There was a time, not too long ago, when I’d laugh at the mere sight of a Cayenne. And I wasn’t the only one. It seemed the entire motoring world found it to be a bit of a joke, apart from Porsche, when it launched the new SUV in 2002. There were cries of “sacrilege”. It appeared the Stuttgart carmaker had gone against all that it believed in with the behemoth.
Having been fed a steady diet of slick, two-door coupés since the Forties, the lardy Cayenne raised a few eyebrows and murmurs of discontent were aplenty. But the initial shock subsided when people realised it was actually pretty good.
It drove great both on and off road, handled very well and could accommodate five adults too. The Turbo and S trims were soon introduced but things got serious in 2006 when the flagship 520bhp Turbo S was added to the growing line-up. With its output on the rise ever since, I bagged the 2013 model with 550bhp. Something told me I wouldn’t be laughing at this any more.
The fully galvanised lightweight all-steel body doesn’t look much different to the Turbo from afar, but a closer inspection reveals some changes. The Sport Chrono Package adds huge 21in 911 Turbo II wheels, with the inner area painted black. They are a full two inches bigger than those on the Turbo.
It also features gloss-black-painted air inlet grilles, revised headlight housings and bi-xenon eyes, which include the Porsche Dynamic Lighting System. The darkened rear LED lights look good and I like the roof-mounted spoiler and two tailpipes in polished aluminium, but on the whole the differences are minor.
One way to confirm it is the Turbo S is by checking the badge on the tailgate. An even better way is by hopping in and burying the throttle into the plush carpet. Yep, there is no doubt this is the wildest version of the bunch.
That blown 4.8-litre V8 simply blows you away. The aluminium engine block and cylinder heads, with four overhead camshafts and four valves-per-cylinder, mean business. The boost pressure of the water-cooled turbos has been upped and its ECU tweaked to produce more oomph and you can certainly feel every one of those 50 extra torques over the Turbo when you’re pinned to the luxurious seat.
It has a total of 750Nm between 2,250rpm and 4,500rpm — an incredible figure. The numbers continue to become even more eye-poppingly good; 0-100kph takes just 4.5 seconds. Top speed is an obscene 283kph. The revitalised engine even looks better too; it has a titanium-coloured intake manifold and a pair of carbon-fibre inlays with “Turbo S” logos. It looks as good as it performs.
With all the aggression being channelled to all four corners via the Porsche Traction Management, and the smooth and refined Tiptronic S eight-speed swapping the cogs, I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that the Cayenne Turbo S feels almost as agile as the 911 Carrera 4S. You won’t believe just how good this thing is. It begs to be thrashed and obliterates the corners; with all four wheels digging in to provide superb traction and the determined motor revving at a peak of 6,000rpm; you can carve up the road in this big SUV all day.
The active air suspension (it has three settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport) and PASM active damping control is beautifully complemented by the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), which more or less eliminates body roll. Add to that the Torque Vectoring Plus with variable torque distribution to the rear wheels and an electronically controlled rear differential lock, and it all amounts to a sure-footedness and tremendous agility that other SUVs aspire to match.
Stopping power comes from brake discs measuring 390mm diameter and 38mm thickness at the front and 358mm diameter and 28mm thickness at the back, all internally ventilated. They do the trick and bring this 2,215kg beast to a safe halt without a hitch.
Perhaps most surprising is the fact that even though it is way more powerful than the Turbo, it still drinks the same amount of fuel — a claimed average of 11.5 litres-per-100km.
But it isn’t just about superb performance; the Turbo S has sheer quality in abundance, too. The sumptuous black and red leather interior with decorative stitching and carbon-fibre trim is class personified. Elegant needlework adorns the dashboard, door panels and even the floor mats, while the head rests wear embossed Porsche logos. Further distinguished “Turbo S” lettering makes its way on the front door sill plates and the instrument cluster — there is no denying this Cayenne was lovingly built.
The analogue and digital timer tells me useful information such as my, umm, lap time, but to make life a little easier, the Park Assist reversing camera is a nice touch. The PCM (Porsche Communication Management) includes a 7.0in high-resolution screen, which controls the sat-nav, telephone and other goodies, while the 14-speaker Bose surround sound system makes a heck of a noise.
There are many SUVs out there that can match luxury with performance, but since the Cayenne is built by a real sportscar maker and as a result drives like one, makes it the daddy. It’s so good, it defies physics. You’ll love being behind the wheel of the Turbo S — it’s one of the few cars out there that make you smile. And that’s no laughing matter.