It was a sacrilege when it launched: The Porsche Cayenne, the brand’s first SUV, and a clear departure from the brand’s purist focus on mid- and rear-engined sports cars. In 2003, it was unveiled as a sister model to the VW Touareg (the Aud Q7 came later). Generously sized, incredibly capable off-road and available with huge V-8 engines, it was supremely competent – but it stood as a symbol of excess. And that’s not what the Porsche brand was about.
The skeptics have kept quiet, as the Cayenne immediately became a fantastic success for Porsche. The profits from this SUV helped to keep the brand afloat and thriving. But after 14 years in production, with a model changeover in 2010, it was time to re-create the SUV that once led its segment. We drove a Cayenne Turbo last summer, and it was still impressively fast. But it had lost its edge over the competition.
The third-generation Cayenne, internally called E3, moves from its previous architecture to the Audi-designed MLB Evo platform. And that means it’s a lot lighter and more nimble. Moreover, it has access to a vast bin of components: Telematics, infotainment, chassis and powertrain systems. Porsche chose the shorter of two MLB Evo versions. But that doesn’t mean the new Cayenne is a clone of the Audi Q5: It’s got very much its own character, as we found out when Porsche took us along for late testing, a few months before it enters production.
With a bit of camouflage, the next Cayenne doesn’t look all that different from the current model. Customers love Porsche’s SUV, and therefore the new look is decidedly evolutionary. Once the camo is off, you will see aggressive headlights with four LED dots, and a horizontal light strip that stretches across the entire rear end of the car.
The changes are greater inside, and they mirror those we’ve seen on the Panamera last year: The speedometer is flanked by TFT screens left and right, there is a central, touch-sensitive screen for the infotainment system, and the center console around the gear selector is executed as a touch-sensitive glass panel as well. There are triangular grab handles on the center console and in the doors, a typical Cayenne motif, and the overall look and feel is almost (but not quite) as luxurious as in the Panamera. And that, unfortunately, includes the inevitable chronometer sitting atop the dashboard – a flashback to the aesthetic preferences of the Wiedeking era.
Time to find out what it drives like. Under the hood, there is a 340-horsepower single-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 in the Cayenne; a 440-horsepower 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 in the Cayenne S; and a 550-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 in the Cayenne Turbo.
Other models are certain to be added to the portfolio: A plug-in hybrid based on the 2.9-liter V-6 will make around 460 horsepower, and the range-topper – like in the Panamera – will likely be a hybridized V-8 turbo with around 680 horsepower. And we expect to see two diesel engines: A 3.0-liter V-6 with around 320 horsepower and a 4.0-liter V-8 with 422 horsepower. All engines send their power to all four wheels through a quick-shifting ZF-sourced 8HP eight-speed torque-converter-type automatic.
I loved the sound and sheer power of the V-8 biturbo, but the six-cylinder models are similarly impressive: Their sound is more silky, but they are powerful enough to move the Cayenne with considerable authority – especially since it has shed well over 100 kilograms of weight, compared to the predecessor.
The all-wheel drive system is rear-biased but fully variable all-wheel drive system, and for the first time, the Cayenne comes with mixed tire/wheel combinations with bigger rubber on the rear axle. It is designed for wheel sizes between 19 and 22 inches. There is a standard steel suspension, with variable dampers as a step up, and a three-chamber air suspension as a range-topper.
The next Porsche Cayenne will break cover in Stuttgart on August 30. And we’ll be there to report from the launch of an SUV that has already impressed us thoroughly.