CRETE, Greece – When Porsche announced that it was going to build an SUV at the turn of the century, purists were not pleased (me included). That a firm so dedicated to sportscar production since its very inception was prepared to dilute its brand was unfathomable.
But, 770 000 units sold worldwide since the Cayenne debuted in 2002 indicates that this was a pragmatic business approach that makes Porsche one of the most profitable vehicle manufacturers in the world. The Cayenne is a certainly a popular seller and since the current model is just about eight years old, it’s time for a replacement.
So, what’s new?
Well, all of it actually. This third-generation Cayenne is all-new from the ground up. It incorporates several technologies developed within the company, some previously only seen on its sportscars, more of which in a bit.
To the untrained eye, or to the cynics, this may look very much like the outgoing model, but since 500 000 buyers favoured the looks over competitor products, Porsche has made sure to maintain a strong visual resemblance to the predecessor.
Look closely and you’ll note the headlamp graphic that has been passed down from the 918 hypercar, now a signature of the entire family. At the rear are slim taillamps, connected by a body-width red strip, similar to that of the new Panamera, and a design cue that helps differentiate it from its smaller sibling, the Macan, at a glance.
Overall, the new Cayenne has grown just a touch, gaining 63 mm in total length and 23 mm in width. The height, meanwhile, has been dropped by 9 mm. According to Porsche, there is also an extra 100 litres of luggage space available in the boot.
The very smallest standard wheel size is now 19 inches in diameter. The rear spoiler is an active unit that deploys according to current conditions or selected drive mode. The angle of attack can vary from 6 to 28,2 degrees, the latter when used as an airbrake.
In the cabin
Thankfully, Porsche has changed its approach to interior design. The previous Cayenne and Panamera were chockfull of buttons, with nearly every function having a dedicated switch.
The new treatment is far simpler and more elegant in execution. A 12,3-inch, full-colour touchscreen interface controls most major functions, from navigation and entertainment to car settings and connectivity.
More frequently used systems, such as ventilation controls, still have physical buttons, though these are found under a smooth, black panel sited on the console surrounding the gear lever.
Under the new bodywork is an all-wheel-drive system that constantly varies the front-to-rear torque split, depending on driving conditions and driver inputs. New three- as opposed to two-chamber air-springs are employed, which allow for faster suspension responses.
The innovative anti-roll system has been retained, now driven by more powerful electrical architecture. For the first time, active rear-wheel steering has been fitted to a Cayenne.
Similar to that found in a 911, the system turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speeds, to improve manoeuvrability, and in the same direction to the fronts to improve stability at higher speeds.
Under the hood
For now, there are just three models in line-up. The base-spec Cayenne is powered by a 3,0-litre single-turbo V6 (250 kW/450 N.m), the mid-spec S version has a 2,9-litre twin-turbo V6 (324 kW/550 N.m) and the range-topper boasts a 4,0-litre twin-turbo V8 (404 kW/770 N.m).
The entire range features all-wheel drive and all engines are mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions. We can expect the range to grow in time to include diesel and hybrid models and, no doubt, a GTS version at some point.
How does it go?
In a word: impressive. Most of our time at the ride-and-drive event was spent behind the wheel of the S model. The roads on the Greek island of Crete aren’t in the best condition and on some of the more severe surfaces you can feel the Cayenne’s inherent sportiness working against it.
However, there was never an instance when the suspension felt crashy or unravelled. Wheel contact was always maintained with terra firma.
When faced with some of the nicer roads of the region, we could press on with a pace that would have made even the hottest of hot hatches proud. Despite not being a lightweight, the Cayenne hides its mass well.
The active anti-roll system is constantly working to maintain a flat and surefooted stance, even in the tightest of mountain pass hairpins, with the active rear steering helping to pivot the car around, with the driver easily forgetting that they are behind the wheel of an almost-five-metre vehicle.
A brief period behind the wheel of the Turbo S revealed that the larger alloys of that model make their presence felt to the detriment of ride quality. And, in my opinion, no one really needs more than 400 kW in an SUV. Sure, the relentless acceleration can be addictive, but the S comes across at the more balanced package. And, to my ears, it sounds nicer, too.
Sales would show that producing the Cayenne was, indeed, a deft decision on Porsche’s part. It is a model that somehow manages to incorporate the traits that Porsche has become famous for, but in a non-traditional package.
The latest generation feels very much like it has been constructed by people who understand driving excitement, for people who appreciate driving. I foresee the third-generation Cayenne opening up Porsche ownership to an even larger audience as it offers the perfect compromise between modern family duties and sportscar thrills.