At face value it seems strange to launch an SUV on a hillclimb, the Wallberg hillclimb to be exact. Oh the times we live in.
However, this is a Porsche after all and despite tipping the scales at almost 2.2 tonnes, it feels very at home here. Defying physics, it seems, is no longer a novelty, but commonplace. Then again, the Cayenne Turbo’s stonking twin-turbo V8, wide footprint and Porsche-tuned chassis helps.
After all, we might lust after 911s, but it’s the volume-selling SUVs (Macan included) that are facilitating the continued development of the German marque’s performance cars. Still, it’s a little otherworldly to be needing pace notes in an SUV.
Especially on a stretch of tarmac made famous by the Porsche 909 Bergspyder (which won the goblet in 1976), an uncompromising featherweight 430kg terror with a plastic body shell. But while the road underneath the third-gen Cayenne is steeped in history, the Porsche for the family has some staggering numbers to counteract its mass and the road.
How about a 404kW/770Nm twin-turbo V8 (thanks Panamera) that, when optioned with the Sport Chrono Package, can reach 100km/h in less than 4.0sec. That 3.9sec 0-100km/h time precedes the equally staggering 0-160km/h sprint of 9.2sec. Yet the best is yet to come.
The Cayenne Turbo, all 2175kg of it, will charge on a wave of torque from 80km/h to 120km/h in 2.7sec, making overtaking on any road a simple flex of the right foot. No wonder we’re averaging 15.5L/100km when Porsche claims 11.9 is achievable. Yeah right.
So it’s safe to say that Stuttgart has the straight-line quotient covered. Yet, as has already been mentioned, we’re currently on a famous hill climb – not usually something you’d associate with high-speed runs. Hitting the top speed of 286km/h isn’t going to happen here, then.
Instead the 2018 Cayenne Turbo is dealing with a poorly paved wriggle on the map which has barely been touched in the past half century. So let’s hop in, buckle up, take a deep breath and set off. Some 4000 metres of twisty tarmac awaits. And it’s closed to the general public.
Luckily, our 404kW crackerjack is equipped with all the latest active and passive safety wizardries. From the get-go the Cayenne feels right at home on the curvy, zig-zag terrain sprinkled with wet leaves. As soon as the imaginary chequered flag drops, the Turbo takes off like a time warp with all the systems locked in Performance Start mode.
The first stretch is hardly two-seconds long, but that’s long enough for one whiplash upshift from first into second – followed immediately by a hard stab on the brakes. While the third-generation Cayenne has shed 65kg, there’s still a lot of mass at play, which means you have to balance momentum and trajectory delicately.
Dial in PSM Sport, however, and the veritable barge will perform the occasional four-wheel drift while clipping apexes and allowing the odd dash of weight transfer to bring the rear end back in line. The connecting stage to the Sudelfeld pass contains a mixed bag of challenges; from no holds-barred autobahn runs to bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Given half a chance, the V-max is easy to achieve given power at play here. Responsible for all the grunt and oodles of torque is a 4.0-litre bent eight, boosted by two counter-rotating turbocharges. While the all-new eight-speed automatic will happily slip into coast under trailing throttle, it does not yet incorporate the componentry needed for a plug-in hybrid update.
Attacking the first ascent on the Sudelfeld pass in the Cayenne starts with total calm. Riding the torque curve in fourth, fifth and sixth gear, taking full advantage of the fact that the torque wave crests at a foamy 770Nm and continues all the way from 1960 to 4500rpm.
It’s this low-to-mid speed urge, in combination with its ability to spin to 6000rpm and beyond, which makes the new V8 such a remarkably balanced high-performance engine. Briefly massaging the throttle is all it takes to flatten any gradient, to release a cornucopia of twist action, and to build up speed almost as fast as you can turn up the volume.
At part load, the 4.0-litre purrs while road and wind noise play second fiddle to the remarkable Burmester sound system. On the three-lane Munich-Salzburg autobahn, the Cayenne Turbo feels substantial. It goes against the green conscience to drive this SUV like a 911.
But of course, that’s the attraction of buying an off-roader such as this from Porsche. And if fast isn’t fast enough, hit the black button in the middle of the drive-mode selector and relish a 20-second overboost – again and again. Between 200 and 240km/h you need to be on your game.
However, the 404kW behemoth takes corners almost as flat as a Panamera, brakes almost as urgently as a Macan and handles like it wants to be a Cayman (before remembering it’s a 2.2-tonne SUV). The standard triple-chamber air suspension provides a wider spectrum of damper tuning and ride height.
Dynamic Chassis Control is Porsche-speak for active sway bars, which can even decouple or twist when the off-road going gets tough. Another novelty is the self-adjusting roof spoiler that keeps increasing the downforce up to the point where it becomes an airbrake.
Together, these elements warrant a high-speed composure which is second to none – and not just for an SUV. Additionally, given each wheel is individually masterminded, unsettling chain reactions are a thing of the past. The body control is exemplary, and the roadholding is untouchable, even when the g-force marker slides past the 1.0g point.
What really helps on tight, twisty roads is the mind-boggling grip thanks to the stickier rubber. Aiding the cause is extra traction from the four-wheel drive system and a newfound chuckability thanks to the rear-wheel steering (which also cuts the turning circle by a foot for ease of use in car parks).
Aided by torque vectoring and the limited-slip rear diff, our brawny beast accelerates out of tight uphill corners with the unreal verve of a monorail on steroids. With all the safety nets rolled up, the 315/35 R21 Pirellis paint short black stripes on the all-too-short straights.
On tricky terrain, you want the suspension in Sport for sufficient compliance and the transmission in Sport Plus for aggressively late upshifts. Despite its bulk, the Porsche manages not to understeer excessively through tight bends, and it does a fine job controlling its considerate amount of inertia through the faster sweepers.
The brakes are quite grabby and not that intuitive to modulate, but when you hit the pedal hard, they do so with epic force. Standard on the Turbo, and optional on lesser models, are the large steel discs with tungsten carbide coating for reduced pad dust and longer wear.
The clean rotors and white calipers were testament to that at the end of a two-day trip. Pressing the PSM button for at least eight seconds reveals a yellow warning symbol on the dash. Or, in other words, this puts the Cayenne Turbo into stealth-fighter mode.
Here, the Porsche performs all the way to the silly limit of adhesion, which must be somewhere above the clouds. Press on and the rear end will duly step out, but you really want to be on a racetrack to make this attitude stick. And that day sadly isn’t today.
Although you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re even thinking about a racetrack while hurtling along in an SUV. Being a press car, our Cayenne Turbo’s packed with optional extras.
The test car features 21-inch wheels and tyres, dynamic chassis control, rear-wheel steering, torque vectoring, Power Steering Plus and the Sport Chrono Pack – the latter affording the hero 0-100km/h time, otherwise the Cayenne hits 100 in 4.1sec.
With so much going on with the driving experience, there’s precious little time to take in the new, state-of-the-art infotainment system first introduced in the Panamera. Although, somewhat gladly, the test car spares us one complexity by not being fitted with InnoDrive (a kind of cruise control developed specifically for back-road driving).
The tech on offer can sometimes feel like a door with seven locks. What may be a dream come true for some becomes a pain for those less adept with gadgets – those who miss a simple knob to turn up Miles Davis and turn down Rihanna. Everything with the new dash is touchy-slidey and there’s no head-up display.
The multi-function steering wheel under delivers and the menus often require myriad submenus to get to where you want to go. It takes a long, straight road – or, better still, a car park – to come to grips with what all the bits and bytes can do for you. It just seems like ergonomic overkill and the must-use touchscreen for vital controls can become tiresome.
The 2018 Cayenne is permanently online, it hooks up with streaming services and its wifi hotspot ensures the 24/7 reception of your favourite radio stations no matter where you are. It also utilises real-time traffic updates to help you out of congestion or to avoid an accident and can even warn you of black ice on the road.
The Voice Pilot, who lives at the end of a column stalk, allegedly understands more than 100 different commands from “I’m cold” to “take me to the nearest Italian restaurant”. Handy. However, as you can imagine, overall efficiency and relative social acceptance are not among the Cayenne Turbo’s fortes.
You don’t have to be an environmentalist to frown at this mega SUV which sends out all the wrong vibes – to some. Also, the pending turbo-diesel V6 may still be tainted by aftershocks of dieselgate, so there’s only one sustainable configuration for rich and responsible prospective buyers.
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And that would be the upcoming twin-engined, 500kW V8 plug-in hybrid, no less. With a sticker price around $238,000 (price yet to be confirmed), it seems a bit steep. But remember, there’s still the manic Turbo S to come. And after 580km and some 17 hours, there’s one thing that isn’t in doubt.
Together with the 324kW Macan, this is a more complete, go-anywhere sports car than any of its rivals. It extends the laws of physics to the maximum, it juggles its weight and mass like a well-honed circus act and covers the complete scope of requirements from thundering down the autobahn to climbing up a rutted track to the getaway house. It really is a strange world we live in.
4.5 stars out of 5
Likes: Epic performance; it’s still a practical SUV; handling
Dislikes: Brakes can grab; weight; interior is all a bit too fiddly
2018 Porsche Cayenne Turbo specs:
Engine: 3996cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 404kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 770Nm @ 1960rpm
0-100km/h: 4.1sec (claimed)
Price: $238,000 (est)