In hindsight, Porsche couldn't possibly have picked a better name for their first SUV. It very much embodies that sizzle on the taste buds, that burning in the throat and that heat in the stomach that peppers, like the Cayenne, are so cherished for. At launch, it was considered sacrilege for the sportscar brand. But then people started getting behind the wheel and the car went from being pig-ugly and not-fitting-the-brand to eye-opener. It set new standards of what SUVs could do on tarmac and whipped the BMW X5 - not direct competition but certainly the most accomplished on-road SUV. When I first drove the Cayenne - the last generation S, to be precise - I was blown away.
The Cayenne drove beautifully. It was composed over bad roads, impressively flat in corners and that V8 burbled away while the Porsche amassed fearsome speeds in no time at all. Then I punted the Cayenne Turbo at last year's Track Test in Chennai and I have to say the thrum of the Turbo spearing past on Sriperumbudur's (short) main straight was a distinct, tangy pleasure. It was almost ironic that the Panamera, another Porsche heresy if the initial clamour is to be believed, was the car that came anywhere close to trumping the superlative SUV.
This then is a comprehensive reworking of that stellar SUV. And the last Cayenne that is pure Porsche in the sense of the looming VW influence. Porsche like their cars to evolve. They prefer a gentle sharpening of styling over time. A careful, slow moulding of the lines rather than dramatic changes of line and appeal. The first gen car had elements, most prominently in the 911-ish headlamps that clearly marked the Cayenne out as a Porsche. This generation sharpens practically every line on the exterior, but picks cues from Panamera and the Carrera GT instead. The nose, hence, is sharper to look at.
The side body is still fluid but suggests a tauter, firmer set of curves and at the rear, the tightening of curves is further accentuated by the horizontally stretched tail lamps that split across the tail gate and the C-pillar. Build quality, the gloss in the paint and the fit-finish levels are as usual Porsche-superb. The impact of the SUV is immediate. Even in a sober black, people clock an expensive, fast-looking SUV, and that it's a Porsche, immediately. But despite the growth of the wheelbase and dimensions, the new Cayenne isn't dramatically different from the old Cayenne on the outside. That massive difference is reserved for the interiors. The old Cayenne's centre console was awash with buttons, all of which were mounted on a sheer, vertical cliff-like dash. The new Cayenne's design is derived from the Panamera.
And that does the interior a whole world of good. I love the way the centre console rises up to the front, the superbly fitted metal accents, the move from the giant triangular steering boss to the more Panamera-like circle. I absolutely adore the stitched in centre-marker at the top of the steering wheel too. The steering wheel in the pics is the sporty, optional one, mind you - which is why there are no audio controls on the steering and these cool paddles behind. Speaking of audio, the stock system sounds great. But I'm told the optional Rs 5.5 lakh Burmester is so stormingly good it puts the jawani in the Shiela.
The Cayenne line now numbers five - the base V6, the diesel, the Cayenne S Hybrid that nears the performance of the S with a V6 and an electric motor. The S in this story, and the Turbo are the two V8 models. The Cayenne S is powered by an all-aluminium 4806cc V8 with four-valves-per-cylinder, DOHC, variable valve timing and stroke, two-stage variable intake, direct petrol injection, dry sump lubrication, twin three-way cat-cons and standard automatic start-stop. This is, of course, a set of highlights, and there's a lot more technology going into that engine at every level. What that gizmo-fest means to you is simply this. 400PS at 6500rpm and 500Nm at 3500rpm.
In other words, unreal performance. The eight-speed automatic transmission handles all that power with aplomb, though you do wish for a PDK instead. That said, Porsche clarified right at the model launch that the 8-speed auto has a super low first gear for off-road applications and that, along with unsuitability to off-road work and overall operational smoothness are the reasons why a PDK is not offered on the Cayenne. Lest you think the auto 'box is slow, the Cayenne S gets to 100kmph in 7.1 seconds! The Porsche also tops out at 268kmph, plenty fast. Our S also came with two engine modes and three chassis modes. The sport mode for the engine is particularly tasty.
Clicking the button on the centre console opens a valve in the exhaust that suddenly makes the big V8 audible and ravenous. In the clicking of the button the Cayenne goes from being quiet, to being soundtracked by a lovely, angry but un-harsh V8 burble. What does sounds weird, amidst all this, is that the Cayenne is 23 per cent more fuel efficient than before. Our Cayenne returned an eminently acceptable 11.9kmpl on the highway run, while the city economy dropped shockingly little to 9.8kmpl. This is no fluke, with the official European cycle figures standing at 12.1 and 7.1kmpl for extra- and urban respectively. In our cycle this gives a combined figure of 10.32kmpl!
The credit for the stellar urban performance has to go to the start-stop. Initially, the sudden silence in the cabin when the engine cuts out is spooky. But at every single instance, the engine starts up instantly when you floor the gas and you get used to it. What you never quite accept is how good the dynamics are. The car shares its original platform with the Volkswagen Touareg and the Audi Q7, but Porsche's engineers have no equal when it comes to how controlled, controllable and fluid the Cayenne feels. Enter PASM. Our Cayenne S came with the optional PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management), a system we know from experience works rather well. But before that, Porsche points out that the chassis alone is 33kg lighter and the car itself is 180kg lighter than the outgoing Cayenne.
That the dynamics would improve in this process is obvious. Anyway, in comfort mode, the Porsche treads the fine line between damped-plush ride and acceptable body roll. This, in itself, is a hard act to follow. The middle mode, Normal, is great for 90 per cent of our roads. Sport is still more hardcore, flattening body roll almost entirely and granular feedback to come to the driver from the chassis. The tyres, the chassis, the suspension and the steering come together beautifully and the relentless control over body roll and chassis pitch ensure that the Cayenne goes where you point it and that the people inside are not unduly thrown around.
And then you switch to sport mode and really corner. So much so, that while all of us at Team OD have great affection for the BMW X6 and its handling ability, we accept in the same breath that the Cayenne S is where it's at. The brakes are the third part of the dynamics trinity. Our car had normal steel ones and you can also opt for the ceramic ones. The brakes offered great power and control. The car is completely stable under full-bore panic braking and when you're not panicking, shedding the exact amount of speed needed to make a super-fast go for a corner is child's play. Okay, I haven't told you the full story here.
Our Cayenne S also came boasting the optional PTV Plus or Porsche Torque Vectoring system. With this the car gains the ability to vary the torque flowing to either of the rear wheels to help the car steer in the intended direction quicker. PTV Plus also has the ability to influence the electronically controlled rear diff lock to aid its cause. I'd love to tell you what difference it makes to the handling, but I haven't had a chance to drive a regular S so far. I can tell you this, the S I tested felt telepathic in its ability to follow my intentions and weightless in its ability to respond to the turning of the steering wheel.
I knew before I turned the key - Porsche's eschew push button start evidently - that the Cayenne would be impressive. That it would obliterate my previous Cayenne S memories however was unexpected. This isn't a full road test, but I can tell you this confidently. If I could afford to buy one - and only one Porsche for the whole of my life - a Cayenne S, well, ideally the Turbo would be it. Why? Because I simply cannot think of a better option.