A unique sport-utility with panache | With enough trim levels and engine options to satisfy literally anyone, the Cayenne is almost a chameleon.
Launched for the 2004 model year, the Porsche Cayenne got off to a rocky start with regards to acceptance in the enthusiast community. The Porsche brand has always held a standard for precision, performance, and integrity, something that they had zero intentions of compromising. However, their venture into the crossover/sport-utility segment started a bit of an uproar. I understood their logic from the beginning and supported it – the profits from vehicles like the Cayenne (and later, the Panamera) would allow Porsche to continue building those sports cars we fancy so much. Over a decade later, I decided to take out a 2015 Porsche Cayenne S and see if it’s still a worthy contender in the passionate lineup from Stuttgart.
Now having gone through a couple of redesigns and a few facelifts, the Cayenne is nearing perfection in the crossover market. A decade in, it has rightfully earned itself quite a devout following too. For 2015, all Cayenne models get a slightly reworked front fascia, a new rear end, some mechanical improvements, new options, and some trim changes. What’s most notable though is the new motor in this particular model, the Cayenne S. Previously boasting a V8 in its bragging rights, the S now gets a new powertrain setup, something that packs oodles of power without compromising passion or efficiency.
The new unit is a 3.6L twin-turbo V6, unique to Porsche. Its only other application as of yet is in the new Macan Turbo, and it pushes out 420 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. The keen will note that this is the same torque figure as in the ground-crushing Cayenne Diesel. With the optional Sport Chrono Package, the Cayenne S is capable of hustling to 100 km/h in five seconds flat, not an easy feat for anything this size, least of all the entry-level model. This number is almost half a second quicker than the old V8-powered Cayenne S, which leads us to disagree with the “there’s no replacement for displacement” saying. Turbochargers and proper tuning can indeed outperform sheer engine size.
Sharpness is one area in which the Cayenne makes no compromises. It’s almost instantly forgotten that it shares a platform with the Volkswagen Touareg, because the Porsche behaves like a completely different animal. Power delivery is incredibly smooth but has plenty of thrust, and the steering precision is unmistakably Porsche. The new steering wheel is 918-like in appearance and one of the finest in the industry to grip. The instrument cluster has a large tachometer in the center, reminding you that you’re in a German vehicle, and the speedometer is off to the side and displays kilometers per hour in increments of 50. Yes, this is something special indeed.
Unlike higher-trim models of the Cayenne, this S doesn’t have an option for sport exhaust. I’m quite all right with this, because the noise coming from the new V6 is a symphony on its own. This isn’t a performance model, but that doesn’t mean it should sound boring, and it doesn’t. Upshifts from the 8-speed Tiptronic automatic are marked with a unique growl from the tailpipes, and it sounds commanding. It’s almost as if the Cayenne is reminding you that it’s not a force to be messed with. The paddle shifters are responsive, but shifts aren’t as precise as the PDK dual-clutch available in other Porsche models. It’s well known by now that PDK is an industry standard as it pertains to double clutch transmissions.
Handling is impeccable, and the Cayenne doesn’t do anything to remind you of its 4,500lb weight. It not only steers beautifully, but dances to its heart’s content each time a curvy road presents itself. If it weren’t for the higher driving position, it’s easily forgotten that you’re commandeering a sport-utility-vehicle and not something like a gran coupé. The 19” wheels are on grippy performance tires that help it hold the road beautifully, and the suspension does a fantastic job of absorbing road imperfections. Simply put; this is an SUV that will keep the enthusiast just as happy as his/her significant other who may not care about sportiness in their daily driver.
The key to Porsche “downsizing” the Cayenne S from a V8 to a boosted V6 was weight reduction and efficiency. The weight reduction is mostly nullified because the new model offers far more standard equipment than the outgoing one, but the increase in efficiency is definitely visible. We used only 91-octane premium fuel when performing our evaluations on this vehicle, and the Cayenne surprised us. The result was as low as 9L/100km on the highway, and about 10.6L/100km in combined driving. Even when sitting through gridlock (thanks to the Pan Am games having contributed to Toronto’s already-bad traffic congestion), it wasn’t getting any worse than 11.8L/100km.
Interior appointments are fantastic, and Porsche’s subtle re-workings have not gone unnoticed. The aforementioned instrument cluster is excellent and one of the “gauges” is capable of displaying everything from a full colour map to media information and a trip computer. Steering wheel controls for phone, volume, and trip computer are perfectly placed and don’t require any finger stretching as long as you exercise proper hand positions while driving. The wheel itself is the perfect size, and looks great against the rest of the Cayenne’s interior. Porsche’s infotainment system is among my favourites in the industry, and uses beautiful soft colours and nice fonts. The best part of it is the lack of glare even in direct sunlight, something many competitors still seem to have an issue mastering.
The Cayenne’s seats are comfortable and extremely supportive. I found them to hug my frame perfectly while corner-carving, and exceptionally relaxing while cruising down the 400-series highways. The center stack has many buttons and appears to be a bit busy at first, but once I got used to the setup, I wouldn’t have it any other way. All of the buttons are firm and feel like they’re made of the highest quality material Porsche could get their hands on. It becomes evident that a manufacturer truly cares about a product when even the buttons that will see infrequent use. The grab handles on the center stack have been a Cayenne signature item since the first-generation model, and they’re still just as cool.
My biggest gripe with Porsche isn’t restricted to the Cayenne specifically, but is applicable to the whole lineup. I’m not a huge supporter of the high cost of options, and the fact that things that should be standard equipment are chalked off as “customizable” options. The center caps on the wheels bear a Porsche crest that’s representative of the brand’s legendary heritage, but if you want that crest painted, that will set you back a few dollars. To have the beautiful car-shaped key fob painted to match your car’s colour, that’s an extra cost as well. I suppose from a profitability standpoint, it results in the buyer having the ability to spec out their new German machine exactly how they want.
With enough trim levels and engine options to satisfy literally anyone, the Cayenne is almost a chameleon. The Cayenne S tested here slots above the entry-level model and the diesel, with its starting price of $84,500. There’s also the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, the GTS, the Turbo, and the range-topping 570-horsepower Turbo S. The Cayenne lineup ranges from $67,400 for the base model up to well over $200,000 for a loaded-up Turbo S. On this test car, unique wheel choices, leather upholstery and a few packages bring the as-tested price to just over $100,000. I’d like to think of our Cayenne S as the sweet spot; it offers the practicality and efficiency that’s beneficial on a daily basis without sacrificing any of the panache or precision that makes a Porsche a Porsche.
Even though there are some armchair enthusiasts that may not be convinced on the Cayenne’s existence in the Porsche lineup, the numbers speak for themselves. In its first generation, Porsche sold 276,000 Cayennes. The current second-generation model has sold over 303,000 so far, and the count is rising every day. I’m all for building Cayennes, Macans, and Panameras, because they don’t compromise the integrity of the brand in the slightest. What the Cayenne packs is a formula unique to Porsche – it’s a sport-utility-vehicle with the soul of a sports car. In the right trim level, it can be as brutal as a Tasmanian Devil in a business suit, or in this case, a cheetah mixed with Sean Connery.
2015 Porsche Cayenne S Gallery