THE Porsche Cayenne defies logic. From a marque known for its devotion to the core brand values that have made it so successful over the years, the Cayenne just doesn’t fit in. Even worse, for the uninitiated it seems to be nothing more than a vulgar moneymaking scheme – luxury SUVs, those most hated objects of excess, are also some of the most profitable. To ensure the continued existence and financial health of Porsche, it was a decision that was inevitable. The rest, as they say, is history…
The Cayenne Turbo S is, in essence, an upgraded Cayenne Turbo – it uses the same 4,5-litre biturbo V8 engine as its more affordable sibling. But for use in the Turbo S, the two intercoolers have been upgraded, the turbocharger boost pressure has been upped by about 0,2 bar (to a maximum of 1,9 bar), and the engine management system has been modified. The result is that the maximum power output is now 383 kW, developed at 5 500 r/min – 52 kW more than the Cayenne Turbo. But there are other improvements, too – the Turbo S develops 720 N.m of torque from 2 750 to 3 750 r/min. This gives it even more impressive mid-range punch than before. Porsche says the Cayenne Turbo S is, following on the Carrera GT, the second most powerful road car they’ve ever built.
Porsche also claims a top speed of 270 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 5,2 seconds. We managed to achieve that top speed, but our best 0-100 km/h sprint took 5,7 seconds – the difference possibly being attributed to a full 100-litre tank of fuel, the use of 95 octane unleaded, and the fact that the car had done only about 700 km at the time of our test. Still, these are mighty impressive figures. And the mid-range punch is ferocious – 40-60 km/h takes 1,12 seconds, and 120 to 140 a mere 2,27! Now consider the fact that this über Porsche weighs 2,5 tons… Also, the improved performance has come at no expense in fuel economy, with a fuel index figure of 16,8 litres/100 km. Overall, as impressive as all this is in isolation, we wonder whether these improvements are worth the extra R120 000 or so over the “regular” Cayenne Turbo…
To justify the extra expense, there have been other changes. The Turbo S has a revised braking system, featuring larger discs and calipers – the front discs are now 380 mm in diameter, and rears 358 mm. New cooling ducts have improved head dissipation by a claimed 10 per cent. Fitted as standard are 20-inch SportTechno wheels running on 275/40 Y-rated tyres. A tyre pressure control system is also fitted. Considering the vehicle’s weight, we were impressed with its performance during our punishing emergency stopping routine – a 2,92 seconds average was achieved without any sign of fade or overheating.
Otherwise, there are only small visual cues to indicate that this is the most powerful of Cayennes. It gets subtle Turbo S boot badging, huge and not-so-subtle quad exhaust outlets, the afore-mentioned 20-inch wheels and, as illustrated by our test unit, a new dark blue colour is available. The standard features list includes everything you can imagine – allround leather and wood, automatic air-conditioning, bi-xenon headlamps, park-distance control and a superb Bose surround sound system.
Of course, it also has the full complement of electronic systems that give “regular” Cayennes such astonishing dynamic ability. We have enough experience with all three Cayenne variants to know that the vehicle is inherently extremely capable off-road – if fitted with the correct tyres. But, of course, you’ll have to be a complete nut to take it off-road… The Turbo S doesn’t feature any significant suspension or drivetrain revisions when compared with its lesser siblings. It still rides on the same PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) air-suspension set-up (with driver-selected settings for Sport, Normal and Comfort), and features Porsche Traction Management (PTM) allwheel drive. In normal driving, PTM sends 62 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels and 38 per cent to the front. However, if conditions change drastically, up to 100 per cent of the power can be sent either to the front or rear axles, via a multiple-plate coupling operated by an electric motor and controlled electronically. An advanced off-road package is available as an option, which includes a rear differential lock.
Driving a Porsche Cayenne for the first time is always an eyebrow raising experience. Firstly, there is the comfort. The seats are superb, with a very wide range of adjustment, and the driving position can be further tweaked by electrically adjusting the steering wheel. Sitting so high and mighty in your leather and wood cocoon, it remains incredibly odd to look down and see a Porsche badge on the steering wheel.
Secondly, the engine is very hushed at idle. At city speeds, the ride is so refined and the cabin so quiet that raging speed and tyresmoke will be the last things on your mind. But then you nail the throttle… and not much happens for a moment or two, as the gear-box figures out exactly what to do.
But once the correct gear is hooked, you’ll be squashed into your seatback like a fighter pilot on take-off. The power is absurd. Ridiculous even. Once the initial violence of a standing start blastoff is gone, you’ll possibly be even more impressed by the way the speedo continues its charge to the 270 km/h maximum. There seems to be no end to the power, not even one area on the power band where the graph dips even slightly. And the sound? Imagine the Hulk sitting under the bonnet and ripping telephone directories to pieces… very thick ones.
Thankfully, the Cayenne also does corners – not as well as a regular sportscar, mind you, but way, way better than any other SUV on this planet. It is here where the Porsche DNA shows most clearly, immediately reminding you that this is no regular wobbly SUV. Turn-in is accurate, sharp, and the front end has tremendous bite, much more than you’d expect from this type of vehicle. But most impressive, the Cayenne does not exhibit any pitching, diving or rolling – it just stays flat, the front and the rear ends in perfect harmony. Had Isaac Newton ever seen a Cayenne going through a corner at full tilt, he’d have had doubts about his of universal law of gravitation…
But the Cayenne is not perfect. Driving it fast can be hard work. The six-speed Tiptronic gearbox can be frustratingly slow to kick down in Drive. So you are forced to use the oddly placed shift buttons on the steering wheel, or tap the gearlever up and down with your left hand. But even then the shifts are slow. Annoyingly, the gearbox seems to occasionally get everything right, resulting in explosive acceleration, no matter what speed you were doing before the shift. But usually the driver is left waiting. It is the single most disappointing aspect of the vehicle – besides the price.
The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is, in essence, completely pointless. Here is a 2,5-ton SUV with the performance of a sportscar. It is loaded to the extreme with offroad gadgetry and could, theoretically, do some pretty serious bush whacking. But it never will. It handles extremely well for what it is, but not as well as a real sportscar. So why, then, would you buy this, especially as the Porsche 911 Turbo is only R200 000 more expensive?
The criticism of pointlessness – if you think about it – applies to every luxury/sport SUV on the market. Yet, these vehicles sell in relatively huge numbers. So, they’re actually not pointless to some people, whether you agree with their reasons for purchase or not. The Cayenne Turbo S represents the pinnacle of its breed. And for some people, that will be reason enough.