SUVs are not supposed to drive like sports cars, but the Porsche didn’t get the memo
Words by: Adam Allen
The Porsche Cayenne S could be considered something of an automotive Rubik’s Cube.
Allow us to explain.We knew that our Cayenne S tester was going to be fun to drive, but when we first set off after picking it up it kind of felt unremarkable. OK, as unremarkable as a thoroughbred SUV both off road and on with 430-plus horsepower might feel, but it took some time for us to get to know it intimately. The Cayenne S refused to reveal the traits that make it such an interesting SUV in bucketful’s but rather meted out its brilliance by the spoonful instead. We had the pleasure of flogging Porsche’s SUV along some excellent roads in Northumberland County and while neatly tracing a through some gloriously squiggly and nearly empty bits of tarmac the Cayenne’s raison d’etre began to make sense; we felt as though we figured it out. The conclusion we ultimately arrived at? The Cayenne is a thoroughly excellent SUV- with emphasis on the sport- and it is so accomplished in that context that it would soundly beat many so-called sports sedans at their own game.
This could only have come from Porsche, home of the stubborn engineer.
Want to know what the engineers in Stuttgart responded when people pointed out the 911’s rear engine layout just wouldn’t work? They thumbed their noses at their critics and spent the subsequent 56 years refining the concept. The result is the continued evolution of one of the world’s best and iconic sports cars, one that is equally a pleasure to use as daily transportation as it is slicing up a racetrack. They are also docile enough that a driver of virtually any skill level could have a blast driving one. Apparently, the current crop of engineers have inherited some of that dogged refusal to accept status quo. Perhaps they are unaware that installing huge 21” wheels shod with aggressive Y-rated tires might hurt the ride, yet even in Sport mode the Cayenne S remains taut as piano wire but somehow supple as well. Over the years, we’ve seen what these guys and gals can do so it isn’t really a surprise the bandwidth they’ve made available to the driver. What is interesting to note is that the Cayenne shares a platform with the likes of Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentagya and yet they all have distinctive personalities despite sharing their bones- the Cayenne is by far the more athletic of the bunch with the Audi feeling like somewhat anodyne and the Bentley feeling a bit like a creampuff. We’ve driven all three, and the Cayenne feels like the Goldilocks of the lot.
Just glancing at the spec sheet here…no PDK gearbox?
The motoring press usually doesn’t agree on many things, but it is unanimously accepted that Porsche’s PDK gearbox is the best of any dual clutch gearboxes presently on the market. Every time we have driven a Porsche thusly equipped we are left marveling at its goodness both around town and when you’re hammering on it and wonder why other manufactures cannot seem to emulate its level of engineering proficiency. Why, then, would Porsche spec the ubiquitous yet brilliant ZF 8-speed automatic instead? The answer is simple: towing. The Cayenne S is rated to tow a whopping 3,493 kilos and subjecting the relatively fragile internals of the PDK to that much weight wouldn’t be a good idea, so they looked to ZF to supply the transmission. Turns out that’s a wise choice because the venerable ZF is, like the PDK, widely regarded as the among the best automatics available to today’s motorist. While it is not as pinprick sharp as the PDK unit, it shifts wonderfully and will actually goad you into using the shift paddles, something you can’t say about many auto boxes. When driving around at a more sedate paces the gearbox slurs the shifts gently so that they are just about imperceptible.
You might as well tell us how it drives- just a guess that the news is good?
Correct. Did you really think any contemporary offering from Porsche would be a letdown where driving experience is concerned? Like all cars that bear the Porsche crest, the Cayenne S is accomplished in delivering driving satisfaction while making short work of your favorite ribbon of asphalt. What’s interesting is not only can it cut a rug with alacrity on tarmac, but it is just as adept when that blacktop turns to Mother Nature’s racetrack of dirt, rocks and other detritus found off the beaten path. While we wouldn’t attempt to take our tester into just such an environment, we believe the accounts of some of our colleagues who have and came away mighty impressed. See, there’s that conversation about bandwidth again- the Cayenne simply excels at whatever situation you ask of it. Oh, the brakes are fantastic and fade free and the steering is much more accurate than it needs to be in a vehicle of this type, we’ll hasten to add. Selecting Sport mode sharpens things up even more, and the exhaust blats properly on upshifts while the rig summons cornering speeds that border on astonishing- credit must be given to the 21” Exclusive Design Wheels ($4,810) and the Rear Axle Steering ($1,840) that while not cheap give the Cayenne an almost balletic feel in the bends. Moving the whole package is the same engine you’ll find under the hood of an Audi RS5 making a smidge less power in this application, but it’s enough to move this brute to 100 km/h in less than 5 seconds.
And what of the interior?
Sliding into the cockpit of our Cayenne S, we were first struck by how the seats felt. They are very firm and offer a wide range of adjustability for all shapes and sizes. And while they gave of a serious, no-messing-around-here vibe they turned out to be incredibly comfortable. We know this because enroute to Northumberland County the time spent getting there required a disappointing extra hour than it should have because of bad weather and summer cottage traffic. Despite a long time in the saddle we arrived at our destination feeling fresh. We love the Porsche instrumentation, a no nonsense affair with the tachometer prominently on display at centre stage as is the brand’s tradition, same as the ignition on the left hand side of the steering wheel. A new asset the Cayenne lineup can boast about is its embrace of a smartphone-esque, haptic feedback enabled glass panel that fills the centre console and controls everything from the suspension height to the climate control. At first, we longed for the button heavy approach they used to employ, but once used to the setup and interface we warmed to the new touch sensitive approach. Somewhat unusual for a Porsche, it was very lightly optioned inside save for a few indulgences like cooled seats and some Anthracite Chestnut accents ($2,800) here and there. It may not strike you immediately as cockpit worthy of its $120,000-plus price tag, but you can look as close as you want and you will find zero evidence of cost cutting; they use some pretty quality materials and build quality is first rate.
What might go wrong?
Those on a tight budget who simultaneously lack restraint should stay away from the Cayenne S, or any Porsche for that matter. These cars come very lightly optioned, and once you build one to the spec you want you’ll likely have sailed way past the sticker price. One option you might insist on is the Sport Chrono package ($1,280) and thusly equipped adds a Sport Plus option to the driving modes menu. Our tester didn’t have it and so we were only able to choose between the default mode and Sport. We found ourselves using Sport all the time because it just doesn’t feel like all 434 horses show up for duty when left in all the relaxed chassis settings. Lastly, we long for an exhaust that will let that 2.9 litre turbo V6 sing; we found our Cayenne S much to quiet, although you can hear a pleasing pumff on upshifts in Sport. Porsche would happily fix this problem should it be an issue for you, but you’ll need $3,670 to get the Sport Exhaust System and you can even choose whether you want the exhaust tips finished in silver or black. Yeah, we weren’t kidding around about the pricey options.
Should I buy a Cayenne S?
If we had the means to be shopping in this segment, it would have to be the Cayenne. No other offering from any other brand excels at combining comfort, luxury, sport and daily usability the way the Cayenne does. Added bonus: it’s now a handsome conveyance, isn’t it? The early generations were a bit ungainly but buyers will be happy to know that the stares in their direction while grinding through traffic are ones of appreciation, not revulsion. And for the power hungry, Porsche recently announced a bonkers Turbo S e-Hybrid flavor which promises to keep your chiropractor busy with all the violent forces exerted on occupants back and necks when the throttle is buried. At the other end of the spectrum is the more sedate base Cayenne and although significantly less powerful than the Turbo models it is no less rewarding to drive. Somewhere in the sizable model roster and dizzying options there’s a Cayenne with the right spice level for you. In the meantime, we’re just happy that Porsche continues to brush off those who say an SUV can’t be a sports car.
2019 Porsche Cayenne S – Specifications
- Price as tested: $121,260
- Body Type: 5-door, 5-passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.9 litre twin turbocharged V6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 434 @ 6,600 rpm
- Torque: 405 lbs/ft. @ 1,800 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb Weight: 2,178 kg (4,802 lbs.)
- Observed fuel consumption: 12.1L/100 km (19 mpg)