Few cars in recent times have stirred controversy and divided opinions like the Porsche Cayenne. And now, along comes the next surprise – an entry-level Cayenne with, whisper it, a new V6 engine from Volkswagen. If the Porsche purists haven’t already turned and walked away in disgust, they will now.
Porsche acknowledges the new off-roader, simply badged Cayenne, may not appeal to its traditional customer base, but deems it vital to the long-term well-being of the company. Contrary to popular opinion, it hasn’t been created in response to lacklustre sales; it was always planned, says Porsche. Priced at £34,350, it undercuts the Cayenne S by £10,200 and the rapid Cayenne Turbo by a whopping £34,620.
For many, these savings alone will be reason enough to ignore the fact that the new Porsche runs an engine supplied by Volkswagen – especially when it looks so similar to its larger-engined siblings in the flesh. Indeed, the only things differentiating the Cayenne from the more powerful S are 17-inch allow wheels, the tailgate badge and brake calipers – the latter two painted black instead of silver.
Porsche has also done its best to disguise the 3.2 V6. Styled in a similar fashion to the 4.5-litre V8 used in the S and Turbo, the compact four-valve-per-cylinder engine looks clean and neat with a large silver covering and exposed pipes from the inlet manifold running through its centre section.
With a narrow 15-degree angle between its cylinder banks, the alloy block unit is the first V6 ever to appear in a road-going Porsche. Yet it is no stranger to these shores, having found its way into a host of Volkswagen models in recent times – most notably the mechanically identical Touareg, which sells for a much keener £29,340. Early plans to use the flat-six powerplant from the 911 were apparently ditched at a very early stage in the Cayenne’s development, owing to the fact that it simply wouldn’t fit.
To its credit, Porsche hasn’t simply thrown VW’s V6 in untouched. Fitted with a unique two-stage intake manifold and a more free-flowing exhaust system, the alloy block unit kicks out 30bhp and 3lb ft more than it does in the Touareg, with 247bhp at 6000rpm and 228lb ft of torque between 2500 and 5500rpm.
With an inherently smooth and flexible nature, the new engine is nicely refined. However, big throttle openings and constant trips to the red line are required to unleash any meaningful performance.
The problem, of course, is the gargantuan 2160kg kerbweight. The cheapest Cayenne labours under a power-to-weight ratio of just 114bhp per tonne – some 37bhp less than the S. To overcome this, you’re forced to make regular use of the standard six-speed manual gearbox, with its unique set of ratios and significantly lower 4.10 final drive, in a bid to keep it percolating at a reasonable clip.
A long-winded 0-62mph time of 9.1sec places it 2.3sec behind the S in the benchmark sprint, while also making the Cayenne the slowest accelerating Porsche since the 2.0-litre four-cylinder Audi-engineered 924 launched in 1975. It’s also pegged to a relatively lowly 133mph top speed. One redeeming feature is fuel consumption, which at 21.4mpg on the combined cycle is a welcome 3.5mpg improvement over the thirsty S.
Not the most rapid luxury four-wheel-drive your money can buy, then. But all is not lost. With quick steering (just 2.6 turns lock-to-lock), a responsive chassis and permanent four-wheel-drive apportioning power in a 38:62 split front to rear, it has fantastic agility for a car of its immense size and weight. In fact, it handles better than just about any rival.
In standard trim it gets suspension with conventional steel springs and gas-filled dampers - fine as long as the road surface remains smooth. However, the optional air suspension provides a more controlled ride when the bitumen turns nasty. It’s not cheap, adding £1975 to the price, but includes adjustable dampers with three settings – from comfort through to sport.
Another plus is the Cayenne’s excellent off-road ability. With a low-ratio ‘box and central differential locks, it feels virtually unstoppable in the rough – especially with the optional air suspension which provides a whopping 273mm of ground clearance.
Inevitably, you come away from the Cayenne with mixed feelings. Sure, it delivers on the metal-for-money front, drives better than just about any rival SUV and feels compellingly safe in treacherous conditions thanks to its sophisticated underpinnings, but its engine ultimately fails to deliver the performance or sparkle you expect from a Porsche.