A sweet spot in mid­dle of the range

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The Cayenne has gone from be­ing the hor­rid truck that bas­tardised Porsche to the stroke of ge­nius that saved the 911. That’s how crit­i­cal it is to Porsche, sec­ond only to the Ma­can in vol­umes and the third gen­er­a­tion won’t be dif­fer­ent.

When it comes to SA in the mid­dle of 2018, it might not ac­tu­ally start out with the diesel that’s by far the big­gest seller. The plan is to ar­rive with three petrol pow­er­plants, be­gin­ning with the stock Cayenne, which has taken the big­gest step for­ward of the three ver­sions we sam­pled at the launch in Crete.

The Chrono Pack­age ver­sion of the 3.0l tur­bocharged V6 petrol en­gine cuts 1.7 sec­onds from the old car’s 100km/h sprint, now down to 5.9 sec­onds (6.2 sec­onds with­out it). Its power is 250kW and its torque is up to 450Nm.

The flag­ship (for now) is the mighty Turbo, hiss­ing and bel­low­ing its way to 404kW of power and 770Nm of torque. It’s eas­ily the fastest Cayenne, too, with the Chrono pack help­ing it to slip to 100km/h in 3.9 sec­onds (or 4.1 sec­onds with­out it) and a 286km/h top speed.

It’s the heav­i­est of the trio, at 2,175kg, a 10kg im­prove­ment over the old Turbo. When you re­move the 6.7kg Porsche claims a crankshaft man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nique saved it, the firm only found 3.3kg in the rest of the car, or 0.15% of its to­tal weight. And that, Porsche, is not try­ing hard enough, even if it’s 63mm longer and 23mm wider.

Be­sides be­ing the quick­est, it’s also the Cayenne with the shiny toys, in­clud­ing an ac­tive rear spoiler that de­ploys above 160km/h and ranges through five po­si­tions, the most dra­matic of which is an air brake that flips up at 28.2°, but does its most im­por­tant work ad­just­ing the cen­tre of aero­dy­namic pres­sure un­der hard brak­ing.

But it’s not the best Cayenne, and Turbo buy­ers will pay a price for pay­ing the price.

Its han­dling is pre­dictable, but it lacks the sweet­ness and cheer­fully un­flap­pable na­ture of the Cayenne S. Its en­gine, sur­pris­ingly, feels coarser and less happy about danc­ing its way into higher revs as well.

So the Cayenne S is the range’s sweet spot, with its 324kW/550Nm Porsche-de­vel­oped 2.9l, twin-turbo V6 hav­ing 155 fewer ki­los than the Turbo to launch up the road and out of cor­ners. It’s 65kg lighter than its pre­de­ces­sor, spec for spec, even though it car­ries more equip­ment, more tech­nol­ogy and more com­fort than be­fore.

The Audi ori­gins of plenty of its key stuff are un­mis­tak­able thanks to Porsche’s In­gol­stadt sib­ling tak­ing the en­gi­neer­ing lead for the Cayenne’s MLB Evo large ve­hi­cle ar­chi­tec­ture.

What makes the Cayenne S the spe­cial one is the way it does so much more than the Turbo, with less. Its fewer cylin­ders break with V6 con­ven­tion by de­liv­er­ing a song that’s not just smooth, but sweet and en­thu­si­as­tic for revs, in a way the bru­tal biturbo V8 just isn’t.

It’s a com­posed pow­er­train in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. It’s smooth and clean at idle, start­ing with a gruff bel­low and set­tling into a satin rhythm that be­lies its re­la­tion­ship to the slightly coarser, flat­ter 3.0l V6. Be­yond there, it’s all torque for a while, with its 550Nm ar­riv­ing at only 1.800r/min on full throt­tle, then stay­ing on point un­til 5,500. The power peak ar­rives at 5,700 and it’s still there at 6,600, so Porsche has given the Cayenne S 4,800 revs of pure po­tency.

Its striv­ings are spot­lighted by an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion so ef­fec­tive that, in re­al­ity, it turns the wheel­mounted pad­dle shifters into ex­quis­ite al­loy sculp­tures to idly ca­ress in qui­eter mo­ments. First gear is lower than be­fore and it’s ef­fec­tively a six-speed trans­mis­sion with two cruis­ing gears tacked on for fuel econ­omy and re­duced cabin noise.

The car’s de­fault Com­fort mode gives it longer, un­felt shifts, while its Sport mode hur­ries them through and makes you feel them more, but not in an un­com­fort­able way. It’s so good at pick­ing the right gear for each cor­ner that you soon stop both­er­ing about do­ing it your­self.

The down­side is that its throt­tle re­sponse is so much

sharper and its shifts so much crisper that, at light throt­tle around town, it can feel jerky with rougher changes, and you won’t be able to smooth them out on the throt­tle. It’s a real Sport mode that works at its best with plenty of en­ergy be­ing pushed through the car, es­pe­cially be­cause it also stiff­ens the air sus­pen­sion sys­tem.

CUS­TOMIS­ABLE MODES

The Chrono pack­age al­lows brief over­boost­ing, de­liv­ers launch con­trol and has tauter throt­tle re­sponse. It also adds both a cus­tomis­able In­di­vid­ual mode and a Sport+ mode, which is where things re­ally get wicked. The throt­tle re­sponse tight­ens up again, ratch­ets the sus­pen­sion to an even firmer level and bangs through the gear changes with a crack that you feel through the fixed head­rest.

Do you gain from it? Well, no. Per­haps it would help the SUV per­form bet­ter on a track but in the real world the Cayenne needs the ex­tra ini­tial sus­pen­sion com­pli­ance of the softer Sport mode to de­liver its best be­tween the end of its brak­ing and the start of its ac­cel­er­a­tion.

What it does ex­cep­tion­ally well, though, is demon­strate the breadth of the three-cham­ber air sus­pen­sion, which ef­fort­lessly spans the con­flict­ing worlds of com­fort and all-out at­tack. Steel springs and con­ven­tional dampers are stock items on the Cayenne S in Europe, but Porsche didn’t fit a sin­gle Cayenne with them for the launch and Porsche SA says it has yet to con­firm fi­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tions for lo­cal mod­els.

The air sus­pen­sion’s body con­trol is ex­em­plary and its re­sponse times are far faster than the clunkier, rather step­ping feel of ear­lier sys­tems. The job of con­trol­ling the body is now man­aged by one com­puter, which gov­erns the ef­forts of the air sus­pen­sion parts and the 48V ac­tive an­tiroll bar.

While the steer­ing weight­ing (and the wheel it­self) is per­fect, the steer­ing feed­back lev­els dis­play the ar­chi­tec­ture’s Audi ori­gins by be­ing flat and stub­bornly even, re­gard­less of the road sur­face or the stress of front tyres. But the chas­sis bal­ance, sus­pen­sion feed­back and throt­tle re­sponse are all so good it scarcely mat­ters.

QUIET CABIN

It eases through rough ur­ban con­di­tions calmly and the cabin is as quiet as most of the Repub­li­can Se­na­tors who dis­agree with Pres­i­dent Trump. The seats are bril­liant, in the front and (for two peo­ple, any­way) in the rear. They’re sup­port­ive and leave you fresh after hun­dreds of dif­fi­cult kilo­me­tres on rough roads.

The ge­nius of the chas­sis can be seen most clearly over roads that are heav­ily crowned and er­rat­i­cally chewed and lumped.

Most quick ma­chin­ery would pre­fer stick­ing to the mid­dle to save their deco­rum, but the Cayenne S is just as fast and com­fort­able tak­ing the best line for the cor­ner and ig­nor­ing the road sur­face. It also stops stu­pen­dously well, thanks in part to 10-pis­ton front cal­lipers, but also to its new tung­sten car­bide-coated brake discs that are harder wear­ing, more fade re­sis­tant and gen­er­ate less brake dust.

The in­te­rior is a step in the right di­rec­tion for Porsche, with far fewer but­tons and a huge touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem that takes its lead from smart­phone ges­tures like swip­ing and pinch­ing.

The driv­ing po­si­tion is per­fect, with Porsche’s nearver­ti­cal steer­ing wheel phi­los­o­phy trans­lated into SUV-speak, though it’s slightly ham­pered by the grab han­dle on the cen­tre con­sole be­ing use­less for the driver and in the way, and the hole to at­tach the vi­sor to its hook is so strangely large that it lets the sun shine through it.

While Porsche in­sists there will never be a seven-seat Cayenne, the rear seat can move by up to 160mm and the back­rests ad­just across an 18° range.

Porsche in­sists it’s a good of­froader, but we only had an of­froad course we could have com­fort­ably tra­versed in a Camry. Still, it has an ar­ray of of­froad modes, ac­cessed by a touch-sen­si­tive bit of the con­sole, and it pushes up the ride height and changes the way it gen­er­ates grip.

While it wasn’t enough of­froad­ing to get any real idea of its abil­i­ties, it was enough to get it dirty, which is more than most Cayennes will need to en­dure.

Porsche hasn’t cho­sen to make any rad­i­cal changes to the de­sign of the lat­est Cayenne.

The rear has un­der­gone some sig­nif­i­cant de­sign changes. Much of the in­te­rior, left, comes from the lat­est Panam­era.

The light­ing strip will be a sig­na­ture item for the model.

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