NOT too long ago, purists would’ve argued against such a travesty, pundits would’ve bet against it and the top-level management at Zuffenhausen must have thought long and hard about it, but a derv-drinking Porsche finally saw the light of day two years ago.
Then again, just over a decade ago, the reality of a Porsche SUV must’ve seemed improbable, but everyone knows the extent to which this segment took off at the start of the 21st century. In the midst of the VW/Porsche buyout debacle, Zuffenhausen dipped into the VW parts bin and pulled out the 3,0-litre V6 TDI that did (and still does) service in the Touareg – the Cayenne’s first cousin.
However, simply adding this powertrain into the Cayenne mix wouldn’t have cut it for the discerning Porsche customers who seek to distinguish themselves from the larger brand so, to appease them, the automaker’s engineers tweaked it a bit. And, as we’ve come to expect from this marque, the result is brilliant. Yes, the 2 967 cm³ turbodiesel V6 produces the same power as the unit used in the equivalent Touareg, but whereas its 176 kW is on tap at 4 400 r/min, 400 revs higher than the VW, it boasts 50 N.m more torque for a total of 550 N.m.
Those concerned about performance needn’t worry. Simply put, the Porsche is sublime. Off the line, it ticks 100 km/h in only 7,54 seconds, which is very respectable considering its as-tested mass of over two tonnes. The Cayenne should show a clean pair of wheel arches to the Land Rover Discovery 4, our Top 12 SUV numero uno, as well as the rivals we’ve mentioned in the accompanying panel. Overtaking acceleration is pretty impressive too, with 80 to 120 km/h dispatched in under 5,5 seconds.
An off-road excursion was pleasant for the most part, as it took the majority of surfaces on and off the road in its stride. The softest of sand was easily overcome as the SUV posed for the photos on these pages. The only complaint from the test team was that, even with the electronic nannies switched off, the torque is still cut to certain corners when the Cayenne’s brain deems its driver incompetent.
We were warned by an off-road expert that the Michelin rubber wrapped around the Cayenne’s 18-inch alloys was inadequate for the mild rocky trails – even if the gumboots were of decent width and had quite a high profile (255/55 R18). A far more reasonable excuse is that the Porsche does not come equipped with low range … Nonetheless, the mild obstacles the Cayenne faced off the beaten track was handled with ease, but its greatest work is clearly done on tarmac.
The eight-speed torque-converter auto is best left to its own devices. Moderate throttle inputs are met with swift shifting for optimum progress. One of the major boons of this system is that it doesn’t simply climb the ratios for the sake of optimum efficiency. Quite the opposite, actually – even with the amount of torque available low down, the Cayenne is happy to hold a gear at low speed, necessitating a glance at the digital gear readout or shift lever to make sure you haven’t knocked it over into manual mode.
As befits a Porsche, the Cayenne Diesel is at its most comfortable on unrestricted stretches of asphalt. Throw in some fast sweeps and the Porsche Active Suspension Management (an optional extra at R19 600) continuously adapts the underpinnings to the driving conditions. The driver can override this with a choice of three programmes – Soft, Normal and Sport. We found the difference in ride quality between the settings marginal, but this bit of tech, together with the ability to raise and lower the ride height, should keep even the most troublesome passengers occupied (if they haven’t been lulled into a sense of calm by the comfortable leather seats, of which both front pews have electric adjustment).
This Cayenne’s excellent performance doesn’t come with the usual fuel-cost penalty. Our fuelrun average, which closely mirrors normal day-to-day driving, worked out to 8,53 litres/100 km. With an 85-litre tank (a 100-litre tank is a no-cost option), it has an excellent range. However, you have to be careful in planning your adventures to align with the availability of 50 ppm diesel, which is the only grade Porsche recommends.
Our test unit was treated to lots of niceties from the options list, dragging the price from a rather attractive R680 000 to in the region of R800 000. Still, if you’re clever in choosing your extras, you could walk away from a Porsche dealer with a relative bargain that’s likely to hold its value better than rivals.
It seems Zuffenhausen has shot the lights out … again.