Porsche's third generation Cayenne aims to re-establish itself as the driver's choice amongst large models in the luxury SUV sector. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Porsche has rejuvenated its large luxury Cayenne SUV in this third generation guise. The styling represents a mere gradual evolution - with over 770,000 sales on the board with this model since 2002, you wouldn't really expect much else. But the changes inside and beneath the skin are genuinely far-reaching. If you're buying in this segment, you have to consider this model.
The 911 sportscar may be the model Porsche is known for but it's the Cayenne large luxury SUV that has established the company in his modern era. And made it one of the world's most successful car manufacturers. For some time in the early part of this century, the Cayenne was the brand's best seller. Indeed, for most of his Millennium, this SUV has out-sold all of Porsche's other models put together. That won't be the case with this third generation version is because it now sells above a smaller, more affordable Porsche SUV model, the Macan. So the Cayenne must fulfil a slightly different role in the company's line-up. Think this third generation version doesn't seem much changed in comparison to its predecessor? Think again. There's a platform shared with a Bentley, an interior to die for, a range of new engines and cutting-edge hybrid Plug-in technology that completely replaces diesel power.
Most of the engineering here is shared with Porsche's Panamera luxury 'Gran Turismo' model - but there are differences. Rather courageously, Porsche has decided not to include diesel power in this third generation Cayenne range, which means that the line-up kicks off with a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol unit developing 330bhp. Next up is the Cayenne S, which gets a twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 good for 434bhp. At the top of the range is the Cayenne Turbo, which this time round swaps a 4.8-litre V8 for a 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 putting out a potent 533bhp. That makes it pretty much as fast as the Cayenne Turbo S in the previous generation line-up. This flagship model gets a ZF eight-speed auto gearbox rather than the twin-clutch auto of the equivalent Panamera. That's so as to preserve this SUVs prodigious 3,500kg towing capacity. The Hybrid version of this SUV is also subtly different from its Panamera counterpart. Whereas a Panamera S E-Hybrid mates its electric motor with a 2.9-litre V6, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid uses a 3.0-litre V6 - but from that point, most of the petrol/electric engineering (and the power it all produces) is much the same. The hybrid Cayenne's engine puts out 335bhp, a figure then bolstered by a further 134bhp from the electric motor, so total system power amounts to 469bhp. Optional extras (fitted as standard at the top of the range) include a new three-chamber air suspension system, an active anti-roll system and rear-wheel steering, but some enthusiasts might feel that these features detract a little from the purity of the driving experience. Most seem to agree that this now sets the class standard. It's also worth mentioning that this Cayenne is just as happy as its predecessor off the beaten track. A spare set of off-road wheels and tyres might prevent some costly refurbishment work to the standard alloys though.
Porsche hasn't been brave enough here to fundamentally alter the way this Cayenne looks, but it has made its styling a bit sleeker and more chiselled. In comparison to the old model, this one's slightly longer, lower and wider. What really matters though, is what lies beneath the panel work - the hybrid steel and aluminium MLB platform we've already seen used in the Audi Q7 and the Bentley Bentayga. This Cayenne adopts it in shorter wheelbase form, which means that it has 100mm less length between its wheel arches than those competitor models. The interior is completely different from the previous generation model, Porsche having moved many of the controls to a touch-sensitive fascia panel, with other features accessible via a 12.3-inch colour touchscreen in the centre of the dash. There are also a pair of configurable 7.0-inch screens in the instrument binnacle, though here, we'd still prefer a full screen set-up like Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit'. In the back, a slightly lower seating position preserves headroom, despite the more sloping rear roof line but to be frank, leg room isn't very much better than you' get in the supposedly much smaller Macan model. The boot though, is usefully larger this time round.
Prices open at around £55,000 for the standard 3.0 V6 petrol Cayenne, and it's then quite a big step up to the more powerful Cayenne S which is pitched at just over £68,000. These figures are very competitive with those being asked for nicer versions of large luxury SUVs like the BMW X5, the Mercedes GLE and the Range Rover Sport. The Turbo flagship Cayenne 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. It's also hard to argue with the amount of kit the car gets as standard. There's a full leather interior, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), Bi-Xenon headlights, front and rear ParkAssist, tyre pressure monitoring, automatic dimming rear view mirrors, Porsche Communication Management with touch-screen satellite navigation and audio controls, cruise control and a three year warranty. That's on top of a Porsche Vehicle Tracking System (VTS). There's also a clever cruise control system that takes into account speed limits, bends and inclines.
The big ticket item on the Cayenne has long been depreciation, but then that's not an issue exclusive to Porsche. Show us one large SUV that retains its value well. The pace of change has been dizzying in this sector and older SUVs date rapidly due to advances in engine efficiency. Look at the prices or early petrol-engined Cayennes for evidence of this. Porsche has made big strides in improving fuel economy and driving down emissions with this model - principally with its Plug-in hybrid technology. Expect a CO2 figure from the S E-Hybrid variant of around 60g/km. When connected to an industrial outlet, the batteries can be charged within around two and a half hours via the integrated on-board charger and the standard Porsche Universal Charger (AC) and it can be charged in less than four hours when connected to a conventional household electrical outlet. As for the mainstream versions, well the base 3.0-litre V6 Cayenne manages between 31.4 and 30.7mpg on the combined cycle and between 205 and 209g/km of CO2 (variance depending on spec and wheel size). For the twin turbo 2.9-litre Cayenne S, the figures are between 30.7 and 30.1mpg and between 209-213g/km. And for the Cayenne Turbo, you're looking at between 24.1mpg and 23.7mpg, with CO2 readings between 267-272g/km. We would imagine 'real world' consumption on that top variant is likely to be a good deal scarier.
This is the Cayenne Porsche always threatened it would build. A cutting-edge benchmark in the luxury SUV segment. The technology on offer here is awesome but if you like your driving, we're not sure that loading this car up with rear wheel steering, air suspension and big wheels (as many owners will) is the best way towards showcasing its class-leading status as the ultimate driving machine in the large part of the luxury SUV segment. However you specify this car though, there's nothing else quite like it in this class. Certainly it took the German brand some time to get this model 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 seen.