They make the new Cayenne in Bratislava, but that wouldn’t have driven home the point. So we’re on the rooftop of Porsche’s museum in Zuffenhausen, across the street from the red-brick building where the first series production Porsches were built. Porsche really wants you to think of this third-generation Cayenne as the 911 of SUVs. Look, it’s got a full-width lightbar at the back like all-wheel drive 911s.
If you’re still struggling to see much of a difference between the new and old Cayenne, that was kind of the point.
“The biggest challenge was to take the typical DNA of the Porsche Cayenne, and do a little better. We didn’t want to make a big step — that was our target,” says Peter Varga, head of exterior design at Porsche.
In the Middle East the Cayenne is Porsche’s best-selling model. Worldwide, more than 70,000 were shifted in 2016. That’s a third of Porsche’s total production. For the third-generation car there was no need for drama — Porsche kept the big changes away from sight.
With a new aluminium body, new brakes, new suspension, staggered tyres, and that 911-esque lightbar at the back, the Cayenne borrows more lessons than ever from Porsche’s iconic sportscar.
Just revealed to the press last week, the third-generation SUV is heading to Frankfurt next week for its public premiere before coming to our region, making its debut at November’s Dubai motor show.
At launch Porsche will offer the base Cayenne from Dh298,300 and the Cayenne S from Dh363,200. Considering there are 13 second-gen Cayenne iterations available, there will be plenty new Cayennes to follow, including electrified ones. The Panamera saloon range, for example, is currently headlined by a 680-horsepower turbocharged hybrid model, which would lend itself quite nicely to a future Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid.
“For sure we start with the basic Cayenne and the Cayenne S, but you can imagine we will bring more cars to the market very soon,” said Porsche’s vehicle dynamics boss Manfred Harrer. “Hybrids are becoming more and more important and for sure we are planning some hybrid versions in the upcoming months.”
But if you cannot crash, then you don’t need the airbags, so you don’t need the weight, so you can develop a completely different kind of vehicle.
For now the base Cayenne gets by with a three-litre single-turbo V6 developing 340bhp and 450Nm of torque for 0-100kph in 5.9 seconds (with optional Sport Plus) and a top speed of 245kph. The Cayenne S is powered by a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 rated at 440bhp and 550Nm of torque, good for 0-100kph in 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 265kph. Cayenne Turbos, from 550bhp, will be arriving soon too.
Unlike the Panamera — like the one wheels tested two issues ago in Turbo S E-Hybrid trim — which rides on the MSB platform that was developed by Porsche for use throughout the Volkswagen group, the Cayenne is built around the MLB architecture shared with the Audi Q7 (and consequently the Bentley Bentayga). The lightweight chassis and all-aluminium body help save up to 65kg over the predecessor model. If a Bentley can be built in Bratislava, a Cayenne can be an über Q7.
“It’s an Audi based platform,” says Harrer, “But we do a lot of changes to get the driving behaviour in a Porsche way.”
For the first time on an SUV, there is an inclusion of rear-axle steering, and the same switch to a 48-volt electrical system as in the new Panamera. This is primarily to power the active roll stabilisation system and keep the car level through the corners.
“The four-wheel drive system is completely changed,” adds Herrer. “We have the mixed tyre sizes, our own Porsche brakes, we changed the steering ratio to get more precise steering behaviour, and we changed the air suspension with a complete new development, three-chamber air suspension that was presented in the Panamera and now for the first time in an SUV.”
Customers will be able to spec wheels ranging from 19in to 21in, and with the biggest wheels they’ll have the choice of a new brake package. The latest addition to the options list is the industry’s first application of tungsten-carbide coated brakes to increase performance and durability.
“This is brand new technology and I think we are the first on the market — it is a tungsten surface coated brake, it’s very shiny, very attractive, like a mirror. It’s a cast iron brake, but you use this really hard metal coating to lower the wear and lower brake dust. So you still have the basic brake and the carbon ceramic brakes, but to close the gap a little bit in between we have this new option.”
Completing the mechanical updates, Porsche included an eight-speed transmission with a redeveloped Sport Chrono Package.
On the rooftop, Porsche CEO Oliver Blume skimmed over all that though. Since launching the nameplate in 2002 the company has sold a staggering 760,000 Cayennes (note, it took Porsche 24 years to build the 250,000th 911 in 1987). The outgoing second-generation model accounted for 500,000, and Blume recognises Porsche can’t stand still. The keywords are of course connectivity and all that.
“We digitised and networked the vehicle, orientating it for the future,” Blume said. “Touchscreens similar to smartphones have replaced most of the analogue controls.”
Look inside and you could call it sparse — the third-gen Cayenne gets rid of more than half of the buttons found in the outgoing car. There are grab handles — because SUV, arrgh — but the rest is familiar if you’ve sat in the Panamera, with a huge now-industry standard 12.3in touchscreen taking up the most real estate centrestage.
“The biggest challenge…” says Ivo van Hulten, head of interior design at Porsche. “Well, how do you integrate this huge thing in the interior? How do you integrate all of this new technology and digitalisation and still make it look like a typical Cayenne. That’s something we thought about for a long time…”
The answer was less buttons and more voice control, as is the common theme in the industry now in the great physical-switchgear cull. Yes, a good old knob is better served for a single function, but when you have hundreds of features and modes and night vision, traffic jam assist, and self-parking systems to control, you need a new solution.
“I would consider digitalisation something that is moving forward and it will be unchangeable, so yeah, currently it’s a trend, but it will be something that will be changing our complete future,” says van Hulten.
Since launching the nameplate in 2002 the company has sold a staggering 760,000 Cayennes.
“We didn’t want to throw all the switches away…. So we still have a couple of haptic switches, and also if you interact with the centre console you still get a clicking sound and you also have a vibration, so it’s a combination of both worlds.”
The combination will have to do for now, even if all these new safety features sometimes counterintuitively take our eyes off the road. Van Hulten’s mind is already far away.
“In our design department,” he says, “we also design the next, kind of, vehicle range, the future models… But we also do advanced design, so not four or five years into the future, but maybe 10 years in the future — the way we can produce vehicles in the future with 3D printing technologies… Just imagine, nowadays a car is completely equipped with loads of airbags, crash structures, thick pillars. But if you cannot crash, then you don’t need the airbags, so you don’t need the weight, so you can develop a completely different kind of vehicle. It’s incredible, there are so many new technologies coming up.
“Look at an A-pillar now, look at an A-pillar on a classic car. Maybe new technologies will open up possibilities that were only possible in classic cars. You can also look at it in that way.”
And that’s not a bad point of view.