When car enthusiasts hear the name Cayenne, the discussion could go in two directions: (A) either they hate it or (B) it's probably the first Porsche they drove. Sounds odd, doesn't it?
That the Cayenne SUV is perhaps the first model from Porsche that many of us have driven comes as no surprise as the polarizing model is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best selling nameplate on their list. In 2015 alone, well over 73 thousand Cayennes rolled out of dealers worldwide; a stark contrast to the 32 thousand 911's that were put out in the same period. Together with the other new SUV in the Porsche line, the Macan, the company's SUVs accounted for almost 70% of their global sales.
So what is it about the Cayenne that makes it appealing to the global market, so much so that it overshadowed the iconic and legendary 911 to become Porsche's most profitable model?
I could say it's the design, but the Porsche Cayenne wasn't really a nameplate that I could call pretty right off the bat. The first generation Cayenne in 2002 followed in the “fried egg” that was seen on Porsche's models at the time. They improved on it when the Cayenne was facelifted sometime around 2007, followed by the current second generation model that emerged in 2010.
This current Cayenne is already the facelifted version of the second gen model, and it looks much cleaner than before. Compared to the first gen model, this Cayenne is larger but much sleeker as Porsche made sure it wasn't as bulbous as the first one. They raked the windshield back a bit more, and made the tailgate window slope a bit more to evoke the look of a shooting brake. The facelift adjusted a few things with new headlamps, a revised bumper and other details.
Inside, the changes are far more subtle apart from the steering wheel, but it wasn't like Porsche really needed to anyway; it still looks every bit as modern as it did in 2010. There's a different air in here compared to its peers like the BMW X5 or Mercedes M Class, and that's expected; the Porsche badge on the horn button does carry quite a bit of weight, and feels incredible to the touch.
The Cayenne may not have a third row given that it was really intended for five persons, but that doesn't really matter. Porsche delivered a unique take on luxury with the Cayenne, blending their sporting DNA with modern conveniences, high quality materials, and German build tolerances.
The features list is long as evidenced by the extensive switchgear on the dashboard, the center console, and the steering wheel. Everything that can be powered or electrically-adjustable is powered or electrically-adjustable. This Cayenne diesel gets the latest Porsche connectivity suite, the updated steering wheel, and a lot of other functions. Perhaps the controls you won't see in many SUVs is the adjustment panel for the ride height, the chassis, and other performance functions; many of which we'll play with later.
A twist of the 911-shaped key (or at least it looks like a 911) fires up the Cayenne's powerplant. The original Cayenne didn't have a diesel until late in its generation, but this generation was intended to have a diesel option right from the start, as it was just a better fit for a big, heavy SUV. This Cayenne has a V6 diesel displacing 3.0 liters. With twin turbos, advanced valve technology and other equipment, this improved Cayenne Diesel makes 245 PS at 4000 rpm and 550 Newton-meters of torque at 1750 rpm. The good part is its matched with an 8-speed automatic and permanent four-wheel drive.
The Cayenne's road manners in the city are hard to beat. The air suspension of Porsche is very, very good at absorbing the many imperfections of our roads in its Comfort setting. Remember the adjustment for the height? It proves very useful if you happen to encounter high speed bumps or have to overcome steep curbs to access a parking slot. Also, unlike other Porsche models, the Cayenne does not come with PDK; yes their dual clutch technology is excellent, but the automatic gearbox is simply more comfortable for daily use, especially at low-speed city traffic.
At higher speeds on the highway, it's best to put the Cayenne in Sport. The setting stiffens up the suspension for better stability and control, but at the expense of comfort. But really, at highway speeds on smooth expressway tarmac, it's better to have control overall. The suspension even lowers itself at speed automatically from the normal 211mm to 178mm for improved cruising.
The surprise of the Cayenne is the fuel economy. Yes it's a V6, but being a diesel means you can really be economical if you tried. When driven sensibly, the Cayenne was achieving 9.7 km/l in the city at an average speed of 22 km/h. On the highway its considerably better at 13.8 km/l at an average of 89 km/h, but you'll have to resist opening the throttle to get that number.
One of the Cayenne's hallmarks is its ability off-road. We've tested it many times before, but the current generation just has some excellent manners when taken on the road never travelled. The hill descent function is great, along with the off-road program for the traction control system. In off-road mode, the Cayenne has some great approach and departure angles at 29.3 and 26.2 degrees, respectively. With the suspension raised way up, the Cayenne can clear obstacles up to 269mm tall but, more importantly, it allows them to wade through water that's about 554mm (21.8 inches) deep.
Despite the abilities of the Cayenne off-road, most of its time will be about driving on the road over great distances and on mountain roads. The four-wheel drive system is rear-wheel biased, so you've got surefooted control when cornering, and ensures the Cayenne makes its way around bends easily. Sport is also the best setting to engage if you're heading up or down a winding pass; the Cayenne is a big and heavy vehicle, so it's best to have a setting to match it if you're taking on corners. And the brakes are also great at reining in all of the Cayenne's heft very well.
Yes, there will always be apprehension amongst purists with regards to these sportscar, supercar, and luxury car manufacturers venturing into SUV territory, but it was inevitable really. The Porsche Cayenne was one of the pioneers in this fast expanding category of luxury sport utility, and undoubtedly played a massive role to propel the brand to become the most profitable automobile manufacturer in the world. Yes, the profits from the Cayenne line keep the 911, the Cayman, the Boxster, and the 918 party going strong.
Still, the Cayenne holds a special place for me, especially the original. Never mind that Porsche purists would have burned one at the stake much like they did in Salem whilst shouting "Witchcraft!" or "Heresy!", but it cannot be denied that the Cayenne served as Porsche's means to introduce Porsche to a whole new set of enthusiasts... myself included.