The car you like accidentally.
When the first Cayenne came about ever so long ago, it was upsetting for various reasons. For Porsche die-hards, they hated the fact that the company had conceded to making a high-riding wagon in the first place, and thought it to be the work of Satan. Everyone else didn’t like it because it looked gormless and gopping, no matter which angle you had the misfortune of catching it in. Still sold in massive numbers anyway though, especially in the States.
Fast forward to today, and you can barely see a resemblance to the first-generation model at all in the current Cayenne. It’s more athletic and more purposeful, and looks like a bigger Macan in all the right ways. It’s not quite as pretty as some of its rivals, but neither is it as offensive as the model it replaced, so it’s alright in our books. Not only that, the Cayenne is offered in a staggeringly wide range of trims and powertrains, all complemented by options lists long enough to leave you cross-eyed. Beneath the pomp and embellishment however, and you find a chassis that’s been tuned by the very best engineers Porsche had on hand, resulting in one of the best-handling SUVs that money can buy.
The perfect car to make your family and the dog sick on a back road? Perhaps…
“The second generation car is better than its predecessor in every area – with improved performance, efficiency and less ostentatious styling.” - AutoExpress
No one missed the previous-generation Cayenne when the second-generation rolled out at the 2010 Geneva motor show. If anything, the second-generation was a bit of a surprise, having taken such a radical departure from the design language employed by the outgoing car. Rather than a steep set of grilles and a body that reeked too much of its Volkswagen Group siblings, the second-generation Cayenne brought with it much-needed styling improvements that saw even detractors get won over.
With a new design direction, the Cayenne became able to embrace its identity as one of the most dynamic SUVs on the market whole-heartedly, and what a look it got. Following a minor style revision in 2014, the Cayenne adopts the four-point LED daytime running lights up front, with the taillights mirroring that signature. The snout got a little more Macan-ish (with a more toned-down appearance), while everything else remained the same. Better for it too, as the updated looks gelled well with the muscular and athletic lines and curves that the Cayenne already had.
Of course, the options list allows discerning customers to dress it up further, but do so with caution, as the cost of options adds up eventually.
Engine & Drivetrain
“… the Cayenne range offers a simple step-through menu of models, each distinguished not by some trim-related model badge, but by a bespoke powertrain specification.” - Autocar
The Porsche Cayenne is available with a wide range of engines, so we’ll do our best to keep this brief. The range kicks off with the Cayenne Diesel, with a 3.0-litre turbodiesel putting out 193kW and 550Nm. This turbo V6 puts its power down to all four wheels via the same 8-speed automatic gearbox as the rest of the range, yet it still returns a claimed 6.6L/100km on official testing.
The base petrol unit in the Cayenne is a naturally-aspirated 3.6-litre V6, with power rated at 220kW and torque at 400Nm. A claimed fuel consumption rating of 9.2L/100km means that it’ll never be as miserly with the fuel as the diesels, but does offer some improvement by way of refinement. The next step up would be the S E-Hybrid, which pairs a 3.0l-litre supercharged petrol engine with an electric motor, with a total output of 306kW & 590Nm. Though it claims 8.2L/100km on official testing, this isn’t a model we’d recommend, owing to the large outlay required and the relatively small economy returns enjoyed.
Next comes the S twins, available as a petrol or diesel. The petrol model employs a 3.6-litre turbocharged V6, which puts out a healthy 309kW and 550Nm. Official figures peg fuel consumption for this model at 9.5L/100km, but you’re likely to never see figures like that in the real world. The S Diesel is the CarShowroom favourite, employing a 4.1-litre twin-turbo diesel V8, good for 281kW and a whopping 850Nm. Economy sits at a rated 8.3L/100km, though consistent highway driving can see the fuel consumption figure drop even lower than that (though a gentle right foot is required, which is really hard to manage with all that torque readily available).
The Cayenne GTS, Turbo, and Turbo S sit at the very top of the range, and offer more performance than is strictly necessary. The GTS packs a 3.6-litre petrol turbo V6, putting out 323kW and 600Nm. Fuel consumption here is just as aspirational as the rest of the range, with a claimed consumption of 10L/100km. If a growly petrol V8 is what you’re after, then the Cayenne Turbo will likely be the choice for you. 4.8-litres of German muscle, supplemented by forced induction, sees the Cayenne Turbo put out a staggering 382kW and 750Nm, though this performance comes at a cost: Fuel consumption here is rated at 12.2L/100km, which is highly unlikely given the nature of the Turbo.
Top-dog is the Turbo S, which packs the same V8 from the lesser Turbo, but gets uptuned to 419kW/800Nm. Worth mentioning is the torque figure, which is still 50Nm down from the (much cheaper) Cayenne S Diesel, though power is (obviously) far loftier. Oddly, Porsche claims a lower fuel consumption figure here than in the Turbo, with just 11.5L/100km claimed from the range-topper.
“Only since the Panamera came along can you say that Porsche has delivered interiors that live up to their sticker prices.” - TopGear
While the exterior of the Cayenne is all muscle and curves, the interior takes a more traditional approach to the controls. Ahead of the steering wheel lies the five instrument binnacles that have been a staple in Porsches since the beginning of time. The central stack sees two rows of buttons positioned on either side of the gear lever, stretching from the dashboard all the way to the armrest, housing all the controls for all sorts of things. Not enough, there are even more buttons on the roof. While this approach means that it’s easy to do exactly what you want with just one button, it does mean that you will sometimes have to search for the button you need when you’re on the move.
Thankfully, the infotainment system claws back some brownie points. The touchscreen system employed here is nothing short of excellent, with crisp graphics and quick response to input. It also looks great, nestled between the aircond vents. While the front half of the cabin is cosseting in its appearance, the rear half of the cabin is simply cavernous. Even with the panoramic sunroof, there is plenty of head and legroom on offer, rivalling some large luxury saloons, with more practicality to boot. The seats can be slid fore and aft to maximise passenger space or cargo capacity, and they can be reclined for even more comfort.
The Cayenne is a great place to be in.
Behind the Wheel
“What it really does is present a case for an SUV that is both family friendly in the way it rides and the space and practicality it provides, while having the dynamic capability to outpace plenty of sportscars when the challenge is presented.” - CarAdvice
If you still believe that SUVs tend to move about when they’re being shuffled, you need to take a Cayenne out for a spin. The Cayenne is a masterclass in body control and agility, with its size being of no consequence once the speed picks up. This might be a big SUV, but it doesn’t feel it behind the wheel, with the driving experience feeling altogether like a comfortable sports car. It isn’t until you glance at the mirrors do you realise that you’re behind the wheel of a big family wagon, with enough room for the kids and their clutter behind you.
The Cayenne S Diesel is of particular mention, with its reserves of torque coming in handy more often than you think. It’s easily the most effortless Cayenne to drive, with the Turbo models feeling jerky, especially at low speeds. Drive it smoothly, and any Cayenne will reward you with a comfortable ride; Admittedly, it isn’t as pillowy-soft as some of its rivals (namely the Range Rover Sport), but it feels like a Porsche through and through.
Safety & Technology
“On the surface, the standard array of [features] looks generous enough. But there’s also lots confined to the options list, including a vast selection of colours and trims.” - Drive
Like every modern Porsche, the Cayenne can be jam-packed with active safety tech, on top of the already considerable passive safety technology that’s already been engineered into the big SUV. A healthy smattering of airbags, an over-engineered safety cell, and generous impact-absorption zones means the Cayenne is definitely a strong family wagon contender. Couple that with add-ons like active cruise control, blind spot monitoring, all-round parking sensors and the like, and the Cayenne gets more and more compelling to bring home.
Tech is well catered for too, as you’d expect from something in this category. A standard high-res full-colour drivers’ information display sits neatly in a binnacle ahead of the driver, while the Porsche infotainment system is outdone only by BMW’s iDrive system (but only just). The array of buttons for the various systems and adjustments in the car, however, leave a lot to be desired, as they don’t come easily to hand when you’re aiming to do something on the fly.
The Porsche Cayenne may have had its work cut out for it when it first debuted, but the Cayenne we enjoy today is as much a part of the modern, urban landscape as concrete and steel. Minor improvements to the styling see the Cayenne continue to cut a sharp suit, while leaving the chassis setup alone means it’s still as good to drive as it ever was. If there was one thing the Cayenne has always managed to do, it’s keeping the driver involved. The Cayenne of today manages just that.
Sure, it’s not as comfortable as a Range Rover Sport (in ‘Comfort’ mode, at least), or as cavernous as a Volvo XC90. But the Cayenne can give the former a good run for its money through the twisty bits, and leave the latter for dead. The Cayenne is by no means a compromise (unless you want seven seats), and is suited best for on-road adventures rather than rough-and-tumble sort of fun elsewhere.
Of the range, the pick of the lot is certainly the Cayenne S Diesel, with its mountain of torque (850Nm!) and effortless in-gear shove. While it gives away it slightly agricultural motivation when you’re standing outside, on the move, the diesel oiler gives you a great idea of how remarkable Porsche engineering truly is, offering similar mechanical refinement as any petrol option.
Autocar - 4.0/5.0 - “The Porsche Cayenne is what it has always been: The only full-sized SUV with an across-the-board credible claim to being a real driver’s car too.”
AutoExpress - 4.0/5.0 - “If you’re looking for a full-size SUV with family practicality, but hanker after the performance of a sports car, then the Porsche Cayenne could just be the car for you. The Cayenne’s charm rapidly consign negative thoughts to the sidelines, as proven by the model’s global popularity.”
TopGear - 7.0/10- “A car we want to hate. Only it’s a bit good and helps pay for more extreme 911s. The Cayenne might finally be growing into its awkward skin, but it’s always been something of an over-achiever. Sure, it can off-road, but its real ability lies on the road, where it drives with quite silly pace and ability for a 4x4.”
WhatCar? - 3.0/5.0 - “The Cayenne is the sort of car you buy with your heart. It’s great to drive, but you’ll need to have deep pockets.”
CarAdvice - 9.0/10 - “The Cayenne is everything you’d expect of a luxury SUV with a Porsche badge, from the interior to the fit and finish and the extensive options list, it leaves its lesser (and cheaper) German rivals in its wake.”