Why would anyone with a nearly million Ringgit price tag Porsche Cayenne bother driving over unpaved roads? Does it really matter if a Porsche can cross deep gullies? What kind of a person has so little mechanical sympathy for such an expensive car? For Porsche, this is a moot discussion. It’s less about customer driving habits but more about being authentic, being true to itself, values which are paramount to Porsche.
It’s the same reason why Panerai takes great effort in proving their watches in the deep sea even though few will dive with a Panerai strapped to their wrist when a Casio makes much better sense. Everything that Porsche sells has to be peerless and lives up to its marketing image. If it’s an SUV, it better perform like one, and more.
It doesn’t matter if the Porsche crest sits on a 911 or a Panamera or a Cayenne. Any car that bears the Porsche crest is obligated by its 70-year heritage to set the standards for everyone else. If it’s a sports car, it has to conquer the Nurburgring. If it’s an SUV, it has to be the best SUV to cross rough terrains in six continents, something which Porsche is already doing with Magnus Walker – the man who was an influencer before influencer was even a word - at the on-going Porsche World Expedition.
While Porsche is best known for its sports cars, it is their SUVs that pays the bills. Models like the Macan and Cayenne are extremely important to Porsche because without them, Porsche won’t be able to fund its motorsports activities or build another 911. For every 911 sold, Porsche sells two Cayennes and three Macans.
At the same time, familiarity breeds contempt. The Cayenne is currently in its third generation (E3) and unless you are a Porsche-phile, this all-new model looks almost identical to the previous E2 generation model. The burden of Porsche’s heritage dictates that Porsche designers can’t deviate too far away from the 911’s template. The job of reinforcing the Cayenne’s prowess is now left to the marketers. Thus explains the exercise that Porsche recently put us through.
Overview of all-new E3 generation Cayenne
To be launched in Malaysia later this year, the all-new Cayenne will have an estimated starting price of RM800,000. Of course, nobody buys a base model Cayenne. Load it up all the features that’s expected of a Porsche, you can expect the price tag balloon to about RM900,000.
The most obvious visual cues differentiating the E3 from the previous E2 are the tail lights and the more angular front-end design. Depending on variant, the Cayenne may be fitted with one of several different front bumpers.
Two engine options are available:
- Cayenne: 3.0-litre single turbo V6, 340 hp and 450 Nm
- Cayenne S: 2.9-litre twin turbo V6, 440 hp and 550 Nm
There's also a 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 Cayenne Turbo that pushes out 550 hp and 770 Nm, but we are not getting that model, at least not for now.
Notable highlights include an aluminium-steel body that shaves up to 65 kg off compared to the E2 and a new Porsche 4D Chassis Control that serves as a central umbrella for the car’s chassis and dynamic control features - anti-roll stabilization Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), rear axle steering, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) adaptive dampers and air suspension, and Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) functions.
Off-Road In The Cayenne
The first exercise involved negotiating pre-arranged obstacles setup at the Sepang F1 circuit’s off-road course.
To demonstrate the function of PHC (Porsche Hill Control), we made a standing start on a near 45-degree slope. From inside the car, the experience was a lot steeper than the pictures suggest. With the air suspension set to the highest ride height, we engaged PHC by pressing a button on the centre console.
Once at the peak of makeshift hill, the car was pointed towards the sky and we had zero visibility of the terrain ahead and it was difficult to aim the steering wheel towards a clear path. This is where the 360-degree came handy and it allowed us to guide the vehicle towards the safest path of descent. By toggling the cruise control stalk, PHC was set to 5 km/h. With a just feather touch on the accelerator, the Cayenne inched forward and drove over the peak, with sufficient clearance to not scrape its underbody.
The PHC indicator on the instrument display glowed white, assuring us that it’s active so we kept our foot off the brake pedal and left it to the car’s computer to control the speed of descent. The benefit of such a function will not be fully appreciated until you’ve driven on a slippery off-road course in a fully-manual vehicle. The art of safe off-road driving preaches that one must never touch the brakes when descending a slippery slope, as doing so will quickly result in your car’s front- and rear-end swapping positions midway with potentially dangerous consequences. The idea is to climb over the crest at walking pace and then let gravity do its job. The driver needs to have strong nerves and maintain control with only the steering wheel.
Next was a demonstration of axle articulation, driving over a sharp mound and then on a banked surface designed to severely tilt the vehicle. The trick is to maximize each of the four suspension’s articulation length by approaching the obstacle diagonally.
All the off-road exercises were done with highway terrain Pirelli P Zero tyres, which was fine given the dry weather but if you are somehow inspired by Magnus Walker to attempt your own Porsche World Expedition, remember that traction is only as good as what the tyres are capable of.
Although the Cayenne demonstrated sufficient capabilities for off-road driving, it is no Toyota Land Cruiser and it won’t survive a Borneo Safari. It’s an off-road capable SUV with emphasis on high on-road performance. Having said that, if you are somehow inspired to drive from Kuala Lumpur to Europe via the plains of Mongolia and deserts of Karakum, yes the Porsche is still up to the task.
Done with the dirt, on to the track
With the customary off-road exercises done, we could finally get back to the track, the part of the exercise that interested us the most.
The first exercise was a braking test, experiencing the braking power of the tungsten-coated, silver caliper cast iron Porsche Surface Coated Brake (PSCB). Isn’t the yellow caliper cross-drilled discs from Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes (PCCB) the best in the business you ask?
Well that’s true on the track, but if you are going to cross the Karakum desert in a Cayenne, fine sand and stones will get stuck within the holes of PCCB’s discs and eventually damage it. Even in normal urban use, the merits of standard regular ventilated discs over cross-drilled ones still apply. The all-new Cayenne will be the first Porsche to offer PSCB brakes, which sits one step below PCCB but retains the standard cast iron discs' durability. PSCBs are easily identified by the mirror-like finished discs.
Even after repeated high speed braking in Malaysia’s punishingly hot afternoon, the PSCB-fitted Cayenne showed no brake fade, a direct result of the very heat resistant tungsten coating. Braking performance is close enough to PCCB but it’s heavier.
Next up was a short slalom exercise between two Cayennes, one with the optional 4-wheel steering and one without. At low speeds, four-wheel steering will turn the rear axle in the opposite direction of the front axle. Doing so dramatically reduces the Cayenne’s turning circle, allowing it to turn almost as if it’s an agile hot hatch. At higher speeds, the rear axle will turn in parallel to the front axle to maintain stability.
The reward for the day was the track drive session, albeit only within the half-lap loop of Sepang’s course, behind a Panamera Gran Turismo pace car.
With PDCC set to Sport Plus, we headed out of the pits in a Cayenne S, punching the throttle once we hit the main straights. The experience was everything that we have come to expect from a Cayenne, which is to say that no other SUV can drive nearly as well as the Cayenne. The BMW X6 is nearly as good, but only if it’s an X6 M.
Lining up the car to clip a succession of apexes is a simple point-and-shoot exercise. It's so easy that you sometimes forget that this is a two-tonne plus SUV. But there’s no escaping from the laws of physics. PDCC might be working overtime to maintain body control but you can’t escape the G-force acting on tyres and brakes. Every part of the car is working double-time just to keep up with the lower ride height Panamera Gran Turismo in front.
For most people, a 911 is a dream car that they might never be able to own, and that’s not necessarily because of a lack of financial means. Family size, limited parking spaces, and sometimes aging bone joints are consideration points even for many wealthy buyers. As a consolation, you can convince yourself that if you look beyond the physical attributes, the soul of a 911 resides within the Cayenne. It sounds too much like marketing fluff, but drive one and judge for yourself if there is any truth in it. As Porsche says, a sports car is sometimes best enjoyed together. #SportsCarTogether.