Diesels are best, but all the engines are smooth and effortlessly fast
There are a number of diesel and petrol engines, all of which drive through an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Our pick of the range is the 3.0 V6 Diesel, which offers good real-world pace, so it lives up to the promise of the Porsche badge despite being the entry-level diesel. The Diesel S gets a storming 4.2 V8, which is great fun and properly exhilarating, and would be our choice over any of the petrols. It’s well worth considering if you want more pace than the base diesel offers.
Even the entry-level petrol has a 296bhp 3.6-litre V6, while the S has a turbocharged version of the engine that produces 414bhp; we’ve only driven the latter, which is really rapid and very smooth-revving. There’s also a faster GTS that gets 434bhp from the 3.6, but is more about handling than straightline pace, while the rabid V8 Turbo and Turbo S both offer sports car-embarrassing straight-line potential.
Finally, there’s the S E-Hybrid model, which combines a supercharged 3.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor and offers strong acceleration, albeit with less smooth responses than the conventional models.
Porsche Cayenne ride comfort
Great body control and comfort provided you add adaptive dampers
All the test Cayennes we’ve tried have had either adaptive dampers and steel springs, or adaptive air suspension, both of which are optional on most models.
The adaptive steel spring set-up is noticeably the firmer option, but it’s still very effective, taking the sting out of sharp-edged potholes and bumps, provided you’ve avoided adding really big alloys.
These can add a real edge to the ride that you’ll want to avoid.
The air suspension feels softer and sponges up the worst of the road scarring, but body control is noticeably sloppier. Active anti-roll bars (called Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control) are optional on all but the Turbo S, which has the system as standard, and so benefits from the reduced body movement it brings.
Porsche Cayenne handling
The best-handling big SUV
We can’t comment on what a standard Cayenne on non-adaptive suspension handles like because we’ve never driven one, but on adaptive suspension – which is optional on all but Hybrid and Turbo models – it’s the best-handling SUV. It has remarkable poise, gripping hard and delivering good feedback through the well-weighted, precise-feeling steering. For such a big, heavy car, it’s impressively accurate and enjoyable. This, of course, is all made possible by the active four-wheel drive system that sends most of the power to the rear wheels (apart from in the Hybrid, which has power split 50/50). All Cayennes are really effective off-road, and will deal easily with your average field or farm track.
The Turbo models get air suspension as standard, and have a bit more body lean through corners, but are still very wieldy for such a big car.
The Hybrid feels the heaviest of the Cayenne models and, despite on-paper performance to suggest otherwise, is the least enjoyable model in the range for handling finesse.
Porsche Cayenne refinement
Generally very quiet, but average by high class standards
The Cayenne’s engines are all pretty quiet – even the diesels only get vocal when revved hard, while the petrols are whisper-quiet on steady throttle. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is generally very smooth, too, and is perfect for easygoing or moderately brisk driving. Only when you’re really pushing do you notice the occasional hesitant shift.
What does let the Cayenne down is the noticeable wind noise from the windscreen, and road noise is among the worst of a generally very refined class of car, particularly on those models with bigger wheels. That said, by most standards, the Cayenne is a relaxing, quiet car; it’s just that a Range Rover Sport is quieter still.
Our favourite in the range because it’s smooth revving, punchy and feels fast enough to live up to Porsche’s sporting reputation, and is really easy to use thanks to the standard eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox.
4.2 V8 Diesel S
The one to go for if the V6 diesel just isn’t fruity enough for you. This engine has got an embarrassment of torque and makes the Cayenne quick enough to surprise plenty of seemingly faster sports cars. It isn’t far behind the petrol Cayenne Turbo for savage, mid-range response. It sounds good, too, and is an effortless long-distance motor.
The entry-level engine, but it’s worth paying the small extra cost to get the diesel V6 instead. Granted, this may be slightly more refined, but the V6 diesel offers similar performance and entertainment value for vastly better costs.
3.6 V6 S
This twin-turbo engine is potent, offering smooth, progressive power and strong acceleration. It’s a good engine, but it makes little financial sense next to the V8 Diesel S, which is only fractionally more expensive.
3.0 V6 S E-Hybrid
This supercharged 3.0 litre V6 runs alongside an electric motor that can power the Cayenne on electricity alone for up to 22 miles, and which gives it startling emissions that can make it a good option for company car buyers. It’s seriously rapid, very refined, and although you can tell when the car switches power source, it’s not really intrusive. Worth considering for business users, but be wary of real-world economy that may fall dramatically short of the claimed figure. This is also the least rewarding of the Cayenne’s in terms of its handling finesse.
3.6 V6 GTS
A more aggressive, slightly more powerful version of the engine in the S, complete with more sports-focused suspension. Shockingly quick, yet smooth-revving and flexible. It’s a great engine but you pay a lot for it over the standard S.
4.8 V8 Turbo
Savagely quick, yet also refined and relaxed if you just want to potter around or cruise up the motorway. It’s a real feat of engineering, getting an SUV of this size to behave with such gusto, but it is seriously expensive.
4.8 V8 Turbo S
Devastating performance, but not worth the extra over the already incredibly quick Turbo model.