The restyled third-generation Cayenne is here and better than ever. The secret is steady evolution until you reach perfection. Are they there yet?
Last week, I went to Spain to drive the new Porsche Cayenne. Well, not entirely the new Cayenne but the facelift of the current generation. Porsche do tend, however, to really dig deep and find improvements even where we did not know improvements were needed – and this latest model is no exception.
The Cayenne is arguably Porsche’s most significant model in the brand’s history after the 911. The German constructor would not be the powerhouse it is today if it had not decided to enter the SUV segment in 2002 and, although it was quite the controversial choice at the time, with the purists crying heresy, the first Cayenne was the right car at the right time and it changed Porsche’s fortunes forever.
Since it was launched, Porsche have sold over 1,250,000 units of the Cayenne worldwide, with sales increasing from 290,000 on the first generation to 530,000 on the second. As it stands, the third generation, just now entering its second life, is already on 430,000 units sold.
Those are amazing numbers that show how the brand was able to reinvent itself as a maker of luxury cars and not the maker of the 911. The Cayenne is a case in point: as each new model arrives, it becomes more and more luxurious.
We arrive in Barcelona, have a little something to eat and get in the cars. There are some immediate differences easy to spot on the new model: the hood, front and rear bumper designs are all new, while the fenders are more pronounced and placed higher in relation to the side profile; rear lights have a new tri-dimensional aesthetic and there are myriad new wheel designs.
Overall, the car looks more muscular, sportier, with a more aggressive stance. When it came out in 2018, I felt the third-generation model was trying too much to look like a bigger Macan when actually it is the Macan who should look like a smaller Cayenne.
I have to say the facelift looks a lot more distinctive and if it had a personality, it would be a stronger one. It’s not beautiful like a 911 is beautiful, but no SUV will ever be that. The Cayenne is classy, understated even, and, in a world where so many constructors seem to have forgotten about good taste, Porsche make sure they have not: this is a gentleman’s (or a lady’s) car, an exquisite accessory to an Armani suit or dress.
Inside, more change is afoot. New steering wheel, curved screen, gear selector and start/stop button, with new optional extras including a head-up display and a passenger screen. Trim combinations are wider than ever, and the cabin layout has been ergonomically improved.
We drove for a whole day and a half on all sorts of different roads, putting the Cayenne to the test even in extreme off-road conditions. In fact, Porsche had prepared a 90-minute off-road route with all generations of the Cayenne available so progress could actually be felt and not just remembered. That was fun and it reminded me that yes, the Cayenne has come a long way, but, especially, that the first-generation model is a superb machine quickly gaining iconic status as the first super SUV.
As for the new car, well, it’s impossible to fault. It’s so rounded, so thoroughly engineered and so capable in everything it does, the only criticism I could ever point at it is exactly that: it’s too perfect. And when something is perfect, it may make users forget how great it really is as they get too familiarised with the product.
Mechanically, the biggest differences come in the form of a return of the V8 in the Cayenne S and a raft of improvements in the Hybrid version. Power from the V6 petrol engine is now rated at 304 hp (224kW), whereas the new electric motor puts out 176 hp (130kW). Combined output is 470 hp (346 kW) and electric range almost doubles to a maximum of 90km in city driving.
Because of its lower emissions, the Cayenne E-Hybrid is the cheapest model in Portugal at a starting price of €117,462. The S, for example, and its 4-litre V8, add only four horsepower but cost €50,000 more. The standard model, also a V6 with 117 hp less but higher emissions, costs from €129,115. Portuguese taxes never cease to amaze.
Anyway, like I said in the beginning, the Cayenne of today is more luxury product, less sporting SUV. The reason? Simple: it has nothing else to prove. It does not need to be a high-riding 911 like it once did. It’s already one of the greats, it’s a stablemate of the brand and an object of desire like not even Porsche ever dreamed it would be.
With the sporting SUV market taken care of, the engineers and those who make the decisions can concentrate in expanding the Cayenne’s image as something able to rival a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce. Not easy of course, but with each generation, each facelift, they are surely getting closer.