If any off-roader deserves the ‘Sport Utility Vehicle’ tag, it’s the Porsche Cayenne
. With its sharp on-road handling and strong performance, the big car sets the standard for driving thrills in the class.
Yet the Cayenne is more than a one-trick pony, as it also boasts a classy cabin and can be specified with a frugal diesel engine. While the ungainly looks of the original haven’t been completely banished, the MkII Cayenne looks less clumsy than the old car.
It still shares its platform with the more mainstream VW Touareg, but looks much more dynamic thanks to its 911-inspired headlights, sharp detailing and sporty profile. It manages to look smarter than the M-Class, plus the Porsche badge on the nose gives it plenty of upmarket appeal.
Open the door and you’re greeted by a beautifully finished cabin that’s a match for the Mercedes in terms of quality. Better still, thanks to the attractive high-set centre console, elegant Porsche five-dial instrument pod, classy interior lighting and well engineered switchgear, there’s an even greater sense of occasion than in the Mercedes. The Cayenne’s swish ambience is the polar opposite of the workmanlike Land Rover.
With the controls wrapped around you, the Porsche’s driving position is more car-like than its rivals’, but a good range of adjustment ensures there’s still plenty of space and a great view of the road ahead.
Despite a shorter wheelbase than the Mercedes, the Cayenne matches the M-Class for passenger space. Handily for families, the rear seats slide back and forth and the backrests tilt. The 670-litre boot is wider but 20 litres smaller than the Mercedes’, plus you don’t get a fully flat load floor. Still, the absence of a spare wheel creates a deep storage recess under the floor. But while the Porsche matches the M-Class for practicality, it’s not on par with the seven-seat Discovery.
With the £2,379 optional air suspension fitted, the Cayenne is just as refined and smooth-riding as the Mercedes. Yet the driving experience is what really sets it apart. It’s the most agile car here, there’s next to no body roll in corners and the accurate steering delivers more feel than the other cars’.
The smooth-shifting eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox is well suited to the refined 3.0-litre V6 diesel. With 242bhp and 550Nm of torque, the engine falls short of the Mercedes’ on paper. Yet the Cayenne is nearly 100kg lighter than the M-Class, so it accelerates just as quickly. CO2 emissions of 189g/km make it every bit as clean as the ML 350 CDI, too.
And if you want to head for the rough stuff, the optional air suspension incorporates ride height adjustment to easily clear obstacles.
Ultimately, the Porsche’s balance between comfort and dynamics is what impresses the most, especially as it’s the cheapest car here.
Chart position: 2WHY: Purists are still upset by the prospect of a diesel Porsche, but the smooth and efficient V6 engine boosts the Cayenne’s appeal. It’s our pick of the range.