On the small Greek island of Crete, the new Porsche Cayenne not only feels fast, it also feels big. Very big. This was probably not the environment the designers had in mind when designing this SUV, but it’s a fantastic place to test the vehicle’s breadth of capability.
Crete is the biggest of the Greek islands, but this shouldn’t lead you to believe that it’s particularly large. Globally, it ranks 88th, with a length of around 260km from east to west, and a width of 60km at its longest point from north to south. This, then, is not the sort of environment that demands a kilometre-munching grand tourer.
This is a place of Vespas and Fiat 500s.
Crete is also the most populous of the Greek islands, with a population of roughly 625 000. The majority of islanders live in the port city of Heraklion (225 000), with the rest largely found in smallish towns that hug the rugged coastline. Venture inland, and you encounter a rugged and mountainous landscape that’s sparsely populated.
The roads, both along the coast and in the interior, tend to be narrow and winding. Find a good piece of tarmac, and it can be a driver’s dream, with tight corners that open up into steep descents and hairpin turns that’ll push a car’s chassis to its limits. For the most part, though, the tar surfaces are quite rough and the roads are so narrow that you need to carefully squeeze past oncoming traffic at 30km/h. The towns are even worse, with ancient lanes that were never intended for massive modern vehicles.
So, this is not a place that’ll tend to emph
asise the most positive characteristics of a sporty SUV like the Cayenne. On these roads, large SUVs feel even larger, and the suspension is never given a second to relax.
Perhaps it was because Europe was entering the winter season that Porsche ventured so far south for the international launch of the third-generation Cayenne at the end of 2017, but it was nevertheless refreshing to see a manufacturer launch a vehicle in an environment that didn’t play supremely to its strengths. The Cayenne would undoubtedly be an absolute joy on the Autobahn or Hockenheimring, but how would it perform on Crete, where lightning-quick acceleration and a sporty suspension wouldn’t be major advantages?
ON THE INSIDE
We flew into the small town of Sitia late in the afternoon, and by the time the official welcome and product discussion was over with, the sun was quickly setting. The narrow roads, jet lag, disappearing sunlight, and the fact that we needed to pilot the Cayenne from the left side of the cabin (as opposed to our usual right-hand drive) all conspired to make our first foray in Porsche’s new SUV a rather sedate one. We had no intention of pushing the limits.
Instead, we decided to examine the revised interior and play around with the infotainment system. While always boasting a luxurious interior, the cabin of the Cayenne hasn’t historically been particularly sleek or refined. Previously, it had a cockpit-like feel with an inordinate amount of buttons and toggles, and while this helped create a sporty feel, it lacked the sleekness expected from a luxury SUV. This is no longer an issue with the third-generation Cayenne. While the sporty aspect of the interior has been retained thanks to bucket-like seats, grab handles and a thick steering wheel, there are far fewer buttons now. Switchgear is simple and easy to use.
Central to the in-car experience is a 12.3-inch touchscreen with a Porsche communication management (PCM) system that offers access to just about all the vehicle’s functions. Despite a great many options and functions, the system is intuitive to use while access to systems and information you’re interested in is easy to find. The new Cayenne offers online navigation including real-time traffic information, an LTE telephone module with integrated SIM card, Bluetooth connectivity, online voice control, a Wi-Fi hotspot, four USB ports, new Porsche Connect services and Apple CarPlay. There’s also an app for your phone, which allows you to do things like send a destination to your car, check if the windows are closed, and make sure that you have enough fuel for your trip.
Even while dawdling, the cabin of the Cayenne is a great place to be. Yes, the Cayenne can go fast, but it isn’t so performance-oriented as to be annoying when you’re just going about your business. The vehicle is perfectly docile under normal circumstances. The ride is comfortable and the cabin is plush. From the inside, the new Cayenne feels like a proper luxury SUV.
After a much-needed night of sleep, we readied ourselves for a more thorough introduction to Porsche’s new SUV. We started off by inspecting the vehicle’s design in the bright morning sunshine. While this is an all-new model, there’s no getting around the fact that it looks an awful lot like the previous version. However, there are some notable changes: the new version is 63mm longer and 23mm wider than the outgoing one. Overall height has been decreased by 9mm.
At the front, there’s a pronounced bonnet with what Porsche calls a ‘power dome’. Lower down on the body, the front end is dominated by trademark large air intakes, with the Cayenne and Cayenne S featuring silver-coloured slats for optimum cooling of the turbo engines. Air blades on the exterior of the air intakes channel the cooling air into the openings.
Looking at the vehicle’s profile, the side windows are narrower than on the previous model, with a sharper decline towards the rear. Both elements make the vehicle appear lower to the ground and more streamlined. Crease lines on the roof frame further reinforce the visual depth. The rear end of the new Cayenne features horizontal lines that emphasise depth and width. The tail lamps are slim, and between them is a red connecting strip that can also be found on the new Panamera. It’s a neat detail that adds some visual interest to the rear of the SUV.
While the new Cayenne is slightly larger than the previous one, it is nevertheless lighter. The new Cayenne body is constructed from a mix of steel and aluminium that Porsche says combines significant weight advantages with high rigidity. The materials used include micro-alloyed, high-strength steels and multiphase steels that are apparently not only lighter, but also provide torsional rigidity in the bodyshell. Aluminium is used on a large scale in areas subjected to lower levels of stress. For instance, the outer shell of the new Cayenne is made completely from aluminium, including the roof, floorpan assembly, front section, doors, wings, engine compartment lid and luggage compartment lid. In total, around 135kg has been shaved from the Cayenne, depending on the derivative.
Another new design addition worth mentioning is an adaptive roof spoiler/air brake on the top-spec Cayenne Turbo model, which Porsche says is a world first in the SUV segment. Above speeds of 160km/h, this roof spoiler tilts by six degrees to increase the stabilising force on the rear axle. If the driver switches to Sport Plus mode, the spoiler changes to a 12.6-degree position that increases the road holding of the tyres for even sportier dynamics on fast bends. If the panoramic roof is open, the spoiler adjusts to an angle of 19.9 degrees at speeds in excess of 160km/h, helping to balance out air turbulence. When the vehicle brakes rapidly at speeds between 170km/h and 270km/h, meanwhile, the spoiler panel extends to a 28.2-degree position to act as an airbrake.
HITTING THE ROAD
After inspecting the new Cayenne, we were handed the keys to the same model we had driven the night before, the Cayenne S. We were happy with this, since the S model is generally the bestseller in the line-up.
The latest Cayenne S is powered by a 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine that delivers 324kW of power and 550Nm of torque. The vehicle has a top speed of 265km/h, and can sprint from 0–100km/h in 5.2 seconds (0.3 seconds faster than its predecessor).
While the narrow and winding roads of Crete didn’t allow us to venture anywhere close to the upper limits of the vehicle’s performance capabilities, we did get to test its acceleration and composure. As mentioned earlier, Crete’s roads aren’t built for sportscars. Rarely do you encounter a long straight or fast corner.
However, the Cayenne still managed to impress. While always feeling firm and sporty, the vehicle was never crashy or uncomfortable on the rough roads.
The way in which the Cayenne dealt with the twisty roads was also impressive. Despite its size and weight, the vehicle’s brakes slowed it down efficiently, allowing us to maintain speed till late into a corner. Once in the corner, Porsche’s SUV felt nimble and surefooted. Technologies like active anti-roll and active rear steering allowed it to corner like a smaller vehicle and inspired a lot of confidence. And once out of the corner, the turbo engine allowed the vehicle to get back up to speed quickly.
We were also given a chance to do a bit of gravel driving in the Cayenne, and while we didn’t encounter any difficult off-road obstacles, we did traverse some rough rocky tracks. It was a brief dirt detour, but it reinforced the fact that the Cayenne is a proper SUV. Few owners will take their Porsche SUV off tar, but the vehicle can certainly handle it. You’d expect a performance vehicle like the Cayenne to offer a harsh ride on gravel, but during our drive it was surprisingly comfortable. Add the optional three-chamber air suspension, optional off-road package and a set of 19-inch rims (the smallest size the latest version can be fitted with), and you’ve got a vehicle with an impressive breadth of capability.
BETTER THAN EVER
It’s easy to understand why the Porsche Cayenne has been so successful. With the Cayenne, Porsche performance is balanced expertly with practicality and versatility. Is the Cayenne as fun to drive as one of the company’s smaller sportscars? Not quite, but it comes astonishingly close. And with the third-generation Cayenne, Porsche has taken its winning formula and refined it even further. The Cayenne is now more practical, sportier and better looking. It’s a vehicle that can handle just about anything you throw at it.
THE PORSCHE CAYENNE TURBO
We spent most of our time in the Cayenne S, but we did get to drive the Turbo version, too. While the S is already quick, you immediately notice that extra dollop of power in the Turbo. The Cayenne Turbo is extremely fast. Its bi-turbo eight-cylinder engine delivers 404kW of power: enough to get the SUV from 0–100km/h in 4.1 seconds. Add the Sport Chrono package and this time drops to 3.9 seconds. Its top speed is pegged at 286km/h.
It’s impossible not to admire the engineering behind the Turbo. It is an impressive machine. However, the Cayenne S will be more than enough for most people. The Turbo is a more frenetic and dedicated speed machine. It feels harder and more aggressive. If speed is all you care about, the Cayenne Turbo makes sense, but the S is the better all-rounder.
2018 PORSCHE CAYENNE S
Engine 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol
Power 324kW @ 5 700r/min
Torque 550Nm @ 1 800r/min
Transmission Eight-speed auto
Top speed (claimed) 265km/h
0–100km/h (claimed) 5.2 seconds
Ground clearance 240mm
Price Not available yet
Availaility June 2018
Text: GG van Rooyen, Photographs: Supplied