Extra power, along with reduced weight, has liberated extra performance from the new-generation Cayenne S. Picture: SUPPLIED
Extra power, along with reduced weight, has liberated extra performance from the new-generation Cayenne S. Picture: SUPPLIED

When Porsche first launched the Cayenne in 2002 there were twinges of purist discomfort at the brand compromising itself and “giving in to the establishment”.

Since then the prescience of Porsche’s move has proven itself with the Cayenne becoming the brand’s most popular seller, and this has inspired competing brands such as Maserati, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini — and soon even Ferrari — to launch vehicles that feed the public’s seemingly limitless hunger for luxury sports cars in hiking boots.

Porsche stuck to its sporting DNA in the first two generations of the vehicle, and so too with the new, third-generation Cayenne that recently went on sale in SA.

It is an iterative upgrade over its predecessor rather than a radical redesign, but many of the changes have been of a performance-enhancing nature, including shedding up to 65kg of weight due to the use of more aluminium in its construction. To make it more fleet of foot it’s also fitted with wider tyres at the rear than at the front, and it gets the option of rear-axle steering for the first time.

It has also gained some power. The standard Cayenne uses a 3l single-turbo V6 engine with 250kW (29kW more than the previous model), while the flagship Cayenne Turbo is fired along by a 4l V8 biturbo with 404kW (a 22kW improvement).

It’s the middle model on test here, the Cayenne S, which is moved along by a petrol biturbo 2.9l V6 with outputs of 324kW (a 15kW increase) and the same 550Nm of torque as its predecessor. Porsche claims a 265km/h top speed for the vehicle and a 0-100km/h sprint in just 5.2 seconds (with Sport Chrono Package: 4.9 seconds), claims I have little problem believing after experiencing its distance-blitzing abilities.

The big SUV dashes off the line with gusto, and the lag-free power delivery makes this vehicle scamper through the suburbs with an agility that defies its bulk.

Slimmer new tail lights are inspired by the 911, and are connected by a narrow strip of LEDs. Picture: SUPPLIED
Slimmer new tail lights are inspired by the 911, and are connected by a narrow strip of LEDs. Picture: SUPPLIED

A new eight-speed Tiptronic S gearbox delivers shorter response times and sportier ratios in the lower gears, with a long eighth gear for better fuel consumption. I found the transmission somewhat clunky in low-paced urban driving, but it was better on the open road where the large Porsche displayed effortless, take-no-notice-of-gradients cruising and overtaking.

It’s all a hushed and refined experience, and the turbocharged V6 doesn’t make a particularly sporty howl. It will burn you at the fuel pumps too, with our test vehicle averaging 14.1l /100km.

The test vehicle rode on standard steel suspension with three selectable firmness settings. I found it somewhat firm in ride quality even in the softest of its three modes, and the optionally-fitted low-profile 20-inch wheels (19-inchers come standard) further ensured this vehicle never felt like a plush-riding VW Touareg. This is the automotive equivalent of a pair of running shoes, not comfortable slippers.

At extra cost the Cayenne is available with adaptive air suspension, which should offer a more soothing ride to those who want it, however.

The stiff suspension does the business in the corners, coupled with active all-wheel drive that apportions torque between the front and rear axles as needed. Even after its weight loss, the Cayenne tips the scales at a hefty two tons, but the Porsche driver appeal shines through during high-adrenalin driving. The all-wheel drive Cayenne has a sharpness of turn-in and pinned-down nature that no vehicle this size should have any right to, along with nicely weighted steering.

Additional agility is just a dip into the kids’ college fund away, if you opt for the optional rear-wheel steering system, or the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) electronic roll stabilisation system.

Our vehicle had the optional Sport Chrono Package, with a Mode button on the steering wheel offering Normal, Sport and Sport Plus driving modes that adjust the engine and suspension, while the driver can also select an individually configurable mode.

A fairly major redesign sees the Cayenne looking sleeker by means of a length increase of 63mm to 4,918mm, and a reduction of its roof height to give it a more streamlined, hunkered-down silhouette.

The tail lights have been slimmed to look more 911-like, and the derriere now holds a very useful 700l of luggage — a 100l increase.

People are well-catered for too, in a generously sized cabin that lays on classy vibes and high-tech charm. The digitised cockpit includes a super-sized 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, while the instrument panel combines two digital displays flanking an old-school analogue tachometer.

In a driving helm that looks more starship than car-like, functions can be variously controlled by the touchscreen, a smartphone-like touch surface with haptic feedback, and real buttons. It can all get a little overwhelming but there’s also an intuitive voice-control system for some functions. Saying “I’m cold” or “I’m hot” will activate a digital hostess that automatically adjusts the temperature. Clever, but I had less success changing radio stations by voice.

The standard bundle of comforts comes with items such as electrically adjustable front seats and touchscreen infotainment with navigation, but there’s a deep rabbit hole of extra-cost options available, including safety aids such as night-vision assist, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and matrix beam headlights, to name a few.

With the standard steel springs, the Cayenne’s ground clearance is fixed at 190mm but it can be raised to a rock-straddling 245mm with the optional air suspension. Even without the air springs, the all-wheel drive traction and selectable offroad driving programmes for gravel, mud, sand and rocks should make the Cayenne a useful trailblazer. However, we didn’t attempt any bundu bashing out of sympathy for the low-profile tyres.

Most owners, we suspect, won’t have destinations like the Namibian dunes or the Okavango in their sights in any case. Their primary playground will be tar roads — preferably twisty ones — and here the Cayenne fulfills its brand promise by being closer to a sports car in spirit than ever before.

Prices for the new-generation Cayenne range from R1,142,000 for the Cayenne to R1,322,000 for the Cayenne S and R2,158,000 for the range-topping Turbo. A Cayenne petrol-electric E-Hybrid will be available later for R1,690,000, but there won’t be any diesel derivatives.

With an 800-grand saving over the range-topping Cayenne Turbo, the Cayenne S seems the value-for-money choice in the range.