20-inch Turbo wheels are optional; low-profile tyres don’t affect the ride too much.THE launch of the original Cayenne was controversial because many questioned Porsche’s decision to build an SUV. Now that the furore’s abated, however, we can focus on the elements that have made Zuffenhausen’s off-roader such a runaway success.
First, some numbers: last year, the Cayenne accounted for 52% of global Porsche sales and a staggering 61% in Middle East, African and Indian markets. It has undoubtedly contributed greatly to Zuffenhausen’s bank balance, in turn allowing the company to spend vast sums of development money on the Boxster, Cayman and 991-series 911 (and Macan) that have been launched since the second generation of the Cayenne saw the light three years ago. Porsche without the Cayenne is unthinkable. See how quickly the automotive landscape shifts?
In two previous tests of this model – the V6 Diesel in June 2011 and the Turbo a year later – we praised the Cayenne for its ability to seamlessly marry exciting on-road dynamics with one of the most practical interiors in the class. But, there were slight reservations with both models: we found the Turbo too expensive and thirsty, even considering its mega performance, while the Diesel just lacked the effortless oomph so associated with the brand. Porsche’s answer? Slot in a V8 turbodiesel from the Volkswagen Group under the vast bonnet and tune it to deliver more power than in other applications (the Touareg, for example) to – in theory – match the Turbo’s mid-range urge, while also maintaining fuel-economy levels that stand comparison with those of the V6 Diesel.
Developing a staggering 850 N.m (the highest figure for a current-production Porsche) from 2 000 to 2 750 r/min thanks to the use of two turbochargers, the S Diesel lifts its nose, drops its hind-quarters and scoots to 100 km/h in a mere 5,68 seconds, accompanied by an enchanting V8 rumble that’s halfway diesel, halfway old-school muscle car.
However, even more astounding (especially considering the oil-tanker mass of 2 360 kg) is in-gear acceleration: 80 to 120 km/h takes just 3,65 seconds. This isn’t far off the Turbo’s 3,09 seconds. In cut-and-thrust commuting, the latter feels no faster.
In fact, the Cayenne S Diesel is the quickest-accelerating diesel-powered vehicle that CAR has ever put through its extensive road-test programme (yes, we checked: the Audi Q7 6,0 V12 TDI was slower).
The eight-speed ZF-developed automatic transmission copes extremely well with what must be immense loads; in traffic, it shifts seamlessly between gears and, when the need arises to delve into the vast torque reserves, it shifts as quickly as a dual-clutch ‘box, even when left in its default mode.
It’s testament to the inherent quality of the Cayenne that this engine/transmission combination doesn’t dominate the driving experience, but simply adds to what is already one of the most accomplished road-biased SUVs. Cayennes come standard with a passive suspension system comprising double wishbones upfront and a multilink system at the rear. However, our test unit boasted Porsche Active Suspension Management with air suspension (at a not-inconsiderable R49 680) that allows the driver to toggle between comfort, normal and sport modes on the damping system. It also features self-levelling and six different ride heights.
Misgivings about the possible effects of the optional 275/45 tyres and 20-inch wheels (R40 550 for the set) on the ride comfort were short-lived. Admittedly firm on broken road surfaces, the suspension never ventures into the crashy spectrum of the scale. It’s by no means a Mercedes-Benz M-Class in terms of absorbency, but few people would complain when you take into account how light on its feet the Cayenne feels. It steers deftly, grips like no 2,4-tonne vehicle has a right to and always feels utterly composed. Porsche may have ventured far from its original recipe when it created the Cayenne, but the Zuffenhausen DNA infuses every seam and screw of this large SUV.
The rest is business as usual: the design is ageing well and thankfully possesses very little of the first-generation model’s gawkiness; the cabin is expertly constructed and spacious fore and aft; and the standard specification is as thin as you’d expect from a Porsche (it’s a
R1 million SUV that doesn’t even have auto-dimming rear-view mirrors, xenon headlamps or sat-nav as standard).
And what of its fuel consumption? There’s a dubious Italian expression that states, “You cannot have the barrel full and your wife drunk.” This unequivocally does not apply to the Cayenne S Diesel. On our standardised 150 km fuel route, a mixture of traffic-heavy town driving and highway cruising, it consumed only 8,5 litres/100 km.
Yet, it rivals sportcars in terms of performance. What’s more, it’s refined, comfortable, spacious, extremely well built and a joy to drive. Our only major bugbear is that you simply do not get enough equipment for the outlay. Otherwise, it’s near impossible to fault.