MOTORING

Porsche Cayenne S: Fast forward

By Deon Schoeman 26 April 2019

Porsche’s third-generation Cayenne SUV range offers a choice of four models, including a hybrid version. While the hell-for-leather Cayenne Turbo flagship is considered the most desirable, it’s the less obtrusive, yet highly talented Cayenne S that should be on your short list.

When it comes to sports cars, performance is arguably the defining attribute, rating far higher than more mundane aspects such as fuel consumption, boot space or the number of USB ports on board.

Not that the Porsche Cayenne is a sports car – or at least not conventionally so. But since the big SUV is designed, developed and built by Porsche, its sports car DNA is irrefutable – even if it can also count utility and versatility among its list of capabilities.

And that also means that the most powerful variant is likely to attract the most attention, even if it isn’t necessarily the best. While the Cayenne Turbo is an über-SUV in dynamic terms, the opportunities to use all that urge are few and far between.

By comparison, the Cayenne S is a more modest proposition – but there’s nothing modest about it in performance terms. With a twin-turbo V6 and all-wheel drive, it’s never short of zest.

However, you’re more likely to be able to use that performance more meaningfully much of the time, while also enjoying the big Porsche’s many other attributes. And let’s not forget that it’s a good R860,000 or so cheaper than the Turbo. That’ll almost buy you an entry-level 718 Cayman …

In its original form, the Cayenne put Porsche on the SUV map – and also mapped its return to profitability. The 911 sports car might be the brand icon, but one could consider the Cayenne the brand’s saviour.

The Cayenne’s evolution from chunky ugly duckling to the sleek and streamlined machine it’s now become in many ways mirrors the fortunes of the German sports car firm itself. And so, it’s fitting that, in pure aesthetic terms, this Cayenne looks more convincingly Porsche than its two predecessors.

The lines are crisper, the shape more balanced, and the styling’s sports car origins unmistakable. Translating the 911-based design language at the core of Porsche’s entire range in an SUV context has been a laborious task, but finally succeeds here.

The smooth nose and wide-eyed headlights echo the 911’s stylistic legacy without actually copying it. There’s aggression in the hungry grin of the big air intakes, and the muscular bulge of the fenders, necessary to accommodate the wide tracks and big wheels.

The rear treatment is tidy, accented by a wrap-around tail light strip, and featuring big-bore exhaust tailpipes that confirm the Cayenne’s athletic aspirations. The overall impression is resolute and dashing, but tempered by a cohesive elegance.

The cabin mirrors the exterior’s progress: it represents a big step forward from the outgoing model.

It’s very much a digital domain, with dual high-res displays replacing conventional instrumentation, and a full HD touchscreen affording access to the Cayenne’s comprehensively endowed infotainment system.

If the mere thought of an all-digital cockpit irks traditionalists, then the retention of a big, circular and proudly analogue rev counter dead-ahead of the driver offers some reassuring familiarity – and a welcome whiff of Porsche tradition.

Supporting the infotainment’s touchscreen is a full set of more conventional switchgear, which is more tactile from the driver’s perspective – and more intuitive to use on the move.

Bluetooth, multispeaker sound, satnav, Apple CarPlay and a host of system and vehicle settings are all accessed via this combination of screen and switchgear. That includes a selection of off-road driving modes, just to remind you that this is an SUV.

The multifunction steering wheel brings more control options, including a drive mode selector, and gearshift paddles for those who like to opt for manual mode. Audio and telephony controls are also included here.

All that tech aside, it’s the crafted ambience of the cabin that impresses. The Porsche badge creates high expectations, and the Cayenne rises to the occasion with a cabin that’s as palpably premium as it’s supremely comfortable.

The materials are upper class, the build quality Teutonically solid, and the execution classy in an understated, functional kind of way. You can feel and experience what your hard-earned money has bought you even before the Cayenne has turned a wheel.

Given its generous dimensions, you’d expect accommodation for all occupants to be ample, and the Porsche doesn’t disappoint: plenty of headroom and legroom, front and rear, is accompanied by a capacious 770 litres of luggage space, accessed via a wide-opening tailgate.

But let’s face it, this being a Porsche, what everyone wants to know is just how well – or not – it goes. Yes, it has the badge and the credentials, but can it deliver on the performance promise?

The Cayenne S certainly has the right stuff under the bonnet. The 2.9-litre bi-turbo V6 is good for 324kW of muscle and 550Nm of twist, with the latter delivered across a broad rev band that promises agile tractability, regardless of speed or gear.

It should also be enough to shrug off the big SUV’s 2.02-ton mass – and indeed, it does so convincingly. You’re never aware of any that weight’s inertia.

Floor the throttle, and progress is lively, to say the least. The Cayenne needs less than 5sec to pass the 100km/h mark from rest, and gets to 160km/h just 6sec later. The 0-200km/h dash requires just 18.6sec.

Those are rapid stats by sports car standards, and even more impressive in the SUV context. But there’s a lot more to this Cayenne S than straight-line speed.

Not unexpectedly, given the Porsche SUV’s dynamic focus (and those 20-inch alloys) the ride is firm – but reassuringly so. It ensures clarity of dialogue between man and machine that translates into confident motoring, even when pushing the SUV’s boundaries.

Despite its size (remember, the Cayenne is 4.92m long and 2.19m wide) and weight, it displays inherent agility and poise that begs to be explored. The multi-link suspension prioritises composure over comfort, but delivers on both fronts.

The steering adds further appeal: it might be electro-mechanically assisted, but it finds a satisfying compromise between heft and ease of use. It disguises the bulk of the Cayenne well, but allows keenly modulated control, with loads of feedback.

No wonder then that piloting the Cayenne through twists, turns and sweeps is a delight: the big Porsche easily finds each apex, and carries an almost indecent amount of speed into each corner.

Body lean is almost non-existent, and cornering forces high enough to make you grateful for the well-bolstered bucket seats. Big brakes will haul the Porsche down to saner speeds without drama, too.

However, not even the most enthusiastic driver will want to thrash the Cayenne all of the time. Its inherent versatility means that it’s likely to be used more often as a mom’s taxi, an urban commuter and a long-distance holiday hauler than a hard-core performance machine.

The good news is that it will assume any of those roles with equal competence. Sure, it’s not as indulgently impervious to road conditions as a (much dearer) Bentley Bentayga.

But it does cope with bumpy tar and even moderate gravel with ease, and effortlessly gobbles up long distances, while providing its occupants with all the creature comforts the heart could desire.

At the same time, the Porsche’s sports car heart means performance is at the driver’s beck and call, be it for swift and safe overtaking, or making the most of a mountain pass.

It’s that ability to effortlessly and convincingly swap between utility and performance roles that is a the core of the Cayenne S’s appeal. While the Cayenne Turbo arguably places too much emphasis on its considerable dynamic talents, the Cayenne S is hugely capable in all departments.

Not only that, but it perfectly balances those capabilities, providing a package that’s equally convincing on all levels. Almost unexpectedly, that also includes value.

Just under R1.3-million is a lot of money, but the Cayenne S is competitively pitched against some mainstream rivals, including the BMW X5 M50d, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT and the Range Rover Sport HSE SCV6.

And let’s face it, the Porsche badge adds a certain allure of its own, too … DM

PROS

A convincing synthesis of sports car dynamics and SUV versatility and comfort.

CONS

Can be thirsty when pressing on.

VITAL STATS

Porsche Cayenne S

Engine

2,894cc V6, bi-turbocharged

Power

324kW @ 5,700 – 6,600rpm

Torque

550Nm @ 1,800 – 5, 500rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

160.40 kW/ton

Gearbox

Eight-speed Tiptronic S auto, AWD

Wheels/tyres

20-inch alloy, 275/45 (|f) 305/40 (r) R20 tyres

0-100 km/h

4.9sec

Top speed

265km/h

Fuel tank capacity

75 litres

Fuel consumption (claimed)

9.4 / 12.7 litres/100km

Operating range (claimed)

798 / 591 km

CO2 emissions

209 g/km

Retail price

R1,296,000

Maintenance/service plan

3-year full maintenance plan
Gallery

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