A race track and an off-road trail: two places you wouldn’t expect to see an expensive luxury SUV, but that doesn’t mean the new Cayenne doesn’t belong, as Porsche was keen to show
First there were the winding mountain roads of Greece, then the dusty desert trails of Arabia, and now the scorching asphalt of a race track; Porsche seems extremely eager to prove the go-anywhere ability of the new third-generation Cayenne, as these are three extreme environments in which the CarBuyer team has gotten acquainted with the car, way before it’s even made it to Singapore.
Thing is though, exotic as the first two locales are, they’re not exactly ideal for getting into the heart of a car’s dynamic repertoire. The stunning scenery of the Greek mountain passes would no doubt have been a distraction, and the Omani gravel paths could easily have been tackled by any car with sufficient ground clearance. No, to really appreciate the depths of the Cayenne’s talent’s, we need someplace more extreme.
And so the location of our latest dalliance with the Cayenne was Sepang Circuit, where Porsche Asia Pacific held the car’s regional launch. Now, a Formula 1 circuit might seem like the worst place to debut a car so tall, large and heavy, but there’s method to the madness.
“A Porsche is always the sports car in the segment, so the new Cayenne is the sports car of off-roaders,” said Arthur Willmann, the new managing director of Porsche Asia Pacific. “A Porsche is always at home on a racetrack, because motorsport is part of our DNA, and this is in each and every of our cars,” he added.
The latter statement might be stretching the imagination a bit, but it’s hard to argue with the former. The new Cayenne is lighter, lower and wider than before, and utilises the same VW Group MLB Evo platform that underpins the very capable Panamera – as well as quasi-rivals like the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus.
If that doesn’t make for a promising recipe, we don’t know what does, and we certainly found the meat of the matter when driving the new Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo at Sepang.
Two Lane Browntop
With a six hundred grand price tag ($607,188 without COE, for the Cayenne Turbo) and rolling 21-inch wheels, you wouldn’t expect there’d be many people who’d be willing to risk their cars getting damaged or even, God forbid, dirty by going off-road; yet it wouldn’t be very Porsche-like if its products weren’t up to the challenge anyway.
The hallmark of a good luxury car is one that requires very little conscious thought from drivers to operate, and in off-road terms that equates to making it as simple as possible for the driver to optimise.
Where the previous Cayenne had just a one-size-fits-all “off-road” button and a toggle to lock the differentials, the new car has four distinct off-road modes accessed by a mere touch of the 12.3-inch central display. The car then figures out how best to set up the transmission, traction control, and locking of the differentials depending on whether Gravel, Mud, Sand or Rocks mode is selected.
Sepang’s short off-road course isn’t the most challenging environment in the world, but it’s enough for us to actually feel the systems working away beneath us.
And no matter how controlled the activity is, it’s always amazing to experience a car that can clamber over a 30cm berm, traverse a 20-degree side slope, and move off from the face of a 35-degree hill with a minimum of fuss, all the while wearing distinctly performance-oriented Pirelli P Zero tyres.
Putting the ‘Sport’ in Sport Utility
The new Cayenne’s body might be much more aluminium-intensive, but there’s still no escaping its bulk (1975-2195kg, depending on model); this makes braking a fundamental challenge, especially when driving in a “sports car-like manner”.
Ceramic composite brakes have always been an option, offering immense stopping power and extreme resistance to fade, but, well, they cost $36,366 on the Cayenne and Cayenne S, and $24,260 on the Cayenne Turbo. If that little nugget just made you shower this page with whatever you were drinking, we can only apologise. If it didn’t then, welcome to the world of upper-crust German luxury vehicles.
This is where the new Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (PSCB) comes in. The discs are coated in a layer of ultra-hard tungsten carbide, and are said to offer increased responsiveness compared to the standard cast-iron brakes.
There are other benefits too: 30-percent longer service life, less brake dust, and after about 600km, the dinner plate-sized rotors will be polished to a gleaming mirror shine. Most importantly, as an option they’re only about a third as costly ($12,106) as the carbon ceramics.
Without a back-to-back comparison though, we can’t say if PSCBs actually perform any better than the old brakes or the standard items, but they behaved consistently even after dozens of high-speed stops in the unforgiving Malaysian heat.
What we were able to sample though was rear-axle steering, a first for the Cayenne. At speeds up to 80km/h, the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction to the front, reducing the car’s turning radius by 0.6m.
We took two cars – with and without the system installed – through a 30km/h slalom, and the difference in steering effort was staggering: rear-axle steering enabled us to get through the course with just a quarter turn of steering lock, as opposed to about a half turn of lock without the system.
This increased agility will be a huge help in carparks and at U-turns, but on the higher speeds of a Sepang hot lap, the Cayenne’s handling is so good that it isn’t missed. The way the Cayenne handles high speeds and quick direction changes is like a big rugby player going for a try: you’d never believe it just seeing them at a standstill.
No, it’ll never handle as intimately as a 911 or Boxster, but it surely doesn’t feel out of its depth on track. With the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (i.e. Porsche’s trick roll stabilisation system) in the appropriate mode, the body remains amazingly flat through sweepers, and the accurate weight of the steering means you have no excuses if you misjudge your turn-in and manage to snap understeer through the corner.
We were strictly told not to touch the stability control button, but there’s an underlying sense that with the nannies off, the Cayenne would respond well to being trail braked and aggressively chucked into corners.
Of course, none of the chassis engineers’ hard work will ever be noticed by real-world SUV buyers, but it’s heartening to know that the effort has been put in anyway.
In fact if you step back and think of the bigger picture, Porsche’s achievements with the Cayenne might in some ways be more remarkable than with its sports cars. After all, a Cayenne can easily survive a trackday, but a 911 wouldn’t survive a trip off-road.