne - and we tested the middle-powered S. This uses a bi-turbo 2.9-litre V6 engine that produces 434bhp and an impressive 550bhp.
Sending power to all four wheels via an eight-speed gearbox, it allows the Cayenne S to hit 60mph in just 4.7 seconds with the Sport Chrono pack fitted (4.9 without) - a second quicker than the car it replaces. All Cayenne models feature Active Porsche Traction Management, which uses an electronically and map-controlled clutch to distribute torque between the wheels.
This means it can actively decide how much force to send to the front and rear axles, to generate the most amount of grip possible.
Our test car also featured four-wheel steering, which effectively shortens the wheelbase to make low-speed manoeuvres a little easier.
In addition, it came with air suspension and Porsche's latest Dynamic Chassis Control, which uses an electro-mechanical roll stabilisation system to effectively control the chassis.
In practice, it's hugely effective - and means the ride remains comfortable and supple when you need it to be, or taut when you're driving a little quicker. It must be mentioned that both of these features are optional extras.
What's it like to drive?
The first thing you notice when driving the new Cayenne is simply how well disguised the car's weight is. Despite being longer than the car it replaces, it's actually 65 kilograms lighter - and that makes a huge difference, particularly when cornering the car's lower bulk which, combined with Porsche's Dynamic Chassis Control and active roll stabilisation systems, means you get very little roll, and the entire vehicle feels planted throughout the bend.
The eight-speed automatic is happy to be left to its own devices but is accurate when you want to shift manually via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles - particularly in Sport and Sport Plus driving modes.
The engine is something of a triumph, too. Though smaller in capacity than the unit it replaces, it's no less potent, packing 17 extra horses. It revs freely and never feels lethargic despite the car's heft, but will happily settle down to a cruise, too. It even makes a pleasingly mechanical noise.
Our test car was fitted with upgraded ceramic brakes, which provide a huge amount of stopping performance.
In truth, they seem a touch over the top for the likes of the Cayenne S - we tested another Cayenne using the standard brake and this provides more than enough braking power for the middle-range S model - though the new Surface Coated Brakes are also excellent if you're after just an upgrade.
The steering, predictably from a Porsche car, is superbly set up. There's plenty of weight to it, and it remains accurate at both low and high speeds. It means that, despite the Cayenne's sheer size, you can place it on the road precisely where you want.
How does it look?
Still very much recognisable as a Cayenne, Porsche's latest SUV is arguably the most handsome incarnation yet - in our eyes at least. The front end is dominated by the larger air intakes, with both the Cayenne and Cayenne S models getting silver-coloured slats. New three-module LED lights give the Cayenne a more imposing look at night, while the integrated light strip at the rear is a styling trait we've already seen on the Panamera - and it looks just as good here.
What's it like inside?
The interior is a great place to be and worlds apart from the button-heavy cabin found in the previous-generation car. The large 12.3-inch infotainment screen gives access to media and navigation functions, and is clear to use as well as being impressively responsive.
Apple CarPlay is now included as standard to give seamless integration between your smartphone and the car's system, too.
The new touchscreen-style buttons surrounding the gearshift work smoothly, though the operations you use frequently remain analogue - you still change the stereo's volume via a roller switch, for instance.
It's also been made more practical than the previous model, with 100 litres of extra space to play with, totalling an impressive 770 litres with the seats up, rising to 1710 litres with them lowered. Despite this extra load area, there's still a decent amount of head- and legroom to be found in the back.
Everything is well put together, with soft leather used higher up the cabin and solid rubber-effect plastic used lower down.
What's the spec like?
The new Cayenne S comes in at £68,330, which is certainly not a small amount of money. However, it justifies this price tag with a distinct sense of quality, as well as a decent amount of standard material. Front and rear parking sensors come included in the base price, as does cruise control and LED headlights.
Of course, you also get the large infotainment system included as standard, which completely transforms the cabin. Being a Porsche, you could go quite overboard with the options list and quickly ramp up the price, but even as standard you're unlikely to be disappointed.
The new Cayenne needed to be pretty well sorted to live up to the reputation set by its predecessor and, thankfully, it is. Porsche always thought of the Cayenne as a 'sporty' SUV, and that's certainly the case with this latest model.
It rides and handles like a car half its size, while offering plenty of space and practicality. Given these first impressions, we predict that the new Cayenne will sell just as well as the old one.