The joy of Porsche

More people can afford it, but is the Cayenne Diesel a real Porsche? Michael Ryan finds out.

In a country that loves German cars, Porsche sits right at the top of most car buyers’ aspirational lists. Synonymous with precision engineering and brutal performance, Porsches are generally out of reach for those whose budgets top out at the holy trinity of BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

This is what makes the new Cayenne Diesel SUV so intriguing. Like its smaller sibling, the Macan, it’s a further foray by Porsche into the mass luxury market. The biggest question is this: how much Porsche DNA do you really get in a Cayenne that costs only $107,855?

To the uninitiated, the Cayenne Diesel won’t look much different to a $280,000 Cayenne Turbo S. It spells high performance in everything from its satisfyingly wide 19-inch low profile tyres to its twin sports tailpipes. It even exhibits design cues from the earliest Porsches. In an aerial drone video (see above) taken of the Cayenne Diesel next to my own Porsche, a classic 356 Speedster, you can see shared styling despite the astonishing fact that the two cars are separated by 61 years.

So, on appearances at least, $107k gets you a proper Porsche. Then what’s the catch? How can you get a Cayenne for the same money as a base model BMW X5, Mercedes GLS or Audi Q7?

After I tested the Cayenne Diesel for a week, I found some answers.

The first one came when driving it around the streets of Sydney. Its 3 litre turbo diesel engine has plenty of torque for overtaking — as you would expect from a diesel — but when it moves the 2.1 tonne SUV from a standing start or at a slow crawl in traffic, it does so with a slight lag. It’s not annoying because it’s a characteristic of turbo diesels but it’s certainly not the brutal acceleration you expect from a Porsche. On paper the Cayenne Diesel’s acceleration figure of 7.3 seconds for 0-100km/h isn’t shabby for a family SUV, but in the Turbo S model, which has a twin turbo 4.8 litre petrol engine, the Cayenne performs the same trick in an eyeball-flattening 4.1 seconds — making it the world’s fastest SUV.

The upside of a diesel engine is that it’s more frugal than the petrol version, with a claimed combined average fuel consumption of 6.8 litres per 100km (versus 9.2 litres for the 3.6 litre V6 petrol engine). With its 100 litre fuel tank filled, you could theoretically drive the Cayenne Diesel for 1000km (say, Sydney to Noosa) without stopping for fuel, making it the ultimate cross-country tourer!

Continuing the “is it a real Porsche?” theme, it’s noticeable when you jump into the Cayenne that little sacrifices have been made to keep the car at an affordable level.

While everything is well designed and fits together nicely — as you would expect of a Porsche — there’s a lot of plastic in this car compared to other pricey brands.

The gear stick, for example, looks old-fashioned if you’re used to more modern electronic gear sticks. However, this could also be part of Porsche’s idiosyncratic love of the purist approach. Some things, such as keyless ignition (which people are accustomed to in cars of this price) don’t appear in Porsches because Porsche sees no reason to swap the engaging experience of starting one of its thoroughbreds with a key for a soulless push-button start.

The wraparound dashboard is reminiscent of an aircraft cockpit, with dials and switches for everything. It’s a bit cluttered compared to some of the other Porsches I’ve driven, and it forces you to concentrate when you’re driving when looking down to change, say, the radio or adjust the air-conditioning.

The Cayenne Diesel is very comfortable ergonomically. The seat adjustments are particularly good. I’m 195cm tall and I could still notice the lumbar supports and excellent leg extensions. I also loved the soft touch cabin sounds, from indicators to the seat belt warnings.

At this point, you’re probably thinking this is a quality SUV with a great presence and brand cachet, but without the legendary performance you associate with a marque whose slogan is “There is no substitute”.

But trust me, the Porsche DNA is lurking in there, and I found out the hard way.

The mag team took the Cayenne to Brooklyn, north of Sydney, for our video review. For some aggressive action shots, we drove it at a fast clip down a hill on a winding road alongside the camera car. While focusing on keeping my distance from the other vehicle, I underestimated how fast we were approaching a sharp bend. Slamming on the brakes, I steered sharply into the corner, bracing myself for screeching tires and a possible drift over the centre line.

Guess what? The big Cayenne Diesel slowed effortlessly and went around as if stuck to the road like a sports car; an incredible display of roadholding that you would never expect from an SUV.

It literally came as a shock, and I was delighted because I knew then that I was driving a real Porsche.

With its phenomenal brakes and sedan-like handling the Cayenne rises above many of its SUV competitors in the same price range. Even in general city driving it feels more like a sedan than an SUV. It’s a bit lower than other four-wheel drives I’ve tested, so that eliminates a lot of body roll and gives the car a sportier feel.

I see the Cayenne Diesel as a car for someone who wants an introduction to the Porsche lifestyle, with all the performance in terms of road handling and braking but maybe not the ferocious power of the top-of-the-line Porsches.

It’s also perfect as your second Porsche, ideal for running the kids around, packing surfboards or bikes and generally being a key part of an active lifestyle.