You have to forget what you know, in the all-new third-generation Porsche Cayenne Turbo. You’re freaking out on approach to yet another downhill hairpin on the Greek Island of Crete, with roads barely big enough for the 1,983mm wide SUV. It shouldn’t be possible to slow 2.2-tonnes this fast.
In turns in too well too, with the weird sensation that goes along with sitting high up, and it stays planted over the huge bumps through the corners, but I’m not really driving here, just trying to hang on. The sensation of speed comes from the outside world. And the speed is in every single way completely irresponsible, and brutally effective, but effective doesn’t mean fun. For once, I think the specs do tell the story. This really is a car that you can understand on paper, as well as you can understand it on a deserted Mediterranean island way after all the pinked tourists have left in late October.
I rode the Shinkansen once in Japan. It was quiet and the scarcely believable and how smoothly the bullet train rode on its rails — you could put a full glass down on a tray and the water’s calm. I sat there staring at the speedo in the smoking car, watching the third digit blink from two to three to two to three — 302, 303kph, while a man in a hat pours you tea. This new Cayenne Turbo is a bit like that — you just sit there twitching your big toe on the big pedal, and every time you look down you see some or other ridiculous three-digit number.
Fun? Nah, not really. But incredible. Every time you accelerate you realise you weren’t ready for it. And then a short straight opens up and you do it again, and you’re caught surprised again, annoyed you got caught out again, so you’re back on the brakes before you drive right off the island. At 260km across and 60km top to bottom, Crete is way too small a playground for a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 making 550 horsepower and 770Nm of torque.
Of course you don’t have to drive the Turbo like an imbecile. The trouble with power though is it’s empowering. Still I don’t think I went over half throttle more than a couple of times. It is too brutal and as the big SUV squats and digs in you snap your head back and then have to flex your neck immediately for another hairpin coming up. It’s like a physical law, this thing, a grand theory. Trust it even if it doesn’t make sense.
Because it’s true, you can buy a Porsche SUV that laps the Nürburgring Nordschleife in less than eight minutes. And that’s just the roll-out — in Crete Porsche launched the range starting with the Cayenne, Cayenne S, and this Cayenne Turbo on test. Even more powerful cars are coming, an electrified flagship with possibly up to 680bhp.
Leipzig will build these things by the hundreds of thousands — the first-generation sold 270,000; the second-gen, half a million — based on the same MLB platform as the Bentley Bentayga. You can have V6 engines to start but the Cayenne Turbo has the V8 with the same eight-speed across the range. On adaptive electronically-controlled air suspension run by the car’s 48-volt system, with electric power-steering, optional all-steering system that turns the rear wheels by up to three degrees, Porsche Stability Management and a torque-vectoring differential at the back end, the Cayenne Turbo is absurdly effective through the corners. I say effective, not, you know, exhilarating. Maybe the fun is in the wonderment, “How does it do this?”
With all that torque, 770Nm from 1,960rpm, you’d think you’d stay down low in the rev band but this thing revs, and the spread is so you can use second to fifth gears in the real world on a nice road and actually play with the paddle shifters. The steering, quoted with a ratio of 12.2:1, seems quicker than that with just tiny bits of turn needed to make the car get around tight sweeps. The rear-wheel steering does its job inconspicuously and as far as you’re concerned you just have a tight little three-spoke in your hand.
There are much fewer buttons to play with, but much more things to do — you turn a dial on the wheel to put the drivetrain in Sport+ and sharpen up throttle response (the V6 in the entry-level models still seems sharper), and you ‘push’ a digital button touchscreen centre console with haptic feedback to do the same for the suspension, and then you shift it into manual mode, and then you fiddle with the digital dash display to lower the car on its three-chamber air suspension.
Only then are you ready to be a bit flabbergasted — and then put everything back into Sport because Sport+ is much too stiff and unforgiving on normal roads. And quite why you would take a Cayenne Turbo to the track, I don’t know. Sport+ is a bit much unless you’re alone because your passengers will be tossed about. Those grab handles really are a feature.
Otherwise you also have a new off-road mode to play with, likely limited by the Turbo’s standard staggered 21in wheels and low-profile tyres. The off-road section of our test drive was just a dirt road through some olives so I can confirm the Cayenne Turbo can do that easily. The electromechanical steering is tuned light and theres no trouble maneuvering the big SUV, and the same goes for the Turbo on the move with supportive seats and stupendous brakes (supported by an adaptive roof spoiler that can raise by up to 80mm), either carbon ceramics or standard steel items coated in mirror-finish tungsten carbide. It takes a lot of faith, but the Turbo brakes outrageously well and not just for a 2.2-tonne SUV with a great, progressive feel in the pedal. Speaking of which, I wish there was more meat to both the accelerator and the brake — also, why is the key still on the left of the steering wheel Le Mans style, but the pedals aren’t floor hinged?
Another thing worth mentioning is the new Cayenne’s infotainment system with a 12.3in main display, and a powerful, busy, driver’s console. There’s no head-up display but that would be overkill — even with what designers call digitalisation (the transition from physical switchgear to haptic feedback screens) there’s plenty to keep you busy in there, or distracted.
That’s where the new-generation voice control and the car’s connectivity technologies really help — some journalists had mixed feelings in the new Audi A8, but the voice control worked well for me, and even better in the Cayenne Turbo. Just say, “What’s the weather like today?”, or, “I’m too hot,” and the car responds uncannily.
Along with the all-new design updates, increased passenger and cargo space and a superbly well built cabin the new generation Cayenne Turbo — the flagship, for now — is an upgrade on all counts. In a quiet, pragmatic, systematic way, Porsche has improved every bit of its SUV. I just wish they’d had more fun with it.
The order books are open now, with first customers due to get their cars from February 2018 and prices for the 2018 Cayenne Turbo starting from Dh554,300 before you get lost in the wonderful world of Porsche options.