When Porsche first revealed the Cayenne SUV in 2002 it went against every value the company ever stood for. Porsche excels in sports performance coupes, always have. The current entry-level 911 is a peerless piece of performance engineering. The ride and handling setup can strike fear into limited-edition hypercars costing over £1M.
While the 911 in its current form factor has never looked better. The Cayenne has always struggled to look dignified, but it hasn’t struggled to sell. Indeed the Cayenne became an instant hit, becoming Porsches’ best-selling model every year since its release. Without the Cayenne, Porsche may well have struggled on eventually orbiting into ceaseless oblivion. So then, the story here is… to hell with tradition.
As it stands, Porsche buyers love the Cayenne, it accounts for over 56 percent of the company’s annual sales. But enough about the history lesson and the stats. What is it like to experience the Porsche Cayenne? These days, it’s available in two body styles, the traditional SUV and the more ‘cutting edge’ SUV-Coupe form factor. SUV-Coupes have become fashionable, the marketing and product planners love them because they can get the sales teams to simply sell yet more Cayennes. Product diversification wins, the annual bonus is guaranteed.
But does the Cayenne Coupe make any sense? After all the sloping rear roofline will impact load space. In reality, it really doesn’t bother me, whining about interior vehicle space is a talking point. Motoring journalists need something pointless to worry about. And I question if I am a motoring journalist at all these days. Nevertheless, the Cayenne Coupe is available in several model variants, and yes each model variant does have a name attached to it.
The entry-level Cayenne Coupe retails from £67K, entry-level models are decently equipped, powered by a twin-turbo 340HP, V6 petrol engine mated to an 8 Tiptronic S transmission. We’ll skip past the Hybrid and the other model trims and go straight to the top dog, the alpha male of the Cayenne Coupe pecking order. The AWD, performance Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT. Prices start at £144K, with additional options this particular model cost a whopping £160K.
Standard features include 22-inch alloy wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes. Curiously, adaptive cruise control is an option. The brake discs are massive and supplemented by 10-piston brake calipers which could stop an earthquake. Exterior trim includes carbon fibre door mirrors, a carbon fibre roof and aggressive body styling which includes a rear carbon fibre aero boot lip and roof spoiler. Click the link for the full spec list.
Honestly, the Cayenne Coupe, in terms of the exterior design, didn’t immediately strike me as desirable, at least from the impressions given by the photos. But once you see it in person, it looks a lot better. It’s an understated look with its gunmetal paint finish. I say understated, however, the 22-inch golden alloy wheels add a bit of ‘bling’ to the classy theater. It is a big vehicle, yet somehow feels smaller than it looks.
As always stepping into the interior is where the first part of the experience begins. It is a sea of Alcantara, carbon fibre inserts and leather trim. From the comfortable alcantara-leather seats, to the Alcantara-faced interior design. The feeling of solidity and luxury means this is money well spent for those fortunate enough to afford one. The dash, with its digital infotainment system, instrumentation binnacle, and touch-sensitive buttons feels like the bridge of the starship Enterprise. Yet the center rev dial remains stubbornly analog, a doff of the cap to the past.
As for the infotainment system, it has a number of quirks and features to overcome before becoming fully familiar with the functions. It is true for any infotainment system. The Porsche user interface looks clean, the graphics are crisp, the system is fairly easy to use, navigate, and is very responsive. But if it isn’t to your taste, you can easily switch to using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto if that is your goto in-car user interface.
Nevertheless, the high levels of fit and finish rubber stamp the overall high levels of quality. And there is plenty of space for yourself, passengers and luggage, even with the slight disadvantage posed by the coupe’s rear roofline.
But enough about the interior, what is it like to drive? Monumentally and unashamedly brazen. Like a Parkour runner in business attire who has just finished a high-level business meeting in a room full of high-level business people and when the business meeting is over Mr Parkour scurries off on a much-needed parkour run.
As it turns out, Porsche’s GT division was given access to the chassis development. They lowered the ride height by 17mm, made the adjustable air suspension 15-percent stiffer, recalibrated the active dampers, revised the active anti-roll bars, and told the computer to make the rear-wheel steering bias oversteer on demand. This is sportscar levels of attention to detail on an SUV. And it does sound like overkill, it does sound like an undrivable nightmare.
But it isn’t. The ride and handling is stiff, but the damping control at low speed means the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT is actually comfortable for everyday driving. The steering is direct and relays a good amount of feedback. Meanwhile, the V8 purrs quietly away in the background giving the impression of wholesome normality. Indeed it feels like an everyday luxury SUV. But of course, it isn’t. When called into action the Cayenne Turbo GT responds. The straight-line performance leaves behind shockwaves as the air fills with the monstrous roar of the hearty V8. You can’t buy that speed and soundtrack mix for any price.
The Cayenne Turbo GT also had equipped the Porsche steering mounted drive mode selector, five driving modes to suit your temperament. I always prefer the normal mode because it is more sedate for everyday driving. But for this test I found myself selecting SportPlus mode, the highest driving mode possible because you get full unrestricted access to the V8. And especially for motorway cruising, the transmission will rev high and select the lowest gear. When you press the throttle the engine comes alive as the V8 blips through the rev range, it gives an added level of immersion.
Unfortunately, most UK roads are littered with speed cameras, and speed restrictions so enjoying the Cayenne’s full power was limited, literally by law. So off to a sleepy B-road by way of sleepy English villages where the loudest noise is often a bird eating a worm. Where the church clock and therefore time itself seemingly runs slowly backward. Enter the Cayenne Turbo GT, which breaks the silence, immediately notable for the drama erupting from the V8.
Blip the throttle for a few seconds, accelerate a few yards and the noise of the V8 fills the cabin and cascades out of the rear twin tailpipes like a bomb. The sound waves resonate throughout the typically picturesque sleepy village somewhere in Surrey where Google Maps has yet to digitally map. To the onlooker, it must feel like an alien has landed. In reality, the villagers must think, who is that idiot? But you just can’t help blipping the throttle.
Then it’s time to head for the near-empty B-road, free of speed cameras, time to see how it handles. The Cayenne GT eats up and spits out narrow, twisty B-road tarmac with ease. Nothing phases it, ride and handling remain stable through the corners, most impressive for such a big vehicle. Yet it remains light-footed enough to inspire confidence. Only treading over the known values of physics will get you into trouble. For such a powerful, fast inbred machine, the Cayenne is somewhat of a gentle giant, on the one hand, it is Thor’s Hammer, on the other, it is the power of the sun in the palms of your hands.
When Porsche does a performance SUV, they do so with their heart on their sleeves, because Porsche is about performance whether it’s a 911 coupe or a Cayenne SUV.
The Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT is theater, it is old-school V8 meets new technology, be it the CPU-controlled engine, active-chassis, AWD, driving assists, or the interior tech. Yet, in many ways, it is the beginning of the sunset for such a vehicle. And when the sun finally does set and slowly emerges at dawn, we’ll miss it when it is gone.