Naturally when Porsche brought out its first SUV, the Cayenne, in 2003, the usual cynics sneered at the apparent corporate sell-out conducted by the makers of the 911, for bringing a large, heavy car to market which put practicality before sportscar performance. Since then, sales of the Cayenne (in standard, S, S e-Hybrid, Turbo, Turbo S, Diesel, GTS), have outstripped the rest of the Porsche clan put together, and every luxury performance-based manufacturer has brought out an SUV, or announced plans to, with the exception of McLaren (watch this space).
The Cayenne is now in its third iteration, with the smaller Macan SUV sitting below it in the range. The derivatives have been pared back to the Cayenne, Cayenne S, E-Hybrid and Turbo. All engines are turbocharged, a three-litre V6 sitting in everything but the Turbo, which gets a V8. We tested the Cayenne S version.
The Cayenne has got better looking on the outside with time. The lights front and rear are smarter and sleeker, although the advent of the Macan has served the purpose of making the Cayenne look huge. Inside this five-seater there is absolutely loads of space for five adults plus a huge boot. It’s a shame for larger families that there’s no seven-seat option; we feel it would be a popular choice for those whose monthly budgets will stretch to it.
The leather is tightly furled and stitched, and the driver is surrounded by possibly the best digital graphics of any car, on a huge 12.3in screen which sits flush in its surrounds. You can have endless fun playing with the individual climate control pictures on the screen, or the car's settings, the apps or the read-out of the digital binnacles behind the steering wheel. It being a Porsche, there are still a lot of buttons but at least they are now smart metal toggles on a glass background as opposed to black plastic buttons. You get Apple CarPlay but there’s no Android Auto yet.
The S version sits in the middle of the range in terms of performance. This is a stout SUV, but thanks to the marvellous chassis it shares with Bentley’s Bentayga, Lamborghini’s Urus and Audi’s Q7, there’s as much dynamism and spirited movement as one can reasonably expect from a 2.0-tonne+ car. You can select on screen Normal, Sport, Sport Plus or Individual driving characteristics, thanks to the adaptive damping courtesy of the (standard on the S) Active Suspension Management. Sport mode is the best compromise, sharpening responses enough for some satisfaction without making the journey too uncomfortable, or expensive (you’ll see mid to late 20s miles per gallon). The steering is great, with enough resistance to feel you have some skin in the game as the driver. In fact, Porsche’s pedigree is surprisingly in evidence in the Cayenne, with a ride that lacks fuss or too much body roll, and a premium silence in the cabin.
The engine is the aforementioned twin-turbo V6, with 440PS (434bhp) and 550Nm (406lb ft) of torque, which sends the Cayenne S to 62mph in 5.2sec. Acceleration is smooth and guttural, just what you’d expect from a Porsche of any description.
There was little love for the Cayenne when it first appeared: the public wasn’t ready for luxury SUVs from sporting brands, and the Cayenne didn’t help matters with questionable looks. Now, however, the initial visual shock has waned, with Bentley and Rolls-Royce pushing the boat out even further on slab-sided premium powerhouses with four-wheel-drive. Even the most strident cynic would be wise to hold their counsel until they sit behind the wheel of a Cayenne on the move. This is a great driver’s SUV: it hardly matters whether or not the backstory to the Cayenne is essentially Porsche making the best of a bad job by imbuing a car they would never have made were it not for the bean counters and prevailing lifestyle tastes of the consumer with a sense of spirited driving and brand heritage. Silk purse and sow’s ear, if you will, but the Cayenne is now a great example of engineering and design with some genuine sporting flair.