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First drive: Porsche Cayenne Turbo

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What is it?

The grandchild of the original Cayenne, which famously transformed Porsche’s fortunes when it elbowed into showrooms in 2002.

It’s taken some people that long to get used to the idea of a Porsche SUV, but like it or not, after 700,000+ sales it’s still going strong (that number would be higher if it hadn’t spawned the Macan). This all-new, third-generation car is the fastest and lightest of the lot, which says something about the amount of engineering effort they’ve heaped into it.

If only they’d tried so hard with the styling. You’d have to own a substantial, Porsche-branded anorak to spot the differences, but they are there. It’s longer, lower and broader than before. It has a wider gob, muscle-fit bodywork and a full-width LED lightbar between the rear lights, which also houses 3D-effect Porsche lettering. The updates are smart enough, but if you didn’t think the last one was a looker, there’s not much to win you over here.

Engines are down on size but up on power. You have three choices for now, all petrols, starting with a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 with 335bhp, followed by a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 with 434bhp and ending with the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 with 542bhp, otherwise known as the Turbo. All come with an eight-speed auto – Tiptronic rather than double-clutch PDK – and all are available with the new tech, either as options or as standard as you move up the range.

What is it like on the road?

The Cayenne has always been the SUV for people who prefer cars to supertankers – especially those who had a Cayman or 911 before kids arrived – and Porsche has stuck to its guns with the new one. It’s not just good to drive for an SUV, it’s good to drive, full stop. For this we can thank mechanical voodoo, or at least a shedload of technology usually reserved for sports cars. Our test Turbo was fitted with the whole lot.

For instance, the rear wheels now help to steer, like on a 911, so you can dive into corners with an urgency you simply don’t expect from something this large. At first it’s alarming, as if the steering is too sensitive, but then you realise you can tackle sharp turns with a measured flick rather than a hopeful bung. Also, the rear tyres are wider than the front ones, which adds to the whole darty sensation.

New, optional three-chamber air suspension means there’s a genuinely noticeable change between comfy modes and sporty ones, not just in terms of body control but in ride comfort on rough surfaces. A new 48V electrical system (shared with the Bentley Bentayga) also helps, meaning the anti-roll bars are quicker-witted than the old hydraulic ones, adjusting to the road before you realise what’s going on. These are complex and expensive ways to disguise over two tonnes of car, and you’re always aware of the forces they’re fighting, but they really work.

Then there’s the sheer speed of the thing. The Turbo with launch control explodes from 0–100kph in 3.9secs (half a second quicker than its predecessor), and from there on the road is sucked beneath you like a crazy treadmill. Alright, so you’d sort of expect that from a 542bhp V8, but in an SUV it’s hilarious. To be honest, there’s never enough road to use it all for more than a few seconds, and some jumbo brakes are on hand to save you – optional ceramics in the Turbo, or optional new tungsten-carbide-coated steels in the others.

Lastly there’s a new, active rear spoiler, which pops up to help with high-speed stability and pops up even more to act as an air brake. It really does need that much stopping power.

On the inside

The Cayenne inherits its cockpit from the new Panamera. At the centre of it all is a hi-def widescreen that wouldn’t look out of place in your living room. Beneath that, and surrounding the gearlever, is a glassy panel with illuminated icons rather than push buttons. Touch one and you get a little haptic buzz through your fingertip. Fine when you’re in traffic, but on the move it’d be nice to have a few knobs to grab without taking your eyes off the road. Having said that, there’s also voice control with Alexa-like interpretation skills – just press a button on a wheel-mounted stalk, tell it you’re too cold, and it’ll turn up the heater.

Behind the wheel is a central rev-counter, flanked by two more screens. The left one renders traditional circular dials like a speedo; the right one can also display satnav or other information. Combined with the central display, you basically have a mini multiplex to control everything from the angle of the air vents to the ride height of the suspension.

The moulded seats are very similar to those in a 911 and they drop low, which helps you pretend you’re driving a hot hatch not a large Porsche. Rear passengers – even leggy ones – have plenty of room, and there’s an extra 100 litres of bootspace versus the outgoing model, though the luggage compartment isn’t as cavernous as you might expect. The materials, quality and attention to detail are almost beyond reproach.

Running costs and reliability

Economy is around 13kpl for the V6s but drops to around 10kpl in the Turbo. A new coasting function helps a bit – it’s like an extended version of stop-start – but let’s be honest, if you’re dropping up to 100 large ones on a car like this, a few more fill-ups probably won’t worry you. Diesel and hybrid versions will follow, but probably not until mid to late 2018. The latter will likely be best if you’re a company car user or concerned about tax bands.

Final thoughts and pick of the range

The Cayenne remains the king of driver-friendly SUVs. The new chassis tech and reduced weight make it feel more like a performance saloon, to the extent you question why you wouldn’t just buy a performance saloon – or indeed a performance estate. But when you remember it’s also happy to drive across streams and through quarries and over fields on a pheasant shoot, it starts to make more sense.

The Turbo provides hours of laugh-out-loud fun, so long as you have the nerve to use it as intended, but we suspect the V6 S with a few well-chosen options is the better compromise. The arrival of a hybrid will help the social case for owning one, but if image isn’t a problem then fill your boots – this is a very complete machine.

Specifications: 3996cc, V8 turbo, AWD, 542bhp, 770Nm, 0-100kph in 3.9secs, top speed-283kph.

Verdict: A buffet of tech means the Cayenne is still the king of drivers' SUVs, if you can live with the looks and have buffet for the options...

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