Porsche Cayenne review
The Porsche Cayenne may anger purists, but it's the most versatile Porsche you can buy
The original Porsche Cayenne went on sale in 2002, breaking the mould as the world's first true performance SUV. Since then, cars like the BMW X5 M, Range Rover Sport and Mercedes ML 63 AMG have launched, challenging the Porsche for 4x4 bragging rights.
When it launched in the early 2000s, buyers were limited to a pair of thirsty petrol engines – but that's no longer the case, with no fewer than eight versions to choose from. Buyers get the option of entry-level petrol and diesel power, through to the super-frugal S E-Hybrid and bonkers Turbo S.
Inside there's a classy cabin, with all the usual upmarket materials you'd expect from a Porsche. It uses the same platform as the VW Touareg, and feels built to last.
The 83.1mpg plug-in S E-Hybrid and new V8-powered S Diesel models are particular highlights of the Porsche Cayenne range, and although most owners will never discover it, the Cayenne is equally mighty off the road as it is on it. On the road it is almost untouchable, and would give some genuine sports cars a real run for their money – especially in 500bhp Cayenne Turbo and 562bhp Turbo S form, where it can complete the 0-60mph dash in only 4.4 and 4.1 seconds respectively.
In 2015, the range received a light facelift which mainly consisted of a tweaked front and rear end, new colours and wheels. The engine range’s environmental credentials was also improved – in particular the best-selling entry-level Diesel.
Our choice: Cayenne S Diesel
Now into its second generation, the Cayenne’s once-controversial styling has matured into a smart and well proportioned shape. In fact, compared to the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport, the Porsche looks much less ostentatious. Even the range-topping Turbo S with its 21-inch alloy wheels, looks fairly understated.
That said, if you do want to shout about your 4x4's sporting credentials, Porsche will offer you various styling add-ons. The mid-range GTS is arguably the shoutiest of the lot, with the Sport Design Package adding bigger bumpers, chunkier sills and flared arches. It also comes with 20-inch alloy wheels and a choice of lurid red and green paint options.
Inside, the Cayenne's first-class driver-focused layout wraps around you, giving the cabin a sports car feel, while the quality of materials is peerless. Like the rest of the Porsche range, the Cayenne benefits from a great interior that is impeccably well put together with beautifully made switches and a raised cockpit-style dashboard that is inspired by the Porsche Panamera saloon.
You can tell the plug-in S E-Hybrid model apart from the rest of the pack thanks to its acid green brake callipers (a colour scheme borrowed from the 918 Spyder) and green background to the badges.
From the driver’s seat the Porsche Cayenne feels more like a sports car than an SUV – the low-slung driving position and high transmission tunnel are similar to that in the Panamera saloon. On the move the feeling continues, with impressive straight-line performance, even with the diesel, and lots of grip and composure through the bends.
Chunky C-pillars do affect visibility, but the Cayenne’s agility is superior to the BMW X5 and Mercedes ML and it's easier to manoeuvre. Body control is good especially on the optional air suspension and there’s plenty of grip, yet the Porsche is almost as relaxing and refined as the Range Rover Sport.
If driving thrills are top of your priority list, the newly revamped GTS is our top pick. In early 2015, it ditched the thirsty naturally aspirated V8 for a twin-turbo V6. It's even quicker than before, and is the most agile model in the Cayenne range. The GTS allows for some slip with the PSM switched on, but turn it off and you can pull rear-wheel-drive-style smokey drifts – which is frankly astonishing from a two-tonne SUV.
No Cayenne could be considered slow, but opt for the V8 Turbo S and you’ll accelerate faster than many of the firm’s sports cars. The plug-in hybrid model can travel 22 miles on battery power alone, and will crack the 0-62mph dash in 5.9 seconds. Not bad for an eco-friendly model.
Purists might have sneered at the idea of a diesel Porsche, but any concerns about the engine are dispelled as soon as you turn the key of the Cayenne S Diesel. The combination of 382bhp, a mighty 850Nm of torque and a sporty throttle response means the Porsche has a never-ending wave of thrust. All models come with a Tiptronic automatic gearbox that is smooth and responsive in automatic mode and mostly on-the-pace when you're using the paddleshifters too.
Should you choose to take your Cayenne off-road, you'll be astounded at how capable it is. the hill-descent contol and locking differentials mean it's adept at crossing very harsh terrain, although the wading depth is beaten by Land Rover's rivals. You'll need the adaptive air suspension too, whicvh can raise the ride height for tricky sections. Even the flagship Turbo likes to splash about off-piste, but for us the pick of the range remains the Cayenne S Diesel - which uses an incredible sounding 4.2-litre V8 that is just as fast in-gear as the Turbo but much more economical than its petrol counterpart.
Like other Porsche models the Cayenne has never been tested by Euro NCAP, but all models are fitted with six airbags, Isofix child seat mountings, Porsche Active Stability Management (PASM) and parking sensors. So far there’s been no recalls for the Porsche Cayenne. It is a proven product, while the 4.2-litre V8 diesel engine is borrowed from Audi, albeit with unique internals. The Cayenne is also equipped with a good range of safety kit as standard, and there’s a raft of options.
With a 670-litre boot, the Porsche trumps the BMW X5 for seats-in-place luggage space, but a chunky transmission tunnel and a flat base make the middle seat a little uncomfortable. Like the Range Rover, the rear bench slides, while up front the driving position is superb and there’s loads of cabin stowage.
It’s not that roomy in the cabin though, the high transmission tunnel making it a much more intimate space than inside its rivals. Admittedly the rear seats slide back and forth, altering the amount of room available for rear passengers and luggage, and the boot space is well trimmed, as you’d expect from any Porsche.
Economy and efficiency varies greatly depending on what model you choose, and top of the tree for non-hybrid Cayennes is the V6 diesel, which can return a very reasonable 42.8mpg. At the other end of the scale is the V8 Turbo S, which manages 24.6mpg but chucks out 267g/km of CO2 – some 100g/km more than the Porsche Cayenne Diesel.
Costing exactly the same to buy as a Cayenne S Diesel, the new S E-Hybrid is by far the most economical. Because it can run for up to 22 miles on electric alone before the V6 petrol engine kicks in to work alongside the electric motor and top up the cells. It achieves combined fuel economy of 83.1mpg, and emits a supermini-sized 79g/km, although its possible to never use the petrol engine at all if you restrict the car to a short commute.
Compared to the BMW X5, and the VW Touareg especially, the Porsche Cayenne is more expensive, but it generally feels more special than any of its rivals. Like the rest of the Porsche range there are many options and personalisation choices, but these are usually expensive and can quickly send the cost of the Cayenne spiralling out of control. Strong residual values of 57.2 per cent over three years are a plus for private buyers.
Beware the options list too. Cayenne spec levels are very stingy, with none of the models offering sat-nav, Bluetooth or DAB radio as standard. This unacceptable lack of equipment is even more annoying when you consider all of those items are standard fare in the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport. Speccing up your Cayenne to match these talented cars can get very expensive.