Like it or not the burgeoning demand for large sports SUVs shows no sign of diminishing. And among the more focused contenders the current top dog may well be Porsche's Cayenne GTS. With a compelling blend of the comfortable and the carnal, others contenders have their work cut out to better it.
The Range Rover Sport and BMW's X6 are the Cayenne's most obvious rivals, with Infiniti's 5.0-litre V8 QX70 a left-field alternative. But there was, albeit briefly, another Cayenne rival which shared more than a modicum of DNA in common with the Porsche - VW's mad R50 Touareg.
Just like its Audi Q7 relatives it was diesel-powered and based on the same platform as the Porsche Cayenne. But with ten cylinders and 627lb ft of torque the Touareg R50 packed a potent punch only the V12 TDI Audi Q7 could better.
Sadly for VW the almost apologetic image of the Touareg (at least in petrolhead circles) ensured that many potential customers simply weren't aware the R50 existed. But it was nevertheless a bespoke sports vehicle, prepared by Volkswagen's acclaimed R performance division and possessing a monster spec to match its pulling power.
In the end just 71 UK examples were bought by VW aficionados, and 63 of those are still happily pummelling UK roads today. But with a decent example available for the same price as a first-generation Cayenne GTS it raises an interesting question - which of these two VW/Porsche cousins is most worthy of your money?
Volkswagen's Touareg R50 - the third Volkswagen model to be given the 'R' treatment - was launched at the 2007 Sydney Motor Show. The car's tweaked 5.0-litre V10 TDI engine produced 350hp at 3,500rpm and a whopping 627lb ft of torque from just 2,000rpm. As a result acceleration to 62mph took just 6.5 seconds (matching the R32 Golf incidentally) and although the R50 weighed in at a monumental 2,602kg the top speed was still a very respectable 146mph. Everything about it was OTT - from the 21-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels (with wheelarch extensions and blue brake callipers) to the tuned 4Motion four-wheel drive system with CDC continuous damping control.
The car was lowered by 20mm and the R-design package also included a body-coloured roof spoiler, restyled bumpers and oval tailpipe trims, a matt chrome radiator grille and louvres and honeycomb airdam inserts. And of course there were plenty of R logos on the pedals, door sill protectors and Nappa leather sports seats.
Priced at £61,885 the R50's sumptuous standard spec included four-zone climate control, air suspension, a winter package (including seat heating for the rear seats) and electrically adjustable memory seats. Quite a car then - but quite a price, especially when you consider that at the time a Porsche Cayenne GTS was actually cheaper. UK cars went on sale in February 2008 priced as £54,350.
However this was the list price for a standard six-speed manual with no extra frills. An automatic transmission was a £1,760 option and to match the VW's spec you'd also have needed to splash out on optional air suspension and Porsche's PDCC active anti-roll system - which would have put your Cayenne GTS's price on a par with the Touareg R50.
More focused than the Touareg, the Cayenne GTS offered a firmer chassis setup with a lower-slung body yet still boasted a high degree of comfort. Positioned between the Cayenne S and the Cayenne Turbo it possesses its own distinctive character
Powered by the naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 from the Cayenne S, the first-generation GTS produced an extra 20bhp thanks to a freer flowing intake system - taking power to 400hp. It also featured a 24mm-lowered sport suspension and - like the R50 - 21-inch alloys. Lighter than the Cayenne S and boasting an aerodynamic body kit the high-revving Cayenne GTS hit 62mph in just 5.7 seconds. It lacked the R50's torque (with a comparatively modest 370lb ft at 3,500rpm) and it was the first Cayenne to be sold with the combination of steel springs and PASM adjustable dampers. A specced-up Cayenne GTS Porsche Design Edition 3 followed in May 2009 before the second generation Porsche Cayenne arrived in 2011.
Available to UK buyers from 2012 the new GTS claimed an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission as standard and produced 420hp plus 380lb ft of torque. It was 160kg lighter than the first generation model too and efficiency was improved - with fuel economy up to 26.4mpg and CO2 emissions down to 251g/km.
PASM was fitted as standard, but air suspension, Porsche's Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) and Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV Plus) systems were all expensive options to add on to the GTS's £67,147 list price. Other standard features included dual-zone climate controls, cruise control, leather upholstery, 8-way powered front seats, red brake callipers, Porsche's Dynamic Light System, a rear view camera and keyless access and starting. Both Cayenne GTS incarnations have proved big sellers, with over 15,000 first-generation examples sold across the world.
Both manufacturers are happy to talk about their cars' shared DNA, with the Porsche Cayenne and the Volkswagen Touareg undergoing initial production at Volkswagen's Bratislava plant in Slovakia, alongside the Audi Q7.
The two cars are built on Volkswagen Group's PL71 shared platform, which was co-developed with Porsche, and their body shells are manufactured together in the Bratislava factory. This includes most elements of the assembly, some chassis components and painting. Touareg final production and finishing remains at the Bratislava plant, whilst the Cayenne's interior is completed - and the engine and drivetrain installed - at Porsche's Leipzig factory, alongside the Panamera and Macan.
The Cayenne's spirited V8 engine is a wholly Porsche designed and developed unit (although the diesel engines fitted to other Cayenne models are manufactured by VW and then tuned by Porsche) whilst all the Cayenne's chassis, steering, gearbox, suspension and braking components are developed and tuned by Porsche.
So both these closely-related SUVs have as many differences as they have similarities, and that extends to their sales profiles too. Annual UK Cayenne sales are around the 3,000 mark with over 850 Cayenne GTS models sold to date - which is in stark contrast to the Volkswagen Touareg R50, which sold a mere 71 UK examples.
Although the Cayenne GTS and R50 started life with more in common than many Porsche owners might care to admit, attending very different finishing schools has produced profound differences in the way these two cousins look, and drive.
The classy Cayenne is instantly recognisable as a Porsche, with all the accompanying kudos, whereas VW's R50 - for all its brute strength - looks very much like a standard Touareg, with a conservative dose of bling.
That expensive-looking Porsche cabin boasts stunning design - those overlapping white dials are a delight - and the cabin materials feel exceptional. The passage of time has increased the exterior allure of the Cayenne too and our Carmine Red 2012 model looks uber cool with mean black quad exhausts, yellow brake calipers and striking black 21-inch alloys
The Cayenne's gaping face has a more aggressive stare too. In comparison the reticent R50 cabin seems somewhat staid and functional - despite being undeniably a notch above many other VWs. More of a workhorse than a warrior, it has no pretensions - and that straight-forward, down-to-earth nature is perhaps the VW's greatest asset. To those in the know, the blue Brembo calipers and low-profile R50 badging are enough.
From the driver's seat the personality differences are even more apparent. The Cayenne's high-revving V8 is something of a performance treat, whilst the neat steering response is a surprise. The soundtrack in Sport a smile on your face too, but the GTS is still a pretty sizeable beast - on broken surfaces the suspension is pretty firm. Optional air suspension and PDCC are must-have items. Critics might feel that the V8 lacks serious torque and there is an occasional momentary delay in power delivery in manual mode, but the Cayenne GTS still offers a top notch drive.
The R50 on the other hand feels noticeably heavier and more cumbersome, yet that colossal initial surge of torque makes its initial response feel faster. In reality the straight-line performance of these two relatives is pretty similar, with the Porsche only offering more urgency at high revs. The Touareg possesses an accomplished ride too with surprisingly minimal body-roll. Comfortable yet surprisingly nimble, it's a bit like a slightly overweight ex-ballerina.
That automatic transmission doesn't always do what you want it to though and the growling baritone powerplant - despite possessing ten cylinders - still sounds disappointingly gruff and metallic. On an all-or-nothing drive it's certainly a hoot, but driven every day it's just not as engaging as the Cayenne GTS.
It'll take you longer to get hold of an R50 too: with so few around it'll take you months to find one you're happy with, and don't be tempted to buy the dumbed-down Altitude V10 model instead - it isn't an R50 and doesn't drive or feel like one. It's also losing value hand over fist.
Finding a Cayenne GTS to suit will prove far easier. There are a reasonable number of cherished used examples around - most sporting less than 60K miles. And early first generation models (which now change hands for as little as £22,000) are actually cheaper than an R50.
Neither contender will prove economical to own though - drive one every day and forking out for fuel, road tax and regular maintenance will put heavy pressure on your wallet. But both VW cousins boast admirable reliability records, with the risk of excessive wear to the centre propshaft bearing the only potentially significant issue on both cars. This could cost a grand or more to rectify.
And those who like to wield a spanner or two should note that there is very little spare room in either engine bay. Any major issues on that V10 diesel and you're looking at ten hours labour just to get the engine out.
A one-off, Volkswagen Touareg R50 is truly exclusive - but it's not for the faint hearted. Perhaps, bizarrely, Porsche's sexier Cayenne GTS is actually the more mainstream choice.
VOLKSWAGEN TOUAREG R50 (2008 model)
Engine: 4,921cc V10 turbodiesel
Power (hp): 350@3,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 627@2,000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 146mph
MPG: 22.4 (NEDC combined)
Price: £25,995 to £38,995
Love it: It's more exclusive than a GT3 RS
Loathe it: It looks like any other Touareg
Spotted:Blue Touareg R50, 43K miles, FSH
PORSCHE CAYENNE GTS (2012 model)
Engine: 4,806cc V8
Power (hp): 420@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 380@3,500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed tiptronic, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 162mph
MPG: 26.4 (NEDC combined)
Price: £21,995 to £74,995
Manufactured: Gen 1 2008-2010, Gen 2 2011-2014
Love it: Addictive engine, stunning interior design
Loathe it: Too weighty to feel truly nimble
Spotted:2008 Gen 1 Cayenne GTS, Black, 67K miles
1 / 4