Porsche Cayenne review
The Porsche Cayenne may anger purists, but it's the most versatile Porsche you can buy
If you’re looking for full-size family practicality but hanker after the performance of a sports car, Porsche wants to talk to you about the latest Cayenne.
The firm’s now best-selling model caused a sensation when first launched back in 2002, and the latest generation car is even better – with improved performance, efficiency and prettier, less ostentatious styling.
The Cayenne’s amazing driving dynamics and sporty ambience don’t come without compromise though, as other luxury SUVs have a more spacious feel and offer even greater practicality.
Neither does the Cayenne come cheap, especially once you start ticking boxes on the expensive options list - and you will, as the standard spec is notoriously stingy across all models.
But if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford it, the Cayenne’s charms rapidly consign such negative thoughts to the side-lines – as proven by the model’s global popularity.
The original Porsche Cayenne went on sale in 2002, breaking the mould as the world's first true performance SUV. Since then, cars such as the BMW X5 M, Range Rover Sport and Mercedes ML 63 AMG have been launched, challenging the Porsche for 4x4 bragging rights.
When it first launched, 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 in this, the second generation Cayenne line-up. Buyers get the option of entry-level petrol and diesel power, through to the super-frugal S E-Hybrid and the 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 most of the Cayenne is built alongside its VW Group stablemate in Bratislava, Slovakia, although the interiors and final assembly is completed at Porsche’s own plant in Leipzig. Like the Touareg, the Cayenne definitely feels built to last.
Image 2 of 28
On the road the Cayenne is almost untouchable, and would give some genuine sports cars a real run for their money – especially in 513bhp Cayenne Turbo and 562bhp Turbo S form, which can accelerate at a rate that will make you laugh out loud. Although most owners will never discover it, the Cayenne can be pretty effective off the road too, although high-performance road tyres don’t do it any favours when the going gets sticky.
The 83.1mpg plug-in S E-Hybrid, new V8-powered S Diesel and V6 twin-turbo GTS models are particular highlights of the Porsche Cayenne range, which recently received a light facelift. That mainly consisted of a tweaked front and rear end, and new colours and wheels, but the engine range’s environmental credentials were also improved – in particular the best-selling entry-level Diesel.
Engines, performance and drive
From the driver’s seat the Porsche Cayenne feels more like a sports car than an SUV – the low driving position and high transmission tunnel are similar to that in the Panamera saloon. On the move the feeling continues, where even the diesel offers impressive straight-line performance, and there's lots of grip and composure through the bends.
The Cayenne’s agility is superior to the BMW X5 and Mercedes ML, and it's notably easier to manoeuvre. Body control is good, especially on the optional air suspension. And yet, despite all this, the Porsche is almost as relaxing and refined as the Range Rover Sport.
Image 6 of 28
If driving thrills are top of your priority list, the newly revamped GTS is our top pick. In early 2015, it ditched the thirsty 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 slippery driving if you switch on the PSM (Porsche Stability Management), but turn it off and you can pull rear-wheel-drive-style smoky drifts – which is frankly astonishing from a two-tonne SUV.
Should you choose to take your Cayenne off the road, you'll be astounded at how capable it is. The hill-descent control and locking differentials (a method of increasing traction by controlling wheel rotation speed) mean the Cayenne is 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, which 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 is much more economical than its petrol counterpart.
The Cayenne engine line-up kicks off with the 3.6-litre VR6 petrol-powered standard model that delivers 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds. The 3.0-litre diesel V6 is quicker at 7.3 seconds, but its 137mph top speed is a few mph slower than the petrol, which can do 143mph. After that, the options just get faster…
No Cayenne could be considered slow, but choose the V8 Turbo or Turbo S and you’ll accelerate quicker than most of the firm’s own sports cars – 0-62mph arrives in 4.5 seconds or 4.1 seconds, and top speeds are 173 and 176mph respectively.
The plug-in hybrid model can travel 22 miles on battery power alone if you’re not in a hurry, and if you are it will crack the 0-62mph dash in 5.9 seconds. Not bad for an eco-friendly model.
Image 9 of 28
Purists might once 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 rides 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-pace when you're using the paddle-shifters too.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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. 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 it is possible to never use the petrol engine at all if you restrict the car to a short commute.
Image 8 of 28
Compared to the BMW X5 and especially the VW Touareg, the Porsche Cayenne is more expensive but 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.
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.
If you have to ask what insurance group a Cayenne Turbo falls into, you probably can’t afford the premiums – but since you did, it’s group 50. Even the ‘starter models’ in the Cayenne line-up are group 40, with the mid-rangers splitting the difference in group 45.
Sell your car after three years and the Cayenne can offer strong used values of 57.2 per cent of the original price, but with prices that can comfortably top £100,000 even a relatively small percentage drop can be eye-watering.
Interior, design and technology
When Porsche first launched its Cayenne, looks were a major talking point. However, the styling has evolved and it’s become much more attractive. This facelifted version of the Mk2 car is arguably the prettiest model ever produced.
Unfortunately, the looks are actually rather restrained when compared to rivals such as 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.
Image 3 of 28
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.
Inside, the Cayenne instantly feels more like a sports car. Porsche’s familiar, five-dial set-up sits right in front of you, while the lower driving position and high centre console give the impression of a performance coupé. This is reinforced by a steering wheel design that’s been carried over from the brand’s 918 hypercar.
The Cayenne’s build quality feels solid and the finish is excellent, with lots of leather and metal detailing adding some sparkle. However, one gripe we have with the Cayenne is the options list. While you get a fair amount of kit, you still have to pay extra for items such as a parking camera and keyless go, even on models such as the £93,574 Turbo model.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The Cayenne comes with a seven-inch touchscreen as standard, but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly to those familiar with Porsche’s pricing strategy) even the most expensive models don’t feature sat-nav, internet connectivity or even Bluetooth. If you want a DAB radio as standard equipment you’ve got to spend almost £100k on a Turbo model.
The Porsche Communications Management with Navigation module costs over £2,300, but along with the mapping it gives you a 40GB music hard drive, a DVD player and 235 watts of sound through 11 speakers – or 14 speakers and 585 watts if you’ve bought a Turbo.
Bluetooth phone preparation costs an extra £446, while digital radio (on sub-Turbo models) is £324. A TV tuner is £1,044 and wireless internet is £639. A rear seat entertainment package with two 10-inch touchscreen displays for web-surfing or streaming video costs from £2,096.
Serious audiophiles may also want to splash out £3,230 on the Burmester High-End Surround System, which boasts 16 speakers and 1,000 watts of output.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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, plus a console that wraps around the driver. The front seats are very supportive during hard cornering, as well as offering excellent long-distance comfort.
It’s not that roomy in the cabin though, with the high transmission tunnel making it a much more intimate space than rivals, which tend to have a more airy feel. While the major controls are laid out perfectly, it’s fair to say the ancillary controls are not all so well-positioned, as there is a confusing array of switches either side of the gear lever.
There are, however, two handy drawers underneath the front seats and a large refrigerated glovebox.
Although its second-generation redesign cleverly made the Cayenne appear a little more compact and lithe, it’s still a big car. At 4,855mm overall it’s almost the same length as the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport. The Range Rover is nearly 15cms wider than both the Germans, but the Porsche is noticeably lower than the other two. Its roof height of 1,705mm undercuts the 1,776mm BMW and 1,780mm Range Rover by some margin.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Image 4 of 28
The Cayenne’s rear seats slide back and forth altering the amount of room available for rear passengers and luggage, but overall the space inside is generous for five people. There’s plenty of leg- and headroom in the back, and the rear seats recline too. There’s no optional third row, but Isofix child seat mounts do come as standard.
At the back, the squared-off rear means there’s a huge 670 litres of space on offer, which expands to 1,780 litres with the split-folding rear seats stowed. A powered tailgate is standard to aid access, but while the boot is bigger than the BMW X5’s, it’s actually smaller than both the Mercedes M-Class and the Range Rover Sport.
Image 5 of 28
Aside from the space itself, there aren’t many useful touches, although the luggage area is as well-trimmed as you’d expect from a Porsche. If you intend to use the luggage space to its full extent, you may want to pay £260 for a load space management system, which adds floor rails, eyelets and a set of retaining straps.
The Cayenne is also a pretty good tow car with all models capable of hauling a 3,500k braked trailer. Just the thing for taking your GT3 R to track days…
Reliability and Safety
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 Slovakia, the interior is hand-finished by Porsche employees in Germany before engineers meticulously inspect each model to ensure the highest standards are met.
Porsche fared well in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, finishing in sixth place overall – a position it held the year before too. In the reliability category, Porsche owners rated the company 17th out of 35 manufacturers, but for build quality the brand was up in an excellent fourth – behind only Lexus, Jaguar and Audi.
Image 11 of 28
The Cayenne itself was facelifted last year, but as it’s based on Porsche’s proven tech, it should continue to prove reliable.
The model should be safe too. Although it hasn’t been tested independently by the EuroNCAP crash testers, they did appraise the first generation Volkswagen Touareg and awarded it a five-star rating back in 2004. Both the Touareg and Cayenne have moved on a generation since that test, but the basics have remained much the same.
Buyers often pick large SUVs for the reassuring feeling of safety brought by the high driving position and sheer scale. In the Porsche’s case such feelings are further heightened by the agile handling, safe overtaking reserves and high-quality build – although some of the more advanced brake-assist and city-braking functions offered by luxury SUV rivals are notable by their absence from the options list.
Porsche isn’t generous with the Cayenne’s warranty, offering only two years of factory cover. At least they offer unlimited mileage for the period.
Extended warranties are available of course, but they’re pricey – you can expect to pay around £1,000 for additional years.
The Cayenne service schedule demands an intermediate check at 20,000 miles or two years, and a major service at four years or 40,000 miles. Costs will vary depending on model, but should fall between £400 and £500 per visit to the dealer.