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
The Porsche Cayenne has never really won over many fans with its styling. But over time its mix of traditional Porsche design cues and big SUV proportions has become familiar and far less controversial than when the original was launched in 2002.
Unfortunately, the looks are actually rather restrained when compared to rivals like the BMW X6 and Range Rover Sport. The boxy proportions are pure SUV, and the car shares its overall shape with the VW Touareg, which is built on the same platform.
Integrating the looks of a 911 with an SUV was always going to be a hard task, and while the round light clusters, smooth nose and curving bonnet are all present, it doesn’t really grab your attention when compared to the bold and imposing front ends of the BMW and Range Rover. Still, some people will appreciate the Cayenne’s subtlety, and see this as more of an attraction than a negative.
And if you need to stand out, you can always raid Porsche’s extensive list of alloy wheel options, exclusive paint schemes, and even a chunky bodykit. Besides, the looks will soon be forgotten once you climb on board.
The Cayenne has a proper sports car-style cockpit, especially up front, where driver and passenger are divided by a large, high-set centre console. This puts the gearlever and assorted controls close to hand for the driver, while the overlapping dials are another traditional Porsche touch. Everywhere you look there are high-quality materials, with soft-touch plastics, leather and metal trim. Everything works precisely and with a solid feel.
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.
Porsche’s motorsport heritage, including its numerous Le Mans 24 Hours wins, demonstrates that the brand knows how to build a car that lasts, and this experience has filtered through to its production models.
While the Cayenne is painted and assembled alongside the Touareg at VW’s plant in Bratislava, Slovakia, final assembly takes place in Leipzig, Germany. There, the interior is hand finished, before engineers meticulously inspect each model to ensure the highest standard of finish.
If problems should arise, owners can expect a first-class service from Porsche’s dealers. The network finished third in our Driver Power 2014 survey, proving a prestige brand can place value in its customers, rather than just what’s in their wallets.
Despite the Cayenne’s raised ride height, a low seating position gives it a sporty feel, which is enhanced by the sculpted steering wheel and metal shift paddles.
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.
At the back, the squared-off rear means there’s 670 litres of space on offer, which is 120 litres more than in the BMW, and a powered tailgate is standard to aid access. Aside from that, there aren’t many useful touches. Porsche charges £260 for a load space management system, which adds floor rails, eyelets and a set of retaining straps.
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.