When The Going Gets Rough, The Porsche Cayenne

It’s beginning to look like quite a year for Porsche. A Mission E Cross Turismo concept just rolled out in Geneva. A flying car is in the pipeline. In between, we have the third generation of one of its best models, Porsche Cayenne.

It premiered just the end of last month, and I was lucky to fly out for a sneak preview before. Together with a bunch of journalists, we ventured into the sandy wastes of Oman. The wilderness of Oman looked like Mars, if you discount the goats, and the rocks were a pain. But Porsche had one purpose, and one purpose only: For us to find out if the Cayenne is as good off the beaten track as it claims on paper.

And boy, if only you saw the wheel articulation and the way the car massaged through the rocky terrain. Oman’s narrow ravines, steep inclines and inland salt areas may seem intimidating, and the sudden rainfall could lead to severe flooding. But take advantage of the car’s expanded performance range, traction management and eight-speed Tiptronic S transmission, and let your inner Clarkson take care of things. Get dirty, play in the mud or bash a dune. Clever drive modes are always one step ahead of you, making it a breeze to power through mud, gravel, sand and rocks. The Cayenne is great off-road than most people give it credit for, and it drives well enough to enliven a sullen Monday. You might impress the goats; the locals not so much, and only when you hit the city. People get fined for showing up in a dirty car. Strange, but true.

Road rage won’t be tolerated either. So we were relatively safe within the desert, where we could do whatever we wanted, but we knew we’d be going for hours without a toilet or gas station. Lucky for us, there have been improvements made that include increased power and fuel economy, thanks to the new gearbox. Its 48-volt system also makes the fuel-saving stop-start system a lot more immediate and seamless.

The first Cayenne came at a time when it was still a novelty for high-end luxury sports car manufacturers to produce an SUV. But no sooner than later, everyone else — Bentley, Jaguar and Lamborghini — wanted a piece of the same pie. Naysayers weren’t used to seeing brands like Porsche in the form of an SUV. Journalists were puzzled and enthusiasts were outraged. They thought the marque had shot itself in the foot, but they thought wrong. Change is good. It’s come a long way since 2001, and while the Cayenne wasn’t around to save Porsche like the Boxster did in the Nineties, it came at a time that helped the brand achieve record sales and profits. Because of that, Porsche could enter the top class at Le Mans once again, which was quite a big deal if you ask me.

The Cayenne, also available in S and Turbo variants, uses the turbocharged V6 and the thirstier V8 engines. But what do you go for? It’s a big decision, choosing the engine type you want. Do you settle for a base model of 340hp or the 4-litre V8 Turbo that goes at 550hp and 567lb-ft of torque? The latter hits the sweet spot, of course, with its ability to hit the 100kph mark in 3.9seconds. Supercar territory not very long ago, but I think it still counts.

Yet most people who’d want an SUV desire that extra storage and bird’s eye view of the road, which you will find in the Cayenne. Very practical, and exactly why the Cayenne works is due to its unique blend of athleticism and everyday driving. A lot of it is based on the iconic 911. While it’s not exactly a 911 beneath this shell, there is a lot of semblance within. What you can look forward to are the three chassis concepts — the sports car, off-roader and tourer — and perhaps features like the mixed tyres, which are so typical of a sports car. Mixing the tyres improves stability and agility around sharp bends, making the Cayenne more responsive and nimble. In fact, it really enjoyed the twisty roads and narrow canyons that I had to face in Oman.

A lot of it is also trickle-down tech and luxury flourishes from the Panamera. But for what it’s worth, it is looking a lot better than before. Sure, you won’t exactly call it sexy, but Porsche tries. It’s not as chubby as before and for what it offers, a lot more sportscar-like. It retains the 114-inch wheelbase of the second-generation model but is 3 inches longer and 1.7 inches wider, making the vehicle look lower in stance and more predatory, if you will. The Turbo, on the other hand, has been purposely given a distinct identity to separate it from its six-cylinder siblings. It features a more aggressive front grille, wider wheel arches and active aerodynamics, thanks to a movable rear wing that’s useful when you’re feeling reckless.

I could go on and on, but the thing about Porsche is that it doesn’t take much convincing to get one. It sells itself. There are so many reasons why people love driving Porsches. Once you get behind the wheel, you’ll appreciate it for being more than just a car, but for its heritage and understated quality. And like switching from Windows to Apple, anyone who starts driving a Porsche will rarely turn back. At the end of the day, you buy a Porsche for style, intuition and simply because you love to drive, whether it is for commuting or getting lost on long and pointless detours in the middle of nowhere like in Oman.

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