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When Porsche first introduced the Cayenne, it was still a novelty for a high-end luxury sports car manufacturer to produce an SUV. Porsche, however, saw the writing on the wall, realizing that those with money to spend on a high-end car were increasingly opting for the higher seating position and stature of an SUV over more traditional luxury sedans.
Now, with the likes of Jaguar, Bentley, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce all looking to find their place in the SUV world, it seems that it was the right decision to make. The Cayenne has become the staple of the Porsche lineup, outselling every other model, challenged only by its smaller brother, the Macan. While purists, myself included, loathed the idea of the marque being devalued by making an SUV, the success of the Cayenne has undoubtedly contributed to the continuation of those cars we all love to love. The GT3s of this world owe their continued existence to the success of the Cayenne.
Now, Porsche has given us the third generation of the Cayenne with a few key changes that keeps the car fresh in an increasingly competitive market.
On the design front, there are enough changes to make the new car recognizable from its predecessor -- but only just. In profile, the car feels longer, which it is, accentuated with more of a sloping rear and contrastingly a more blunt front end. New wheel arches can accommodate larger wheels more easily and look more attractive with it.
'Round the front, the grille is slightly enlarged, creating a more formidable face. Redesigned headlights give the Cayenne a cleaner and more modern appearance. The pronounced dome in the hood still makes an appearance, but feels sharper than on the outgoing car.
The rear gets arguably the largest overhaul. Where prior Cayennes felt bulbous and bland, the new rear end ties in nicely with the rest of the Porsche stable in its intricacy and quality of design. The Porsche name now sits behind a glass strip that spans the width of the car, accentuating its wider stance. New rear lights span the full width and now seem to be part of the overall design effort rather than tacked on at the assembly line.
Having spent a few hours driving directly behind one of the new Cayennes, while also driving one myself, it was most certainly the rear end that struck me as the design highlight.
It's now a better-looking car, but it's still not a good-looking car. With SUVs such as the Range Rover Velar making such an impact on the design front this year, this feels like too little, too late to turn the Cayenne into a real looker. Those who never got on with the Cayenne's looks won't see enough of a change for them to alter their opinion. But if anyone's still on the fence, this could push them Porsche's way.
The interior gets its main upgrade in the form of the new PCM infotainment system, lifted from the new Panamera. The showstopper here is a 12.3-inch widescreen display that gives drivers access to all of the features crammed into the Cayenne. A configurable home screen gives quick access to the most frequently used features and a simple clear interface lets you find the rest without too much trouble. Proximity sensors can tell when a hand is approaching, allowing extra on-screen menus to appear, giving maximum accessibility to features when needed but leaving a clean display otherwise. Multi-touch control on maps gives the system far more of a tablet feel, and overall, it's a huge step forward.
The Cayenne Turbo comes standard with a 14+1 speaker Bose sound system but can be upgraded to a superb 21-speaker Burmester option. Both can fill the car effortlessly with your favorite music, with quality audio evenly distributed throughout the cabin. The Burmester system, however, can give those who appreciate it one of the finest in-car audio experiences money can buy.
The Porsche Connect Plus package gives users access to Amazon music and other smart home services including Nest. The improved nav system can deliver real time traffic updates and the the new search function allows simple terms to be used and additional information such as fuel prices and available parking nearby can also be displayed.
The new Panamera will have multiple variants at launch. The Standard Cayenne will come with a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, delivering 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. One step up the ladder comes the Cayenne S with a twin turbo, 2.9-liter V6 good for 440 horsepower and 406 torques. Topping out the range (for now) is the Cayenne Turbo, which packs a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, which ups the power to 550 hp and a whopping 558 lb-ft of torque. All variants come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. There will be no diesel options at launch but it isn't a stretch to imagine they'll follow soon -- in Europe, at least.
The chassis has been redesigned from the ground up to help bridge the gap between comfort and performance. New features like rear-axle steering have been added to give low speed agility and high speed stability. A new three-chamber air suspension system gives a greater variety of stiffnesses from backside-cushioning softness to racing performance rigidity. A new 48-volt electromechanical roll-bar system replaces the previous car's hydraulic setup. Deployed to great effect on the Bentley Bentayga, it helped keep body roll in the Cayenne to a minimum.
Porsche has also added what it considers the first active spoiler on an SUV. It features five different positions to move through various states of downforce. The benefit won't be felt below 100 mph, though, so outside of the Autobahn it may just be for show.
The sum total of these updates is a ride that was able to handle twisty mountain roads with ease. Where the previous Cayenne would have to be somewhat nursed through tight sequences of corners, this new generation handles even the most violent turn-ins like a champ. The lack of roll gives you more confidence to push, and I found it easy to maintain speed through tight bends without the risk of understeer. It's easy to get right back on the power again on exit, too. The holy grail of an SUV made by a sports car manufacturer is to deliver the same handling characteristics as the rest of the stable, and the new Cayenne comes dangerously close to it.
The suspension (generally) automatically selects the appropriate level of stiffness from a total of six settings, varying from a loading level reserved for packing the trunk to a "Deep" setting that deploys at speeds above 130 mph for added stability. I'd like to say that we tested the latter, but that would be either a lie or an admission of guilt. I'll let you decide which.
All three models are fast enough for day-to-day use. The standard Cayenne gets to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The Cayenne S gets there a full second quicker, while the Turbo beats even the entry-level 911 on acceleration. It is truly remarkable to feel a car of this weight accelerate this fast, but the Cayenne delivers that 0-60 thrill in spades.
The new Cayenne is still not to my liking, looks-wise, but you can't argue with its performance. It's faster than an SUV has any right to be, and it packs a ride that is incredibly comfortable yet stable though the corners. The feature-rich interior enhances the driving experience further, making this a car that's infinitely more fun to be in than to look at.
Undoubtedly, the Cayenne will continue to be a best seller for Porsche, and there's a lot in this third generation to justify that.