I’VE JUST SPENT two days in a Porsche driving almost 1000 kilometers on some of the finest roads South Africa can offer, and I’m blown away. A few years ago I drove a Porsche 911 GT3 and confidently declared to all and sundry that if I had the money this was the car I’d buy. Now I’m not so sure anymore. This might just be the Porsche I’d go for.
No, it’s not the Porsche Cayenne! I’m talking about 911 Turbo. Big ber powerful SUVs are not my cup of tea. Cars like the nimble 911 Turbo are my tipple of choice. The irony is that cars like the Cayenne, and now also the four-door Panamera, both derided as abominations by vocal Porsche purists, make dream cars like the GT3 and 911 Turbo possible. These abominations are hugely profitable, taking the Porsche brand into previously virgin markets. And this piece of financial genius, dear petrolhead, allows Porsche to continue building 911s for enthusiasts like you and I.
There is another ironic twist to the story. The abominations might not appeal to the aesthetic tastes of Porschenistas, but they’re quite good to drive. Bloody good. Brilliant in fact.
So even though the original Cayenne was tinier on the inside than its exterior girth suggested and it looked like the illegitimate love child of a philandering 911 and a sluttish blowfish, it sold by the bucketload. The new Cayenne I’m staring at in the shimmering heat of the Arabian desert, about 80km south east of Dubai, looks a lot better.
It’s still not beautiful, but show me an SUV that is. This one’s a lot less offensive though. Even though the Cayenne has been stretched by 48mm, is 6mm higher and 11mm wider, it manages to look smaller than its predecessor. Put that down to a more elegant design. The bulbous shapes have been stretched and smoothed, airdams at the front are more subtle and the rear lights are horizontal units that echo Porsche’s sleeker sports cars. Think less Navratilova, more Amelie Mauresmo but still no Anna Kournikova.
It’s a different story inside the cabin. Porsche interiors are a personal favourite, and the Cayenne‘s seems to be borrowed from its Panamera cousin. Not a bad thing. Where other manufacturers have gone for rotary dials that lead you into a maze of menus and submenus, Porsche has retained buttons for everything. On a 4×4 masquerading as a sports car (or is that the other way around?) that means there’s a lot of buttons. They’re logically laid out left and right of the shifter, simple to figure out and easy to reach. The materials on the touch surfaces are beautiful and durable. Tweaks on the restyled interior include the rev counter which now occupies centre position on the instrument cluster, the rear passenger bench which can move 160mm forwards and backwards and a new set of grab handles up front.
You’ll need those when you drive the top-of-the range Cayenne Turbo. The 4.8 V8 with its two turbos and new eight-speed automatic transmission will hurl you towards a 0-100kph time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 278kph. The new Cayenne is up to 180kg lighter than the old model thanks to a revised steel and aluminium body and lighter four wheel-drive system, but it’s still a two tonne beast. That’s why cornering and fast sweeps are still a revelation in this, the biggest Porsche of them all. It stays as flat as the desert we’re driving through and feedback through the steering is excellent.
Since Porsche believes its Cayennes must be as capable off-road as on, we drove the Cayenne S on some of the softest (and hottest) sand I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. It coped far better than I did. Toggle a switch with a mountain symbol on it on the centre console and the air suspension raises the body. It also locks the centre differential. If your car is equipped with a rear-diff lock (standard on the Turbo), it will engage that as well. Now you’re ready to bash the bundu with your Porsche, which it will do rather well
though I still can’t see Cayenne owners doing it back home.
Locally we’ll be able to choose between all five Cayenne models on offer, ranging from the entry level V6 Tiptronic petrol (R645 000), to a diesel V6 (R680000), the V8 Cayenne S (R775000), a Cayenne S hybrid (R830000) and the Turbo (R1430000)
So it’s better looking, faster, more frugal and less noxious to the environment. It will continue to sell in spades. And long may it do so, as long as thereâs still a GT3 or a 911 Turbo out there with my name on it.