“A Porsche is a Porsche”. I can’t remember when exactly that old chestnut invaded my automotive consciousness, but it was definitely before I was taught to “avoid clichés like the Plague”. I haven’t driven that many Porsche, but every experience has been most memorable (what’s the correct plural for Zuffenhausen’s creations, anyway – Porsche or Porsches?). So, before I get sidetracked, let me recount my experience of the new Porsche Cayenne Tiptronic, the automatic version of the sports car manufacturer’s entry-level SUV.
I’ve been reminded why devils such as “A Porsche is a Porsche” tend to stick, up to a point – that is. The minute you open a door of the Cayenne, fiddle with its switchgear or set the vehicle in motion, you immediately recognize it for the painstakingly engineered and meticulously finished product that it is. Our test unit has a lavish Royal Blue paint finish with light grey detailing in the door handles and strike plate and, had it not been for its smaller wheels, most observers could have mistaken the V6-engined model for a V8 Cayenne.
I really didn’t like the test unit’s garish terra cotta and caramel interior colour scheme, found the foot-actuated, but dashboard-disengaged, parking brake a bit of a drag, but as far as fit and finish was concerned, the Cayenne’s built like a bank vault. Oops, another cliché… Sorry, Mrs Cowling (my English teacher back in 1993/4). The vertical architecture of the fascia certainly isn’t a trend-setting design, but everything works so well – except for the fact that automatic lights and rain-sensing wiper functions would have nicely complemented the folding side mirrors and front/rear PDC on this particular model.
The Porsche-ness of the Cayenne starts to diminish after you’ve savoured the meaty tickover of the 3,6-litre V6 (that’s right, there’s no boxer six under the bonnet). Having surveyed a Carrera GT in the metal for the first time recently, and with a fair share of fantasizing over a 997-series 911 Turbo (heck, any 911 Turbo) under my, um, belt, the brutish Cayenne just doesn’t stir my emotions in the same way. The last Porsche that left me that cold was the 924, even the awkward 928 had some Eighties shtick about it.
Predictably, as for the driving experience, the Cayenne doesn’t disappoint. The six-speed automatic transmission is velvety smooth, which is a good thing, because in stop-start urban traffic the 213 kW 3,6-litre V6 powerplant, which offers 385 N.m of torque, tended to hunt between the gears. The engine felt unburstable, as all Porsche powerplants tend to do, but one’s always aware of the fact that this stouty Stuttgarter weighs in over two tones. Give it revs, and the vocal engine will haul the big rig around at a brisk – if not quite meteoric – pace. And, I loved the feel of the big Cayenne’s brakes. The handling, on seasonably wet roads, was from the top drawer – although, having said that, one would expect nothing less from a R595 000 bahnsturmer from the land of Schnell!.
In relative terms, the V6-powered Cayenne offers a lot more metal for money than its similarly-priced Boxster S sibling. It seems ridiculous to make that comparison, I know, but if I had to have a Porsche, I’d still much rather have the Boxster S than this Cayenne. The Cayenne range was unashamedly conceived to satisfy the US market’s insatiable appetite for supersized kerb-crawlers, but it has diluted Porsche’s image as the “scalpel of sports cars”.
This model is a fine product in itself, and Porsche deserves credit for releasing a Cayenne that consumes less jungle juice (and therefore creates less pollution) than its V8 siblings. The Cayenne might be the world’s best handling SUV – and the V6 a competent entry-level offering – but I’d rather forgo the Porsche badge, buy a BMW X5 3,0si and blow the change on couture or other indulgent pursuits.