Porsche's third generation Cayenne feels suitably fiery in potent Turbo form. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
The Cayenne large luxury SUV was the car that turned around Porsche's fortunes and it's a car that still manages to set standards in its segment in this third generation form. It's smarter, faster, more efficient and impressively advanced. Best of all, it can reward you at the wheel in a way that no other rival can. Especially in 4.0-litre V8 Turbo form...
Where once, Porsche would talk about their Cayenne luxury SUV being a 'family sportscar', 'a five-seat 911' and so on, that mantle now sits more comfortably with the brand's smaller Macan crossover model. The Cayenne these days now has more in common with the company's 'Gran Turismo', the Panamera, sharing much of that executive contender's engineering, including its new-tech active anti-roll bar set-up, its rear axle steering system and its three-chamber air suspension, all of it co-ordinated by Porsche's freshly-developed '4D-Chassis Control' central network system.
You sense that all of that technology's certainly going to be needed if a genuinely sporting conveyance is to be made out of something this big and heavy. And it's an objective that'll be further aided by this MK3 model's adoption of a shorter version of the hi-tech MLB-Evo platform that it shares with Bentley, Audi and Lamborghini. Under the bonnet, there's a range of completely new engines - including the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 fitted to the Turbo model we're testing here - all of them mated to a new 8-speed PDK auto gearbox. Add in a vast improvement in media connectivity and a completely re-designed interior that claims to set fresh class standards and there's certainly the potential for this to be the most sophisticated SUV that Porsche has ever made.
From a dynamic driving point of view, the Cayenne has always redefined the kind of car a large SUV can be and this third generation version continues to push those boundaries. When you're pushing on through the turns, it's able to seek out grip and traction you'd think a car of this sort simply wouldn't be able to find, delivering it with the kind of poised body control that you'd normally expect would be foreign to a 2.2-tonne SUV. And it's all further embellished by Porsche's expertise in steering feedback and a bespoke clutch-based four-wheel drive system that can send more torque rearwards, more of the time. Ah yes - torque: there'll certainly be plenty of it, especially in this potent 550hp twin-turbo V8 Turbo version. As with all the Cayenne powerplants, this one's mated to a ZF 8-speed auto gearbox.
This top engine's now a 4.0-litre unit and is a little less aurally charismatic than 4.8-litre V8 previously used by the Cayenne Turbo but it's usefully faster in the mid range. Sixy two mph from rest flashes by in 4.1s and if you happen to commute to the office on a stretch of derestricted autobahn, you can reach 177mph flat out. Spend extra on the various elements of dynamic gadgetry available for this third generation model - things like the three-chamber air suspension system, 'PDCC' active anti-roll bars, 'PTV Plus' torque vectoring and rear axle steering - and through the turns, you can mitigate Newton's laws to a surprising extent.
These days, this third generation Cayenne is quite a smart-looking thing but in the past, this car rarely has been. From the front, there's no longer the feeling that Porsche is rather awkwardly trying to graft 911 styling cues into a boxy crossover silhouette and the previously rather bluff frontage has been softened somewhat with a long, sweeping bonnet. This Turbo version gets an electrically-extending rear spoiler.
Take a seat inside and as ever with a Cayenne, you get a driving position that remains remarkably low-set for a large SUV, in keeping with that quest for sportscar-style driving dynamics and a 'cockpit-style' feel. Around the gearstick the fiddly little buttons that previously decorated the centre console have been replaced by a shiny black panel that comes to life with touch-sensitive controls once you fire the ignition. Just above lies the other defining feature of this cabin, the huge 12.3-inch colour touchscreen controlling the now standard 'Porsche Communication Management' infotainment system. More screens are found in the instrument binnacle either side of the prominent rev counter gauge. All of it's configurable to your personal preferences as part of one of the most sophisticated cabins you'll find anywhere in this segment.
And the back? Well there's no wheelbase increase this time round, so no real increase in leg room, but the scalloped front seat backs help and you can better prioritise space for your feet by making use of seat bases that slide over a range of 160mm across a 60:40 split. As for the boot, there's 770-litres of capacity (100-litres more than before).
The Cayenne Turbo model is one of those cars that can almost name its price, as many very high net worth individuals are drawn to this hugely rapid and composed powerhouse and the asking price of almost £100,000 is unlikely to prove a significant deterrent. Of course it's very well equipped. Specific Turbo model features include the electrically-extended roof spoiler, special sports seats, an Alcantara headliner, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, plus a rim-less interior mirror. Along with a14-speaker 710-watt BOSE surround sound set-up that uses 'Noise Compensation Technology' to ensure superb clarity.
As for options, well, we'd definitely want the sports exhaust system. And if you're going to use the car hard and fast, maybe even occasionally on a track, it might also be an idea to uprate this model's stopping power. Fearsomely expensive 'PCCB' 'Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes' are as usual offered, but in our view a better option is the slightly more affordably-priced upgrade to 'PSCB' 'Porsche Surface Coated Brakes' - which come as standard on this Turbo model. They still deliver fade-free stopping power every time. Also worth considering is the 'Power Steering Plus' package, which makes the steering firmer and more accurate at higher speeds, but at low speeds adjusts its ratio for easy manoeuvring and parking.
Prior to the turn-of-the-century arrival of the original Cayenne and before it BMW's X5, the only thing that was green about large plush SUVs was the colour they turned their passengers when hustled along twisty country roads. These days, things are somewhat different - though you shouldn't get your hopes up too high in that regard. Take a look at the stats for the now exclusively petrol-powered Cayenne model line-up and you'll find that the V8 Turbo variant we're trying here returns an NEDC-quoted best-possible 24.1mpg reading on the combined cycle - and up to 267g/km.
Across the Cayenne range, servicing won't be especially affordable - Porsche workshop visits never are - so you'll want to know that maintenance intervals across the range are every 20,000 miles or two years, depending which comes soonest. A more significant dealer visit will be needed at four years or 40,000 miles. A minor service will probably cost around £450, while a major service will come in at around £600 or so. Tyres and brake pads tend to be particularly expensive. Surprisingly, the company hasn't copied other brands in offering a range of pre-paid servicing packages at point of purchase, but dealers do operate a fixed price servicing regime, so you'll always know exactly what work will be carried out and what it will cost. Insurance groupings won't be cheap. For this V8 Turbo version, it'll be group 50.
For some luxury SUV buyers, there's simply nothing else quite like a Cayenne. This was the model that opened up Porsche ownership to a whole new group of people. They're not sportscar purists but they love the idea of sportscar technology being applied to make a real luxury 4x4 appeal to real drivers. Certainly it took the German brand some time to get this right: early Cayennes were rightly forgettable. But this lighter, faster, greener and better looking MK3 version is hugely impressive, in many ways the most astonishing car of its kind we've yet driven. Especially in this V8 Turbo form.
It's the Cayenne Porsche always threatened it would build: a cutting-edge benchmark in the luxury SUV segment with a re-designed cabin makes the required six-figure statement. Of course, we're not blind to things you might not appreciate quite so much. Some still struggle with the styling for instance. Plus there's a small but discernible shift towards more of a luxury demeanour this time round. Ultimately though, this Cayenne Turbo is a magnificent thing. And if you want the quickest point-to-point performance SUV in this segment, nothing else in the class really gets close.
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