Just a decade and a half ago, the very notion of a Porsche SUV - let alone a class-leading one - was deemed rather silly. Porsche didn't need to be making SUVs, how could it, why should it and so on. Fast forward from 2002 to 2017, however, and not only is
perhaps Porsche's most important model, there's a weight of expectation upon it: two generations have set a very high bar, so the shock now would be a duffer from Porsche.
Steady evolution extends to more than 911s now
It isn't a duffer; sorry to spoil any suspense. It wasn't likely to be, was it? This
not only uses a platform - the VW group's MLB architecture - that's
and it takes a flagship turbo engine and a fantastic interior from the
; combine that with the experience gleaned from the first two Cayennes and you can kind of see where it's going to end up.
Take the styling. This is Porsche evolving a design rather than revolutionising it - works OK for the 911, doesn't it - so it's hard to imagine recent detractors becoming devotees. It has presence, most of which seems to come from the sheer size of the thing - fractionally lower it may be, but the Cayenne is also longer and wider than ever. It will certainly appeal to existing customers and, with more than three quarters of a million of those already out there, Porsche doesn't want to alienate them. And if you think about it, most of these big 4x4s stick with a design philosophy that evolves with time: look at the Audi Q7 and Range Rover, for example.
The most transformative visual change for the Cayenne Mk3 comes inside, where another Porsche button fest has made way for a haptic feedback dash and gigantic 12.3-inch centre screen. The only apparent difference from a Panamera appearing to be the inclusion of an 'offroad' button (annoyingly without a space or a hyphen). Otherwise it's as you were in the saloon and the better for it. Responsive, crisp and fantastically luxurious too, this really is a great cabin/infotainment pairing. Even the new Velar-inspired Range Rover Sport will struggle to compete for both sense of occasion and ease of use.
Is it wrong to enjoy such a huge light bar?
It's likely that you will have heard reference to this Cayenne being a family sports car, a five-seat 911 and so on, by now. It's very easy - and correct - to be cynical about those claims, what with this SUV being somewhere in the region of 600kg heavier than the two door coupe. That being said, there is some interesting technology brought across that gives the Cayenne an even greater scope of dynamic ability than before - it really handles every situation expertly well.
For the Turbo Porsche's new three-chamber air suspension is standard, as are Porsche's fancy new Porsche Surface Coated Brakes. Complicating matters is the fact that the test car featured ceramic brakes, rear-wheel steer, electromechanical roll control and torque vectoring. Porsche adding plenty of expensive options to a test car - told you there weren't any surprises here.
Thus equipped, however, the Cayenne Turbo is capable of extraordinary things. Of course it wasn't shabby in either previous iteration, yet now the standard has been raised yet again. A combination of those very clever anti-roll bars, the rear-wheel steer and giant (285-section front, 315-section rear) tyres means the car dives into bends, entry speed seemingly as much of a concern as what level of cooled seat you're enjoying. Lean, roll or understeer simply do not figure on the road, the Cayenne handling like a car many hundreds of kilos lighter. Get on the power early enough and it's the rear tyres that can be felt doing most of the work on corner exit - that will be the torque vectoring doing its job.
Course it's lovely inside - what did you expect?
It's comfy too, the air suspension offering bandwidth for whatever kind of drive you're doing. Indeed the normal mode seemed to suit in most situations, the stiffer settings almost eerie for how little the car seemed affected by braking, turning and accelerating. The Porsche Sport Chrono switch, along with individual buttons on the dashboard, makes configuring your ideal set-up fairly simple too.
You'll probably want the powertrain at its most aggressive though, so addictively ferocious is this engine and gearbox combination. Like a Tekken fighter that can both punch brutally hard and kick your head off whilst boasting a great defence, there seemingly isn't a weakness. And it'll bimble around in as high a gear as possible when required.
Borrowed from the Panamera, the twin-turbo V8 is so eager that it's hard to believe - beyond the titanic torque - that there's anything but a whole load of cubic centimetres up front. Buried inside the cylinder vee, the turbos are near-impossible to detect in any regard - the Cayenne simply rumbles up to some indecent speed without delay or fatigue. Furthermore it's not until late on that the gearbox is confirmed as a conventional torque converter; so rapid are the changes it felt for all the world like a PDK. Perhaps the sound of a Range Rover Sport SVR is even richer, though it would be a fairly shallow victory for the Brit bruiser here; the Porsche is more accelerative, uses a better gearbox and will be more efficient too.
Nobody else coming through if you are!
That becomes part of the problem when comparing the Cayenne to its obvious rivals: while a few can match it in certain areas, it's a struggle to think of anything that can offer such a range of abilities. An XC90 may look better and boast a similarly sumptuous interior, but it won't drive as well. A Range Rover Sport offers a lot dynamically (and more off road), but even its new cabin is unlikely to match the Porsche. One of the AMG SUVs will match it for pace, though with an older chassis and design.
The Cayenne is a very, very hard car to pick fault with. Some people may find the styling a little unimaginative, but that was probably being said about 911s in the 1980s, so it's unlikely to be too much of an issue now. Lower down the range the Cayenne may appear a bit aloof in its preternatural brilliance; however combine its abilities with the bombastic performance offered by the Turbo and the result is a seriously classy - and perhaps class-leading - SUV that will also entertain and engage like the very best. Entirely unsurprisingly then, the Cayenne Turbo is a phenomenally competent and compelling car; whether it's the very best way to spend £100K on a fast family bus we'll hope to answer soon.
SPECIFICATION | 2018 PORSCHE CAYENNE TURBO
Engine: 3,996cc, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@5,750-6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 568@1,960-4,500rpm
Top speed: 178mph
Weight: 2,175kg (DIN, without driver)