Sugar, Spice or All Things Nice : Porsche Cayenne E3 Driven [review]

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If the regular Porsche Cayenne is Sugar and the Turbo is Spice, the S has to be all things nice

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CRETE, GREECE - Petrolheads might find this hard to stomach, but in some countries, Porsche is better known for its ‘utility’ models like the Cayenne and Panamera – and now the Macan – than the iconic 911. Now, that’s like saying you head to Arnold’s in City Plaza for the Fish & Chips, as opposed to its delicious, succulent fried chicken

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...and if you can’t quite tell yet, we do love our visits to Arnold’s!

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The Cayenne burst on the scene as the world’s first sports SUV in the Autumn of 2002, which probably sounded like a misnomer at that time… until you actually turned its wheel in anger – after all, this was still a Porsche at heart. Don’t forget, this was well before the crossover explosion that has taken the world by storm today; back then, the Cayenne was a revelation of sorts, because most SUVs – nee 4x4s – (with the exception of the agricultural royal, the Range Rover) were clunky, wallowy beasts of burden that looked and handled like moving barns. In fact, many of these looked better hidden in barns than valet-parked in front of posh hotels, mud-splatters, grass stains and all.

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How the world scoffed when the Cayenne was first introduced – as is typically the case for big paradigm shifts – but clearly no one’s laughing now. From over 270,000 units of the first generation sold from 2002, to over 500k of the second from 2010, could the Cayenne still be the secret spice of Porsche’s range in this third iteration?

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In retrospect, it was a masterstroke, because the Cayenne (and the other non-911s that Porsche introduced) gave diehard Porsche-philes who had to have ‘everything Porsche’ different flavours of the brand to enjoy to suit their everyday jollies, albeit mostly as additions – not replacements – to their garages, we should erm, add.

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For those to whom such non-911s like the Cayenne and Panamera were the entry-points, it was a great chance for Porsche to suck them into the joys of P-car ownership, especially since the brand also prides itself on organising frequent drive events that allow proper enjoyment of its cars’ prowess, as opposed to just cruising from one traffic light to the next.

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However, the world hasn’t been standing idly by as far as sports SUVs go, because in addition to the Range Rover Sport derivatives, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been bolstering their performance crossovers with the M/MPA and 63/43 AMG models, with even Lamborghini muscling in on the scene with the Urus, a first from the supercar segment.

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Don’t believe us? Take a look around the roads of our city-state, you’ll spot crossover, activity type vehicles everywhere (this includes both serious off-roaders and the ‘look-likes’), even though we don’t have any substantial muddy fields to speak of – it’s all about what such vehicles say about your active lifestyle, even if you don’t have one. The sales figures certainly corroborate this impression, because we’re told that out of every three cars sold, one is a crossover of some sort.

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Despite the new model retaining the same 2895mm wheelbase as the second gen – we reckon this helps it keep its dynamic prowess – it is longer, wider and lower than before, with familiar cues both inside and out that we’d already seen on the G2 Panamera and its ‘shooting brake’ variant, the Sport Turismo.

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However, while the Sport Turismo is a cool fast-wagon lifestyle alternative to the Panamera, the Cayenne is a credible ‘go-anywhere-anytime’ posh-roader that will tackle the rough and tumble as readily as the straight and smooth.

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From the rear, the Cayenne features the same horizontal light-strip as the Sport Turismo, as well as the integrated roof spoiler, while the cabin has been poshed-up with the same high-gloss touch-sensitive console as the Panamera/Sport Turismo range.

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This creates a minimalist, uncluttered ambience compared to the last generation, especially with the car’s functions now accessed via a 12.3-inch touchscreen, including a whole host of connected services that will let you plug-and-play.

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It’s not just a case of putting lipstick on a pig, because the classy look works well even in a car with as rugged a demeanour as the Cayenne, and helps it play the part of posh-roader even more convincingly. Thankfully, the Cayenne features a manual air-vent adjustments instead of the fussy virtual system on the Panamera/Sport Turismo.

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For the purposes of the launch drive, we rotate through three petrol Cayenne variants – Plain Vanilla, S and the Turbo, or as we call’em: Sugar, All Things Nice and Spice. Oddly enough, there isn’t a turbodiesel, and as for the range-topping model, we reckon it will probably follow the same Turbo S E-Hybrid format as the Panamera and Sport Turismo.

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All three models are specified with rear-axle steer (cost-optional on all but the Turbo) – which also means 21-inch footwear (standard on the base model is 19) – and Sport Chrono Package, with its storming Launch Control programme, as well as driving mode switch mounted on the steering wheel for easy engagement.

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With the Cayenne, Porsche introduces PSCB (for Porsche Surface Coated Brake), which the brand tells us returns a longer service life – these rotors don’t just wear less, they also generate less brake dust. It’s standard on the Turbo, and optional on the other models. There’s strong feel through the pedal, and the combination of ten-pot front and four-pot rear calipers provide ample stopping power, even from the face-warping speeds the Turbo is capable of.

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Having a variant without rear-axle steer might also have been useful for the purposes of contrast – with the driving route taking us through sleepy towns with narrow streets, manoeuvring a Cayenne around in the tight quarters without rear-axle steer might have been an intriguing proposition!

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If you’re wondering, the active rear-steer system creates a ‘virtual’ short wheelbase at lower speeds by steering the rear wheels in the opposite direction by up to a maximum of three degrees, but adds to high speed stability by pointing the rear wheels in the same direction as the front. In case you’re wondering, the new car’s turning circle has been reduced from 12.1m to 11.5m, and it was a real cinch to handle in small confines.

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As we alternate between the three models, we’re thrown into the classic Goldilocks conundrum. It’s always easy to shoot for the top-shelf Turbo, with its voluptuous body and voracious appetite... for cross-country miles. If the base is a butter knife and the S a scalpel, the Turbo is the lochaber axe that looks as brutal as it drives! It was almost dark by the time I got into the S, so my drive cycle started with the Turbo, before proceeding into the base and then the S on the last day.

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You’d think the Turbo would spoil me for the other variants, but that isn’t the case. There’s proper differentiation between the three models. For instance, the turbo’d 3.0-litre V6 in the base displaces 2995cc, and this isn’t just a detuned version of the 3.0-litre in the S – the S’s biturbo 3.0-litre displaces 2894cc – while the Turbo rounds up the tally with a rorty biturbo 4.0-litre V8.

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The new models enjoy increases in performance across the board, but don’t suffer as far as fuel economy is concerned, although in this segment, that’s seldom a complaint from owners. More impressive is the weight-shedding exercise that can be attributed to the mix of aluminium and steel in the body construction, which sees the base model drop below two-tonnes for the first time.

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The base model is a feisty character that has adequate performance for city duties, and it proves light and nimble on its feet as we hustle it along the winding roads – unfortunately, it lacks the punch of the S (and brute force of the Turbo), but it will acquit itself just fine in Singapore with the occasional foray up North.

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The spicy Turbo can be a real handful but we made sure to keep within its grip limits; however, as you egg yourself on, you’ll find that it’s got the firepower and is always ready and willing to play along. The Turbo’s effortless ballistic pace means you’ll constantly be watching your speedo in Singapore, but on an open derestricted road, it’ll gobble up the miles in the blink of an eye as it delivers you to your destination frazzle-free and almost as fresh as when you started the journey.

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Unlike the Panamera/Sport Turismo, the Cayenne features an 8spd Tiptronic S automatic gearbox, which isn’t only almost as quick as the PDK, but more importantly provides the smoothness necessary for when the Cayenne is deployed for towing duties, and it’ll happily tow up to 3.5-tonnes.

The S is our sublime sweet-spot because it successfully blends performance and plush comfort in an all-rounded package. Best of all, it never feels inhibited when you’re tooling around town, but it will readily go ‘Beast Mode’ when you’re in the mood, and it’s certainly our “all things nice”.

PHOTOS PORSCHE / DAVID KHOO

Porsche Cayenne
Engine 2995cc, V6, turbo
Power/rpm 340bhp/5300-6400rpm
Torque/rpm 450Nm/1340-5300rpm
Transmission 8spd Tiptronic S auto
0-100km/h 5.9secs (with Sports Plus)
Top speed 245km/h
Fuel consumption 9.2-9l/100km
CO2 209-205g/km

Porsche Cayenne S
Engine 2894cc, V6, biturbo
Power/rpm 440bhp/5700-6600rpm
Torque/rpm 550Nm/1800-5500rpm
Transmission 8spd Tiptronic S auto
0-100km/h 4.9secs (with Sports Plus)
Top speed 265km/h
Fuel consumption 9.4-9.2l/100km
CO2 213-209g/km

Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Engine 3996cc, V8, biturbo
Power/rpm 550bhp/5750-6000rpm
Torque/rpm 770Nm/1960-4500rpm
Transmission 8spd Tiptronic S auto
0-100km/h 3.9secs (with Sports Plus)
Top speed 286km/h
Fuel consumption 11.9-11.7l/100km
CO2 272-267g/km

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.