It is hard to remember now the shock waves that went through the motoring community when the news leaked out that Porsche were developing an SUV. Back in the day, there was something of an outcry, with reactions ranging from expressions of utter disbelief that this iconic German brand, known for its hard-core sports cars could even consider such a move, to those who were convinced that it would simply be commercial suicide. When the first prototypes were spotted out in public, matters only got worse, as it seemed that the transfer of styling cues from the 911 to something far bigger did not work, with the result looking rather awkward and bulky. Whilst the jury remained out on the styling for some time, and indeed may still be, Porsche had put a lot of investment and time in trying to imbue their new car with as sporting a feel as they could, and the Cayenne, when launched received pretty positive reviews from a previously sceptical motoring press. That was back in 2002. As we know now, the decision was not just a good one, but a critical one, as without it, it is quite likely that Porsche would have experienced a decline even more dramatic than the one which nearly put them out of business in the early 1990s. Instead, they set a trend which every single high-end brand, with the sole exception of Ferrari (who may well be working on it) has now followed, and in so doing, Porsche has flourished, tapping into a new and lucrative sector of a market which did not really exist back in 2002, and which has generated profits to fund the continued development of their sports car ranges. The Cayenne quickly became the brand’s best seller, a position it held until the launch in 2014 of the slightly smaller and cheaper (and equally profitable) Macan, which in some markets, now commands even more sales.
A second generation Cayenne appeared at the 2010 Geneva Show. Although it shared some of the bits you cannot see with the Audi Q7 and the second generation VW Touareg, this was once again very clearly a Porsche. Larger than its predecessor, the styling bore a clear resemblance to the first Cayenne, but in its evolution, Porsche managed to lose some of the bulkiness of that design, though there was no getting away from the size of the vehicle, and few could, in all honesty, claim that was a genuinely good looking car. The revised interior followed the same sort of design details as the Panamera, which meant an awful lot of buttons, almost deliberately to make the console look busy. Again, this may not have created the best of impressions to everyone. What mattered more, though, were the changes under the skin. Applying the latest in engineering thinking, the second generation Cayenne emerged almost 250 kg lighter than the previous model, thanks to extensive use of aluminium and magnesium, which helped to make it more fuel efficient than the previous model had been. The engines were refreshed too, something which Porsche continues to work on throughout a model’s life. In addition to the various petrol models and the diesel, this time there was a petrol-hybrid as well. Visually little has changed since then, but Porsche have filled out the initial range, and replaced the first hybrid model with the plug-in hybrid. Sales have remained strong, with the market for cars of this type (and price) continuing to grow. They’ve been on Hertz’ US fleet for quite some time now, as part of the range of Porsche models that they offer. Having seen the new third generation Cayenne at the LA Auto Show, in advance of a US on sale date in 2018, as a 2019 model year car, and having tried an example of all the other Porsche models that Hertz offer, I was long overdue a stint behind the wheel of a second generation Cayenne before they leave the fleet. That may be some months away, as the cars that they have at LAX are relatively new, having been plated from July onwards. I was aware that their Cayennes are entry level models, but noticed that the latest ones have some darker coloured wheels on them. This turned out to be because these are Platinum Edition cars, an upgraded version of the base model. I managed to source a photographically-friendly car painted in what Porsche imaginatively call “White”, for a day.
Opening the door and getting into the test Cayenne for the first time, two things struck me: there are an awful lot of buttons to assimilate; and this looks very much like the interior of any other modern Porsche, with just a few cues to remind you that this is the SUV end of the range and not one of the low-slung sports cars. Although that first glance can look a little off-putting, experience of other Porsche models had taught me that in fact everything is teutonically logical, and is really not that hard to fathom out, but taking a couple of extra minutes to have a good look around, as you make the various adjustments before driving off, does pay dividends. When you spot 6 buttons on the side of the seat, and count 12 on the roof panel, quite apart from the array of them in the centre console, that only seems prudent. The cabin is finished to the high standards that you would expect from Porsche and indeed a vehicle of this price, with plenty of high quality leather and neat stitching used on surfaces that you look at or touch. Most of it was black, though some careful useful of metal-effect highlights does provide some visual relief, and with a panoramic sunroof that was almost the entire size of the roof, with the blind to that open, there is plenty of light inside the cockpit. The instruments follow established Porsche practice, in that there is a large central dial – and it is the rev counter that has pride of place – with two further sets of dials that overlap their circumferences, clustering them all closely together. The speedo is to the left, and is marked up to 175 mph, in 25 mph increments. Given that you are only likely, on public roads, to be travelling at speeds that use a fraction of the needle’s arc, and the lack of markings for things like commonly encountered speed limits, it is perhaps just as well that there is a digital repeater in the lower centre of the rev counter. The matching dial to the right of centre can be used to show everything from the selected audio channel to a repeat of the navigation or map or trip computer data, selected using a tracker ball on the right spoke of the steering wheel. Water temperature and fuel level constitute the outer pair of gauges on this side of the display, whilst on the left are oil temperature and pressure. An analogue clock sits on the very top of the dash, quite a long way away. Rather closer and in the centre of the dash is the integrated 7″ colour touch-sensitive display screen for the infotainment system. There is a touch interface for this, but there are also a series of conventional buttons underneath the unit to select the various main menu items. As well as the audio system, there is navigation, and some in-car data and various configuration settings. Below this is a CD slot and the buttons for the audio unit, which plays out through an impressive Bose sound system. And then you get to the slightly sloping centre console, where there are buttons galore, but when you look at them, you realise that they are all matched pairs, as these control the dual zone climate control system, and there is a set for each side of the car. You can synch them to the same setting. So although there is a lot here, you are unlikely to use many of them on the move. Behind the gearlever is a setting for off-road all-wheel drive and you can select Sport mode. Everything you are likely to use on the move is on the column, for indicators, lights and with a separate and stubbier stalk lower left, the cruise control, or the dash for the lights. The steering wheel boss is largely devoid of buttons, though there are some audio repeater functions here. There is a nice precision feel to everything that you touch here, reminding you that this is a quality (and costly) product.
Having familiarised myself with the control layout, it was time to get comfortable. And that is where those six different buttons on the side of the seat come in, even before you notice the three memory setting buttons on the door. With all those switches, the seat does indeed adjust in all the ways you would expect, including a 4-way lumbar setting. There is electric adjustment for the steering wheel, too, with what feels like it ought to be a flap you pull on located low down under the wheel, but in fact if you do that, it will move it in one specific way. The auto-dipping rear view mirror on the top of the windscreen did seem particularly small and was of unusual ovoid shape. Once everything was set, I did not have to touch it again. However, I did find that when you switch the engine off, the seat does power back somewhat, to give you more space to get out. Luckily, even though I had not programmed my settings into the memory, it returned to where I had defined it once you started the car up again. The seat itself, covered in a nice soft leather, proved very comfortable. There are some quite pronounced side bolsters, and these are very hard, as you find out if you catch them on getting in and out. Judging by the wear in the leather on them in a car that had done less than 7000 miles, people clearly do.
With a vehicle of this size, you would expect there to be plenty of room for rear seat passengers, as well. Whilst this is not the most commodious SUV of its type, and it is only offered as a 5 seater, it is spacious enough here, and definitely roomier than a Macan. Headroom is plentiful thanks to the SUV styling, and even with the front seats set well back, there is enough leg room. The seats are on sliders, so you can move them back and forth a little. There is a drop down central armrest with cup holders in its upper surface.
With all seat erect, there is a reasonable sized boot, with a retractable cover to hide the contents from prying eyes. Again, it is far from the biggest in a vehicle of this type, but it does offer rather more space than you get in a Panamera, or a Macan. You get more capacity by dropping the asymmetrically split rear seat backrests down, which you do by pulling a lever on the side of the cushion. The resulting load area is not quite flat, as it slopes up towards the centre of the car. There is no space to speak of under the boot floor, which is where you will find the spacesaver spare, complete with its red painted hub. There is electric closing for the heavy tailgate. Oddments space in the cabin is a bit limited, with a reasonable glove box, bins on all doors and a cubby under the central armrest and a pair of unlidded cupholders in front of that armrest. Rear seat occupants get door bins and elasticated pockets in the back of the front seats.
And so to the key Porsche question: how does it drive? I was a little surprised to find that I needed to put the key in a slot to start it. That slot is to the left of the wheel. Turning it brought the engine to life. With no badging on the car, I guessed that this one would be equipped with the entry level 3.6 litre 300 bhp petrol engine, and so it proved to be. Compared to the rumble of the V8 models, this one is quite restrained, with a modest sound emanating at idle. It is very smooth though, and always sounds refined. Put your foot down harder, as I was eventually able to do, some miles down the road, when free of the LA traffic, and whilst it is clear that the 175 mph speedo marking may be a bit optimistic, you are left in no doubt that this is still quite a brisk car. There is a keener sounding note to the engine when you point the car at some steeper gradients. Ascending Mount Baldy, which has some moderate inclines, and plenty of very tight hairpins, which meant that the Cayenne was generally in ratio 3 of the 8 forward ones in its automatic transmission, the car sounded very purposeful and really rather good. All those gears above this are there to help with steady speed cruising. And when you are doing that, this is a peaceful cabin in which to be. Noise levels are very low, with the engine barely audible and little intrusion from the wind or the road to disturb things. There are paddles on the wheel, should you wish to change the gears yourself, or you can simply put the conventional lever into D and let the electronics take care of it for you. On a one-day test drive, doing the latter is smoother every time!
The penalty for using the power come at the pump. The fuel needle seemed to move quite slowly even after I had driven 100 miles, but the trip computer said I was averaging about 22.5 mpg, and sure enough, when I came to fill it up, and it took 12.1 gallons, even though the needle was still showing over half a tank, I realised that this is because there is a large tank and not because the Cayenne is economical. There is a Stop/Start system, but unlike the previous day when I spent quite a bit of time in heavy traffic, it was not much used. When it did cut in and out, though, I did note that the restart was particularly smooth. Porsche cars are not just about speed, though, but also about being joyful to drive, especially on twisty roads. No-one could realistically expect the Cayenne to feel like a 911 or a Cayman, and it does not. But considering the bulk of the car, and where its centre of gravity is, then Porsche have done a pretty good job at making this one of the best large SUVs to drive, even without the benefit of some of the (costly) options which apparently further improve the experience. The steering feels very smooth, and is well-weighted, with plenty of feel as to what the front wheels are going to do. It lacks the final few percent that you get in some smaller crossovers (generally with Ford or Mazda badges on them), but you do feel that you can point the Cayenne with some precision down a bendy road and the car will follow the exact line that you want it to do. That’s also because it handles and grips nicely. Body lean is minimised, so you can tackle curves with some confidence that you won’t get into trouble, and maybe even enjoy finding the less straight routes as part of your journey. Large 20″ wheels sound like a recipe for a ride which may not be that pliant, and at 275/40 R20, the all-season tyres of the test car are quite low in profile, too, yet although on the firm side, this Cayenne rode nicely, too, covering over the lumps and bumps that are so common California’s roads. Apart from venturing a few yards off the tarmac in quest of some of the photos that illustrate this test report, I did not get to sample the Cayenne’s real off-road capability. I suspect few owners would do so, either. But it is certainly engineered to be able to leave the sealed roads and to head into the rougher stuff, with its raised position giving is good ground clearance and the ability to select off-road mode by selecting it on a button behind the gearlever. The brakes proved well up to par, with a progressive feel to the pedal, and doubtless stopping power that could cope with a fully laden car. There is an electronic parking brake, operated by a small button on the dash, to the left of the steering wheel. I did not even use it. Visibility is generally about as good as you get with modern designs with their high beltlines and thick pillars, that small rear-view mirror notwithstanding, and to help out, there is a rear-view camera which projects a clear image onto the central display screen, all round parking sensors and blind-spot warning in the door mirrors.
For 2017, the US market Cayenne comes in six trim levels: Cayenne, Platinum Edition, S, GTS, Turbo, and Turbo S. All-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are included with all models. The base Cayenne starts at $59,600 and comes with a 300 bhp 3.6-litre V6 engine with stop-start engine technology, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, a rearview camera, a 4.8-inch driver information display, and a power liftgate. The Cayenne’s Porsche Communication Management infotainment system also comes as standard and features a 7-inch touch-screen display, a hard drive, navigation, a USB port, and Bluetooth. The Cayenne Platinum Edition, new for 2017, and listing at $65,600, which was the version I received, adds gloss black exterior accents, 20-inch wheels, Alcantara leather seating inserts, a 14-speaker Bose premium audio system, heated front seats, and front and rear parking sensors. Some of the items on the test car would appear to have been cost options, these including that massive panoramic sun roof (moonroof to Americans!), the three-setting seat memory, the heated steering wheel and lumbar adjustment for the front passenger seat. The primary benefit of upgrading beyond this is to get a larger and more powerful engine. If you want more power, go for the Cayenne S. It represents a $16,600 jump from the base price, but you get 40 percent more horsepower for 27 percent more money, which is a pretty fair trade. You’ll also get a standard moonroof with the S. Next up is the GTS. These models are often the sweet spot in a Porsche, but that may not be the case here. Using the same engine, the GTS gives you 20 additional horsepower, an upgraded active all-wheel-drive system, and a sport-tuned suspension for which, at a starting price of $97,200, you are paying a premium of $21,000. If you just can’t have enough power, only the Turbo and Turbo S will do. The Turbo ($116,500) has a 520 bhp 4.8-litre V8 engine, and the top of the tree Turbo S ($159,600) uses a more powerful version of the same V8 engine, but it makes 50 extra bhp. As ever, there are vast number of optional features which you can select, though be warned that these can quickly inflate the price more than somewhat. As well as being available individually, there are a number of Packages, which group things together. For options like front and rear parking sensors, a moonroof, and 14-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats, add the Premium package, which tacks on about $5,700. The Premium Plus package ($9,090) includes those features plus heated rear seats, LED headlights, a proximity key, and lane departure warning. The Porsche Connect Plus package ($1,250) adds Apple CarPlay, a Wi-Fi hot spot, traffic and weather alerts, and a Porsche app that lets you unlock doors, view driving statistics, and locate your Cayenne. You can also add popular standalone options, like quad-zone climate control ($990), a rear-seat entertainment system ($2,590), and a Burmester 16-speaker surround-sound audio system. Many of these packaged options are available in other trim levels as well. You can improve the SUV’s performance by adding the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control upgrade, which reduces body roll in turns, for about $3,500. For even better cornering, equip the Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus system for about $1,500. The Diesel model was withdrawn from the US market for 2017, but there is still the option of the Hybrid car.
Although this generation Cayenne is at the end of its production life, with the new, third generation car announced, and due to go on sale within a few weeks, there is still a lot to like about this one. Whilst the styling may not be the top of the list of things that you would rate highly, once behind the wheel, it is clear that Porsche have done a good job in transferring as much of their sports car DNA into an SUV as they could, leaving you with a good compromise between the two. In this spec, it is perhaps more of an SUV engineered to Porsche standards than the other way round, but that’s probably exactly what many buyers are looking for. There is just one issue, though. Porsche do have another SUV in their lineup, the Macan. It’s not a lot smaller inside, but it is a bit cheaper, and on the evidence of the one I drove – which was a top spec Turbo car, it has to be admitted – it felt that bit nicer. It may be that it is a more recent design, but I think it is also simply because it is that bit smaller and more lithe, and hence more Porsche-like in its ambition. There is more space in a Cayenne, and if that matters to you, then I can’t see how you would be disappointed in your choice, but if you can live with the slightly smaller body, I think, at this price point, I would take a Macan over a Cayenne.