In most ways, Porsche is a brand that is beyond comparison, linked perpetually to Volkswagen (despite denials over the years), suggests Iain Robertson, for which VW ought to be perpetually grateful; it has had its issues but now it is just a money-making machine.
If, like me, you are not a fan of the plethora of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) that have grown like an automotive cancer on our highways and byways, causing nightmare scenarios through being (often) just that bit bigger than the conventional family car but, equally often, through being driven by devil-may-care nitwits, then change pages now!
However, before you think that I have ‘sold out’, having acquired recently a Suzuki Vitara as my personal runabout, I should underscore that it is a compact (just over 4.0m long), 50mpg crossover. Its footprint is as light, as its compact dimensions are easily manageable. It provides my two metres with easier access and egress and does not pretend to be a monster 4x4. Look, I am not vehemently against these devices but I do believe that, somewhere along the very blurred lines, the desire of those who can afford to run them grew beyond that of the farming and outdoor communities.
Ironically, seeing as this story is about a sportscar company selling chunky multi-surface vehicles, I used to call for the archetypal supercar driver, usually of the footballing, web-owning, pop-singing types, to invest in advanced driver tuition. I still do. All too many owners of Ferraris, Astons and Porsches seem to care less about off-road forays (usually backwards through hedgerows) than they ought to, with mental acuity exceeding driving capabilities by a considerable margin. It is a problem exacerbated by large, potent SUVs, with their accompanying higher centres of gravity that cannot defeat the Laws of Physics, despite what their cawing owners might believe.#
In late-summer 2002, I was in a small group of journalists attending the Jerez (Spain) launch of the all-new Porsche Cayenne. Based on the same SUV platform as the Audi Q7 and VW Touareg, it was Porsche’s transformation model. Later that year, I spent two days of Arctic testing with Cayenne. The thinly disguised glee of its key staff was hard to disguise; Cayenne gave the brand a promise of profitable business, from which it has scarcely looked back since. I remained cautious about my confidence in Cayenne. Yes. It drove very well. Yes. It was immensely competent. Yes. It felt significantly more stable than lumbering X5s and Range Rovers. However, I feared that it would become a doyen of the ‘off-road’ scene, to be parked outside Premier League stadia the length and breadth of our sceptred isles. It has done so.
Fiercely independent, Porsche is a strange brew, having upheld the honour of flat-six and more recently (again) flat-four engine technology for its 911 and 718 (Boxster/Cayman) models respectively, the relative conventionality of Cayenne, which delivers exceptionally impressive on and off-road performance, has been the saviour of the brand and allowed it to continue developments of its quirky but eminently desirable sportscars.
In its latest, third-gen Cayenne but now in Coupe guise, powered by a 335bhp, 3.0-litre V6 turbo-petrol engine, it is marginally more subtle than the BMW X6 and the frilly Range Rover Sport but 911 styling cues abound, from its sleek nose and side windows, to the abbreviated tail. It is inescapably attractive and highly noticeable in the orange paintwork of the test example. Its four seats (five are optional) allow occupants to luxuriate in a refined and beautifully upholstered cabin, the driver benefiting from a vastly improved centre console that has a more ordered switchgear layout and less fussiness than previous Cayennes. A full-length panoramic glazed roof floods the cabin with light and has an electric blind for the rest of the time. Interestingly, Porsche has lowered the position of the rear seats, with deference to the sleeker coupe styling, which has actually released greater headroom than exists in the regular Cayenne.
Prices start at what seems to be a most affordable (for a Porsche) £62,129, to which you can add an array of extra cost items, including a carbon-fibre roof, active four-wheel steering or contemplate what you might be missing in the ‘big boy’, £104,729 542bhp, V8 Turbo variant. Truth is, not very much, apart from blistering acceleration and bigger bills, which supports its role as a first-class business vehicle. The V6 is actually a very civilised power unit. It is not very vocal but still emits a satisfying exhaust tone, as it clocks the 0-60mph benchmark in a cool 5.6s, before topping out at a respectable 150mph. Truth is, you need no more than that. It is not excessively heavy on the fuel, returning around 24mpg on test, with a stated CO2 emissions figure of 212g/km, figures that are not bad for a car tipping the scales at well-nigh two tonnes that will tow a horsebox easily.
Unlike Porsches past, the dashboard layout is an ergonomic feast. The driver is fronted by the customary five-dial binnacle, which can also carry turn-by-turn sat-nav information. At the top of the centre stack is an enormous touchscreen, above which, set into the leather-wrapped dashboard, is an elegant electronic timepiece. This latter element reminds you that Porsche has always been an innovator in branding terms, its talented family team designing and producing a growing range of Porsche branded luxury goods in support of its core range of motorcars.
Thanks to innumerable small changes made to the Cayenne’s platform, the centre of gravity has been lowered in Coupe form, while the track has been widened slightly. However, different suspension settings ensure that body roll is negligible and fore and aft pitch are completely absent. It may be a hefty coupe but it belies its bulk by feeling as nimble and manoeuvrable as a 911. Its four-wheel drive system maintains stability at serene levels, the 8-speed automatic transmission reacting instantly to throttle depression, while its steering, a long-standing Porsche speciality, provides first-class driver feedback and supremely religious responses.
If potency is not the prerequisite but sporting practicality is, supported by a 680-litre boot, then the entry-level Cayenne Coupe will give you ‘Porscheness’ in abundance at a relatively accessible price-tag. There’s not much to criticise.