What is it?
The big news for the new Porsche Cayenne S is that the old V8 is out and a new 3.6-litre twin-turbo V6 is in. That means more power and torque – up from 394bhp and 369lb ft in the V8 to 414bhp and 406lb ft in the V6 – as well as better fuel economy. Suspension has been tweaked, too, with an overhaul to improve both pliancy and precision, according to Porsche, while cars fitted with optional adaptive dampers (£1052) or air suspension (£2379) enjoy a broader spread between comfort and sports settings, too.
It’s not obvious, but the exterior has also had a going over. It’s virtually just the doors and roof that remain untouched, but different air intakes and new tail-lights are among the most obvious identifiers of this update.
Power is still sent through Porsche’s eight-speed automatic transmission, via an on-demand four-wheel drive system.
What’s it like?
The engine is a peach. Okay, so you don’t get the emotive burble of the old V8, but the V6 feels properly lively when you want it to, revving sweetly through a long, elastic-feeling rev range, without any untoward boostiness from the turbos. Use the paddles and you can even work this motor as if it were naturally aspirated, though most will prefer to avoid the slightly whiny-sounding high revs and stick to the broad spread of torque elsewhere.
That’s where the eight-speed auto will generally keep you anyway. It shifts smoothly and nearly always picks the right ratio, although in Sport auto mode it can be a little slower than you might hope; the paddle shifters are better for really plundering the Cayenne’s substantial performance.
So is the handling drastically improved? Not really, no, but the Cayenne was hardly shabby to drive before. What is evident is that the Porsche remains about as wieldy as a big SUV can be. The four-wheel drive system allows a little slip at the rear wheels, which is a welcome help to get the car turned in, because otherwise – in greasy conditions, particularly – the Cayenne’s first inclination is to understeer. Throw in some liberal trail-braking as you dive into a corner, though, and you can dial the understeer out pretty easily and the whole car feels balanced, responsive and even quite fun. All this is tempered by great brake and throttle feel and response, as well as well weighted, predictable steering.
Our car came on air suspension, which brings a fair amount of body float, though in Sport or Sport Plus the suspension manages weight transfer well and keeps body movements progressive. Problem is, either of these settings also introduces a fidgety ride over patched-up surfaces, with overly bouncy vertical damping at speed and harsh initial bump absorption. The 21in alloys on our car won’t have helped at all, but on air suspension and big rims the Cayenne falls short of the sweet balance of cushy ride and absorbing handling that the Range Rover Sport does so brilliantly.
The interior has been mildly updated. A new steering wheel is the main change, and it’s lovely, with standard multi-function controls and ideal rim width. Otherwise, the Cayenne’s cabin remains a comfortable and solid-feeling place that comes with electrically adjustable front seats, leather and climate control, although you’ll have to pay extra for sat-nav and even Bluetooth.
Should I buy one?
This is a brilliantly polished big SUV that will be both entertaining and relaxing to live with. Yet the only reason to buy the S is because you don’t want diesel. After all, if you can bring yourself to fill up at the black pump, there’s the better-equipped and more practical Range Rover Sport and the V8 Cayenne Diesel S, both of which will hold their value much better and are in some ways more characterful and well rounded dynamically.
Even so, if you’re wholly averse to a diesel Cayenne (and we can’t emphasise enough how much you shouldn’t be), the Cayenne S is as good as a petrol SUV gets at this price.
Porsche Cayenne S
Price £60,218; Engine V6, 3604cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power 414bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 406lb ft at 1350-4500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2160kg; Top speed 160mph; 0-62mph 5.5sec; Economy 28.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 223g/km, 35 per cent
What is it?