The Audi origins of plenty of its key stuff are unmistakable thanks to Porsche’s Ingolstadt sibling taking the engineering lead for the Cayenne’s MLB Evo large vehicle architecture.
What makes the Cayenne S the special one is the way it does so much more than the Turbo, with less. Its fewer cylinders break with V6 convention by delivering a song that’s not just smooth, but sweet and enthusiastic for revs, in a way the brutal biturbo V8 just isn’t.
It’s a composed powertrain in every situation. It’s smooth and clean at idle, starting with a gruff bellow and settling into a satin rhythm that belies its relationship to the slightly coarser, flatter 3.0l V6. Beyond there, it’s all torque for a while, with its 550Nm arriving at only 1.800r/min on full throttle, then staying on point until 5,500. The power peak arrives at 5,700 and it’s still there at 6,600, so Porsche has given the Cayenne S 4,800 revs of pure potency.
Its strivings are spotlighted by an eight-speed automatic transmission so effective that, in reality, it turns the wheel-mounted paddle shifters into exquisite alloy sculptures to idly caress in quieter moments. First gear is lower than before and it’s effectively a six-speed transmission with two cruising gears tacked on for fuel economy and reduced cabin noise.
The car’s default Comfort mode gives it longer, unfelt shifts, while its Sport mode hurries them through and makes you feel them more, but not in an uncomfortable way. It’s so good at picking the right gear for each corner that you soon stop bothering about doing it yourself.
The downside is that its throttle response is so much sharper and its shifts so much crisper that, at light throttle around town, it can feel jerky with rougher changes, and you won’t be able to smooth them out on the throttle. It’s a real Sport mode that works at its best with plenty of energy being pushed through the car, especially because it also stiffens the air suspension system.
The Chrono package allows brief overboosting, delivers launch control and has tauter throttle response. It also adds both a customisable Individual mode and a Sport+ mode, which is where things really get wicked. The throttle response tightens up again, ratchets the suspension to an even firmer level and bangs through the gear changes with a crack that you feel through the fixed headrest.
Do you gain from it? Well, no. Perhaps it would help the SUV perform better on a track but in the real world the Cayenne needs the extra initial suspension compliance of the softer Sport mode to deliver its best between the end of its braking and the start of its acceleration.
What it does exceptionally well, though, is demonstrate the breadth of the three-chamber air suspension, which effortlessly spans the conflicting worlds of comfort and all-out attack. Steel springs and conventional dampers are stock items on the Cayenne S in Europe, but Porsche didn’t fit a single Cayenne with them for the launch and Porsche SA says it has yet to confirm final specifications for local models.
The air suspension’s body control is exemplary and its response times are far faster than the clunkier, rather stepping feel of earlier systems. The job of controlling the body is now managed by one computer, which governs the efforts of the air suspension parts and the 48V active antiroll bar.
While the steering weighting (and the wheel itself) is perfect, the steering feedback levels display the architecture’s Audi origins by being flat and stubbornly even, regardless of the road surface or the stress of front tyres. But the chassis balance, suspension feedback and throttle response are all so good it scarcely matters.
It eases through rough urban conditions calmly and the cabin is as quiet as most of the Republican Senators who disagree with President Trump. The seats are brilliant, in the front and (for two people, anyway) in the rear. They’re supportive and leave you fresh after hundreds of difficult kilometres on rough roads.
The genius of the chassis can be seen most clearly over roads that are heavily crowned and erratically chewed and lumped.
Most quick machinery would prefer sticking to the middle to save their decorum, but the Cayenne S is just as fast and comfortable taking the best line for the corner and ignoring the road surface. It also stops stupendously well, thanks in part to 10-piston front callipers, but also to its new tungsten carbide-coated brake discs that are harder wearing, more fade resistant and generate less brake dust.
The interior is a step in the right direction for Porsche, with far fewer buttons and a huge touchscreen infotainment system that takes its lead from smartphone gestures like swiping and pinching.