Actually the Cayenne was rather good…

Is a Cayenne a worthwhile alternative to a 911 for those situations when you need to carry a family and their luggage away for a week?

To find out, I took a Cayenne GTS and my family down to Dartmouth for a holiday. Why a GTS? Because it’s the sportiest incarnation of the Cayenne and, as such, is closest in character to a 911 – if that’s possible. Let’s face it, I wasn’t going to take a diesel, was I? It also had a manual transmission which added to the sporty appeal.

First impressions were good, although my eight-year-old son, Jonny, insisted on quoting Top Gear, calling it ‘the ugliest car in the world”. Unfair, I protested, pointing out a variety of other cars that really are mingers (Ssangyong Rodius, anyone?). Besides, the Cayenne’s looks have grown on me over the years, and I rather like it, especially the facelifted version.

Inside, there’s little to fault, with black Alcantara and leather seats, and a well-thought out dash. Being the GTS, this wasn’t over-endowed with gadgets although there are plenty on the options list, if you wish. Still, we did have the excellent PCM3 sat-nav which is hard to fault.

There’s plenty of kicking room for front passengers, and loads for two kids in the back. The rear seat will take a third person, but it’s equipped as two buckets, so bad news for the poor person in the centre. Still, we’ve just got the two offspring, so they were perfectly happy with their lot. A cigar lighter enabled them to charge their Nintendo DSs, although Louisa managed to burn her fingers on the actual lighter…

Boot space was good but not brilliant for the size of the car. We managed to fill it with our week’s luggage but it was a squeeze. I hate to have bits of luggage in the cabin, so everything had to go out back.

That’s the practicalities out the way, now for the important part – what was it like to drive. Well, I’d not driven a Cayenne for a few years and I was astonished by it.

FThe engine started with a satisfying roar as the ECU blips the throttle – totally unnecessary, I’m sure, but it sounded fantastic. Nothing like a 911’s flat six, of course, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the sound of a V8, after spending many years fettling Rover engines.

The power and torque from the 4.8 litre V8 were incredible (408bhp and 500Nm. It surged forward and, although a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds is slow by 911 standards, it’s bloody fast for a 3000kg behemoth like this. Not once did I feel it lacking in grunt, and that massive torque meant the engine could happily pull strongly in sixth gear at just 40mph. And that was a good thing because it seemed alien to be driving such a large car with a manual transmission – the amount of torque meant I could be lazy with my gearchanges.

That said, the manual ’box did encourage me to drive the GTS like a sports car, which a Tiptronic wouldn’t have done. But did the big Porsche like being treated like that? Well, yes, it did; the problem, though, was me. You see, at first I couldn’t get my head round the idea of throwing such a large, heavy and high car into and around corners. Not only did I feel worryingly high off the ground, I was also very aware of the car’s bulk and weight. Once I’d got over this mental block, though, I was able to enjoy the Cayenne’s handling; again, it’s not what I’m used to with a 911, but it’s still far better than you’d expect from a big 4×4. That’s thanks in part to the 20mm lower ride height than standard, plus the impressive air suspension with its Sport setting.

Something else that was urging me not to push the car hard were the brakes. Now don’t get me wrong, they were good, but the pedal felt dead and just didn’t inspire confidence. A case for the optional PCCB, perhaps.

Speaking of brakes, I didn’t like the foot-operated parking brake; I had to lift my left knee almost to my chin to press the pedal, and then there was a handle on the right of the steering wheel to release the brake; it all seemed a bit clunky. An electrically operated system would be preferable. On the plus side, though, the Brake Assist meant that I didn’t need to use the parking brake when starting on a hill – the brakes automatically hold the car while you are in gear with the clutch depressed. Brilliant.

So, is the Cayenne a true Porsche? Well, I was sceptical beforehand but now I’d say that, yes, it most certainly is. Do you need a 4×4 with this sort of performance? No, of course not, but if we were totally practical about our cars we’d all be driving Nissan Micras.

If I were in the market for such a car, a Cayenne would be top of my shopping list. Actually, I think I may just be in the market for one – there are some good deals on used Cayennes. Now, let me see…


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