Three petrol Cayenne models will initially be available in SA, with a diesel and hybrid to follow. Left: The cabin blends elegance with hi-tech.
Three petrol Cayenne models will initially be available in SA, with a diesel and hybrid to follow. Left: The cabin blends elegance with hi-tech.

Seldom does an outsider, such as a journalist, get the opportunity to follow the gestation of a new vehicle through three important stages of its development programme. I had such an opportunity with the just-released 2018 Porsche Cayenne large SUV, the most popular model in the brand’s growing range in SA, with a 41% share.

A year ago, I was part of a small group of journalists who attended a Porsche technology conference linked to the upcoming Cayenne in Düsseldorf, Germany. This was followed, in January, by attendance at the global launch of this third generation Cayenne in the UAE emirate of Fujairah and Oman. Finally, last week, I got to drive three derivatives of the new model — Cayenne, Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo — at a launch route in the Western Cape.

Cold and wet weather in the Cape, together with strong wind, were not really detractors but widened the experience of driving these all-wheel drive models.

Once out of the interminable traffic jams around Cape Town the route took us through swooping bends and famous mountain passes on the way to the lunch stop at De Kelders and then we tackled the switchback that is the Houwhoek Pass on the way back to Porsche Centre in Cape Town.

The Cayenne certainly did not disappoint, and the overriding impression was one of togetherness with the car when at the wheel and the general driving comfort over a variety of road surfaces. The smoothness of the ride certainly belied the sporty prowess of these popular SUVs.

Impressive

My first impressions of the Cayenne, last September, came in three models driven by professional drivers at the ADAC driver training facility in Grevenbroich, near Düsseldorf. These drives were short, but impressive. They involved climbing a steep gradient, tackling rugged terrain and a high-speed finale on a wet road in the Turbo model.

The completely redeveloped 2018 Cayenne is even closer to its roots as a Porsche sports car than previously, with significant increases in all aspects of performance.

Porsche designers and engineers have managed to keep a tight hold on costs, as the technology in the Cayenne has advanced rapidly while the number of features has also increased. It is, therefore, a major achievement that this premium model range retains its value-for-money reputation for buyers along with its ability to retain value in the pre-owned market.

Prices range from R1,142,000 for the Cayenne to R1,296,000 for the Cayenne S and R2,158,000 for the Turbo. A Cayenne petrol-electric E-Hybrid will be available later for R1,690,000, while there is still no date for diesel-engined derivatives.

The third generation Cayenne is a new development. It is lighter — due to the use of more aluminium — and more powerful, combining traditional Porsche performance with everyday practicality and a high level of safety for the occupants.

There are powerful turbocharged petrol engines and a new, eight-speed Tiptronic S gearbox with permanent all-wheel drive, as well as new chassis systems, in all models.

The Cayenne is fitted with a new 3l V6 engine developing 250kW, which is 29kW more than the previous model. The 2.9l V6 biturbo engine in the Cayenne S develops 324kW, which is an increase of 15kW and enables it to reach speeds up to 265km/h. The latest Cayenne Turbo is fitted with a 4l V8 biturbo engine delivering 404kW, which is 22kW up on its predecessor and permits it to accelerate from zero to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds, and on to a top speed of 286km/h.

The appearance of the Cayenne has been changed gradually to bring it even closer to the Porsche DNA. The latest model is slightly longer and lower, which gives the car a sleeker silhouette, while the luggage compartment volume has been increased by 100l to 700l capacity. The wheels are 25mm larger in diameter with wider tyres on the rear axle for the first time. The enlarged air intakes at the front give a clear indication of improved performance.

The new, slick-shifting eight-speed Tiptronic S gearbox contributes markedly to the improved performance with shorter shift response times and sportier ratios in the lower gears which not only enhance on-road performance but also contribute to improved off-road ability. At the other end of the spectrum, the high gearing in the eighth ratio optimises fuel economy and relaxed driving.

The Cayenne has certainly done wonders in growing Porsche’s range and sales volume since the sports car firm rocked the establishment by launching its first SUV in 2002.

However, since then there have been a plethora of SUV models from other premium niche brands such as Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, and Bentley, joining a space which has long included derivatives from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, Audi, and Range Rover. Even Ferrari is set to join the fray, while Geely, the Chinese owner of the British sports car brand Lotus, is considering a Lotus SUV.

The new Cayenne must be a favourite for the 2019 South African Car of the Year title.