Wednesday 14th February 2007


PORSCHE CAYENNE TURBO

Nick Hall takes a cruise in Porsche's new, updated über-SUV

Porsche Cayenne Turbo *
Porsche Cayenne Turbo *

Cruising along one of the few knackered, single-track back roads in Spain that hadn’t been replaced with EU money, casually chatting to my passenger, I flicked an eye at the speedo. And, after a cartoon-style, face shaking double take, the kind Wile E Coyote would always manage before a wave to camera and 3,000 foot drop, I hit the brake. The new Porsche Cayenne Turbo was flat, quiet and approaching 150mph.

The road was so bad that a GT3 would have bounced into the hedge, but we only knew that because we’d stopped for pictures. Most cars would have transmitted the building site of a surface direct to the steering wheel and prevented such lunacy, but this thing could probably carry triple digit figures on the surface of the moon.

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Now we all know the Jack of all trades is the master of none and some of you will already hate this car on principle. Nothing you read here could change your way of thinking, and that’s fine. A 2.35-tonne, 500bhp Panzerwagen shouldn’t even make the radar, let alone a PHer’s fantasy garage.

That was my opinion too -- until I drove it.

Insane potential

The 4.8-litre Turbo has simply insane straight-line potential. Mash the accelerator and there are a few yards of startling progress as it pulls away in second. Then it finds first gear, shakes the twin turbos into action and blasts off down the road like a stabbed rat, wrapping internal organs round your spine.

It will hit 62mph in 5.2 seconds and keep going right up to 171mph with no more meaningful input than a flattened right pedal. Yes, that’s a 2,335kg projectile missile travelling at plane crash velocities and my biggest concern before taking the wheel was the last part -- stopping.

Even the slogan reads: “Once momentum is created, nothing can halt its progress.” That is truly tempting fate.

But it’s fitted with 368mm front discs and standing on the brakes, where that stuff really counts, I was only left wondering where Porsche had hidden the kilos and suspension travel as it slowed to a stop in a time that would shame most family saloons with about as much real drama as a school play.

Clever electronics

The key is the almightily clever Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, a new feature that goes well beyond stunning, it transforms the whole SUV movement.

Essentially it’s active anti-roll bars, using hydraulic pressure to fight against pitch and roll with a split anti-roll bar separated by a pump and more chambers fighting against pitch. Porsche was so confident in the new system that it provided a slalom course and a machine without the system to show its prowess. It’s a cost option that weighs in at £2,150, but you’d be nuts not to tick the box.

PDCC prevents any lateral body roll until the Cayenne is generating 0.65g, at which point it will roll sharply to let you know you’ve gone too far. Keep going and you’ll put the passive safety to the test, although to be fair anything other than a head-on with the British army will work out in your favour.

If you go beyond this artificially imposed threshold then you’re just goading the car into getting it wrong and you deserve everything that’s about to happen. Before that point, the Cayenne will take everything you care to throw at it with an unflappable cool. We were forced to watch our speed and bring it down to strictly legal levels in a radar zone during the test and it felt like we’d slowed to a painful crawl, it took retroactive reasoning to realise how fast we’d been travelling before.

Video game

We’re not talking sportscar cornering: all this clever gadgetry gives it the feel of a video game, just looking through the screen and turning the wheel. It really feels like sitting in a chair at home.

But then if you want a seat of the pants ride and feedback through the wheel you’re really not going to be looking in this direction in the first place. What it does is carry insane speed through a bend for one so big and on certain roads, like that Spanish B-road, it would drive desperately uncomfortable sports car drivers to distraction as it followed in its wheel tracks while the driver made a phone call.

There’s a sports button which sharpens up the revs and dampers even further, although with 516lb-ft of torque the Cayenne hardly need to push the limits of the rev range. Messing with the rocker switch to shift down the auto box was pretty much a pointless exercise.

After a few hours I would have just caved in and left the car to do all the work, sitting back to enjoy the car’s strengths – pace and luxury. The roar of the engine only intrudes under atmosphere breaking acceleration and this car will simply erase large journeys while the driver reclines in the armchair and does a deal. Its frightening progress will not be halted by bad roads, heavy rain, or hairpin bends.

Continent-crushing ability is an overused term, but this is the pure epitome of first class, long distance transport.

Economy? What's that?

There’s only one problem with that of course, and that's the amount of fuel you’ll use along the way. Porsche made a big deal of Direct Injection and increased capacity engines throughout the Cayenne range cutting fuel consumption along with increasing power, but driving a more frugal Turbo is like jumping out of the eight storey window rather than the tenth: it’s still going to hurt. Combined fuel economy of 18.9mpg sounds perfectly acceptable, but also optimistic as driven hard this thing will burn fuel faster than fire.

Styling is another thorny issue with the Cayenne, although the new Turbo is certainly sexier than the old model. A re-profiled front end takes some of the sheer mass out of the car and the bling-heavy LEDs that mark the Turbo apart look more natural here than on the 911. The sculpted bonnet, too, gives it an even more aggressive stance and if you accept you’re looking for impact rather than beauty, the Cayenne works in its own special way.

It comes with a low ratio box and substantial ground clearance available at the touch of a button. But apart from in the Middle East, where it will hit the dunes, the closest this car will come to off-roading is the company car park.

We couldn’t take the car on the off-road course on the launch thanks to heavy rain.

The car isn’t the problem, but try getting tyres rated to 170mph that work in a quagmire, too. There may be some, somewhere, but they weren’t on the Porsche.

Justify it

If you need an off-roader, or even a big family car, you can buy so many other more competent cars and have money left over for a real, lightweight sportscar that most of us would simply sit there mouthing expletives in silence when confronted with the £74,650 sticker price. Of course there is the V6 version for £37,100, but how do you justify the Turbo when there are so many other cars available for less money that offer almost the same performance and more fun?

Well the thing is if you need to justify it then you simply shouldn’t buy one. It is not the one-size fits all family sportscar, it is the biggest, flashiest motorway crusher on the market and probably sits in a stable stored in a climate controlled garage. It will be popular in the Manchester United car park, America, the Middle East and, despite the environmentalists’ complaints and Red Ken’s efforts – wealthy parts of London.

Tax will not drive this car from existence, there will always be those willing to pay, it and even revel in the added status the expense and increased exclusivity bestows. Until neighbours stab tyres and you get eggs thrown at the window, rather than a spit and used pants clean up at traffic lights, they will continue to thrive. And I’m kind of glad because, if the lottery numbers come up one day, I’ll want one next to the GT3 RS.

There are 10 cars I’d buy before the Cayenne, maybe more with serious sports cars, a big Audi RS and maybe even a Range Rover Sport ahead in the queue due to the value-for-money factor. But with limitless funds I’d have one of these in the climate-controlled garage for the long-hauls. It has made the fantasy garage, just, and if you disagree then I suggest you go out and drive one.

Pictures marked (*) by Anthony Fraser

Author: Nick Hall