Porsche is a risk taker, as much as BMW, Volkswagen, Audi or Mercedes-Benz is. But it is a different type of German risk taker. In the 1960s, they created the 911, arguably the most wrong-right car ever made. Then in the mid-80s they took a supercar on stilts to the Dakar rally and won it twice! You could call the Porsche 928 a failed attempt, but it was a risk well worth taking. And then came the Cayenne SUV and Panamera sport sedan — two cars that completely break through the Porsche ethos.
So, for the first time in all these years, with the new generation Porsche Cayenne, they’ve kind of played it safe. Read the press pack and you come across terms like better fuel efficiency, lower CO2 emissions and lighter construction. It's as if Greenpeace one day decided to walk into their HQ and threatened to side-swipe every single Cayenne they could sight (a la their anti-whaling attempts) unless Porsche didn’t clean up its act. But Porsche has been far more responsible than that and yet in the process the Cayenne has become more brutal.
To find out how Porsche has managed to do that, we landed up in Dubai to put the new Cayenne through the grind. At first, the team told us that the new Cayenne has become longer by 48 mm, of which the wheelbase alone has increased by 40 mm, thus making the car longer. But on visual inspection the Cayenne appears smaller, sharper and tauter. That is because the design team have done a fabulous job of making this car look more Porsche than the previous Cayenne. The clean bonnet design with mild power bumps and the sharp A-design air dam have made the Cayenne look more like its 911/Boxster brethren than it has ever been. When viewed in profile, it now appears less boxy and more curvy with the coupe-like roof line and curved C-pillar, making it less top heavy than before. The new platform on which the Cayenne is based (as also the new VW Touareg) has helped the big Porsche lose 185 kg over its predecessor, instead of gaining an additional 70 kg. This has been made possible by using aluminium for several panels such as the front wings, the bonnet cover and the boot, plus they have engineered light yet stiffened doors. Additionally, weight has been saved in other areas as well, such as the electrical wire looming, the drivetrain and the interior. You won’t, however, find the interior shortchanged. Rather, the quality has been upped to a point where it now appears a lot like the Panamera. The finish and quality of the buttons as well as the overall look and feel of the Cayenne has vastly improved, pretty much making it the benchmark for luxury SUV interiors. There are more buttons now than ever, but they are quite logically placed and it shouldn’t take long for most to figure their way around. On the Turbo you get adjustable seat squab, side bolsters and under thigh support, which are designed to make the driving experience rather sporty. You have a choice from a variety of woods or an aluminium-finished dash and centre console and Alcantara headlining, which aids in making the car feel very premium and very, very plush. And for the first time, rear seat passengers don’t need to worry about comfort. With the improved legroom (you can move fore and aft by 160 mm) and a seat whose backrest can now be flipped forward, it has finally become more practical too.
Under the hood, Porsche have added not one, not two but five engine options. Thankfully, we in India can choose from any one of them. Starting at the lower end is the Volkswagen-borrowed 3.6-litre V6 with 300 bhp, the Cayenne hybrid with a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 producing a combined 380 bhp and the Cayenne diesel which uses a slightly more powerful version (240 bhp) of the 3.0-litre V6 than its predecessor. What we got to drive though were the most powerful of the lot — the traditionally large selling Cayenne S, now with a 400 bhp 4.8-litre V8 and the Cayenne Turbo - carried over from the outgoing Cayenne with the 4.8-litre 500 bhp V8 lock, stock and tyre-smoking barrels! All these cars now have an eight-speed tiptronic instead of the six-speed unit, which help make the Cayenne as much as 20 per cent more efficient and reduce the CO2 rating by as much as a European city car. Greenpeace will surely be grinning at that prospect!
The other person grinning would be the enthusiast behind the wheel of one of the cars. Fire it up (with the Panamera-like key stub firmly in your pocket) and the new Cayenne sounds aggressive. Driving the Turbo (in menacing black, no less), made a couple of things pretty evident as we drove out of Bab-Al-Shams, just off Dubai. It felt more composed and low speed ride has improved to some extent, although traces of lumpiness still remain. It started to feel a bit better as the speeds rose, though any attempt to go hair-raisingly quick would have meant a speeding ticket Fedex-ed to us even before we'd returned to India. Yet as speeds started to nudge triple digits, the ride from the air suspension only got better in normal suspension mode, but became a bit jittery in sport setting. So to make things a wee bit exciting, we hit the sport button. Now that seemed to sharpen the throttle response and make the action from the new rocker-switches-for-tiptronic-buttons that much more quick to shift. You can, though, choose paddle shifters if you find plus and minus buttons on either side of the steering more irritating than a fly stuck behind the windscreen. But getting back to the sport button, and boy, did it leave a smile on our faces wider than a kid with his face dug in a triple flavoured ice-cream cone. It just transforms the Cayenne into a hard-core SUV that makes it a supercar slayer. Despite weighing in at 2,170 kg, the Cayenne Turbo started to handle more and more like its 911 brethren. It can’t hide its weight, but because you have massive grip from its 265 section tyres and the way the weight balance shifts, that even at 90 per cent of its limit, it feels very well tied in. We however didn’t get enough corners to test the car’s handling, but when the road opened up and we were told there weren’t any speed cameras for the next couple of kilometres, we just let it rip. And rip apart perceptions it did. Before we knew it, the exhaust note had turned from aggressive to a spine chilling one that would, with a deep bass note, go phurr-phhurrrrr-phurrrrrrrr. You really could hear the turbo spool with clarity and hear the wastegate whoosh get lost in that fine exhaust drama.
To heighten the drama, we quickly swapped places with another group who were waiting to hand over their Cayenne S’ to us. It might sound a bit down on power at first, but the Cayenne S is equally devastating a tool. Heading along our new off-road track, the Cayenne S made it amply clear that the new Cayenne has taken its off-road ability a notch up. You get optional lockable diffs (front, centre and rear) and the Porsche Active Suspension Management system (PASM) that makes going over the rough stuff so much easier. Switching off the stability management system (PSM), the Cayenne became a willing puppy in the semi-arid desert. With its crisp throttle response and steering, the new Cayenne has become more responsive when the going gets tough. To prevent the vehicle from getting bogged down while coming down sand dunes, we set the suspension on sport to reduce suspension travel. Even when we got stuck (which we did... thrice!), all we needed to do was stay clean with the throttle travel and just watch the Cayenne use its grunt to move out of the impediment. To top it off, it becomes even more capable in the hands of regular dune bashers, like the ones from Porsche’s test-drive team, who really showed how capable the Cayenne is off-road as it is on-road.
Those are generally called all-rounders, which the new Cayenne is. Though it might not be practical enough (just five seats and a hefty price tag that ranges from Rs 63.3 lakh to Rs 1.24 cr for the Turbo), you can’t but help wonder that Porsche have really raised the bar pretty high. To crib about the new Cayenne would be to nitpick, because for what it is, Porsche would be safe in the knowledge that the new Cayenne could very well become the super SUV to beat in India.