Tuesday 28th December 2010

Driven: Porsche Cayenne Diesel

Can a diesel SUV really wear the Porsche badge with pride?

'SUV', 'Porsche' and 'diesel' are three terms that, if used in conjunction, will make large sections of Porsche's more traditional fan base angry enough to want to break things. And that includes members of the PH office staff.

So we thought we'd get that most pilloried of Porsches - the Cayenne diesel - into PH Towers to see if it could win over some hearts and minds and prove itself a 'proper' Porsche.

We're not going to go into detail about all the economic reasons for the Cayenne's existence - whether the best-selling Porsche's undoubted position as financial backbone of the company justifies its existence is an entirely separate (and no doubt bloody long) debate. What we wanted to find out was whether the car itself felt like it could honourably be called a Porsche.

First impressions are positive. We're used to the slightly bulbous shape of the Cayenne by now, and the latest version actually manages to reconcile its SUV bulk with Porsche styling cues (Boxster-esque headlights and tail lamps, the curvy D-pillar). Styling is of course a deeply subjective point, but the general feel in the PH office is that, if not actually attractive, the Cayenne's styling is at least relatively easy on the eye.

From the driver's seat, the Cayenne definitely feels like a Porsche. There's a high-quality but no-nonsense feel to the materials, you feel cocooned just as you should be in a decent Porsche interior and, while there far more buttons than a clutter-phobe could cope with, it's all logically laid out and actually quite easy to use.

Things fall apart a little as soon as you switch on the ignition - waiting for an ignition coil light to disappear before start-off is hard to swallow in a Porsche. Likewise the diesel idle, however well muted it is (very), is hard to get used to. We're used to fast diesels now, but it has taken companies like BMW the best part of two decades to convince its fans of the merits of the performance turbodiesel - and that's a much more mainstream car company than Porsche.

On the move, the Audi-derived six-cylinder diesel is smooth and strong, and the eight-speed auto, despite its apparent surfeit of ratios, never feels as though it's hunting, and always seems to be in just the right ratio.

Having said that, although the 405lb ft of torque does a good job of masking the chunky 2100kg kerb weight, there's no getting away from the fact that the engine's 240bhp is only enough to take the Cayenne diesel to 62mph from rest in a leisurely 7.8secs. The power delivery just isn't quite right either; the best Porsches should be all about razor-sharp responses and the Cayenne diesel's drivetrain is, quite frankly, a bit blunt. Blunt like a lump hammer is, but blunt nevertheless.

The Cayenne acquits itself better on a B-road. For such a heavy, high car Porsche has worked wonders with the handling, endowing it with a sporting feel that only the BMW X5/X6 can remotely match. It corners flat and grips well, and is even pretty keen to change direction, while the brakes are as confidence-inspiring as you expect from a Porsche.

The only weird aspect of the Cayenne's handling - and no doubt a measure of how tough it is to make a car like this able to handle so well - is a curious lateral 'shimmy' from the suspension. It's as though the suspension takes just a moment to check the body, with the result that the Cayenne just gives the slightest of hip-wiggles as you turn into a corner. It's hardly a criticism, but it is perhaps physics just serving Porsche a reminder that, while its laws can be bent, they cannot be broken.

So the new Cayenne diesel makes a more-than-decent fist of being a large luxury SUV with a sporting edge, but does it cut it as a 'true' Porsche? That might just be stretching its abilities a little too far.

Author: Riggers

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