Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
There’s no such thing as a slow Cayenne. Even the entry-level 335bhp turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 model accelerates from 0-60mph in less than six seconds and pulls strongly from low engine speeds. It starts to feel relatively strained at the top of the rev range, though, so we'd step up to the Cayenne S. Its V6 may be slightly smaller, at 2.9 litres, but an extra turbo means more grunt, making it a second quicker to 60mph. It's more flexible, too.
The Cayenne E-Hybrid is quicker even than the S – and most hot hatchbacks, for that matter – because it combines the 3.0-litre petrol V6 of the standard Cayenne with added zip from an electric motor. In fact, it's one of the fastest plug-in hybrid SUVs on sale, bettering the pace of premium rivals such as the Volvo XC90 T8 and Range Rover Sport P400e, while managing a real-world electric-only range – on a fully juiced-up battery – of around 18 miles. At the top of the tree are the frankly bonkers Turbo models. The mighty twin-turbo V8 produces the kind of performance that would have been the preserve of supercars a few short years ago. There’s enough pace to overtake with ease, although you have to keep an eye on your speed; it'll reach any legal limit far faster than you might expect. If anything, that’s the Cayenne’s biggest problem; they’re all capable of rapid acceleration, but they hide their speed a little too well. If that's not enough, the Turbo S E-Hybrid is quicker still (but only fractionally) and offers an electric-only range of around 25 miles.
Suspension and ride comfort
The standard Cayenne, E-Hybrid and S models come with steel springs as standard. It’s a softer set-up than you might expect, but that doesn’t stop the car from thumping over potholes and expansion joints. We wouldn’t go as far as to say it's uncomfortable, but it lacks the pliancy you expect from an expensive SUV.
Therefore, we’d recommend the optional air suspension (standard on the range-topping Turbo and Turbo S E-Hybrid). In Comfort mode, the ride remains relatively firm, but it never crashes or bangs like the standard steel set-up. In fact, you hear the impacts more than you feel them – a common trait of most air suspension set-ups.
Another upshot of choosing air suspension is that you won't experience as much float or wallow, even at high speeds. Any undulations are dealt with quickly and without the excess body movement that you so often find in tall SUVs. Ultimately, though, most Audi Q7s, BMW X5s and Range Rover Sports offer greater comfort, if comfort's your thing.
Once again, we’d avoid the standard steel springs; they allow the car to pitch and wallow. With the optional air suspension, the Cayenne is up at the top of its class for handling. Even in Comfort mode it keeps everything nice and tight, stopping the Cayenne from rolling too much in corners, while there are sportier modes to choose if you desire. If you want the nimblest Cayenne, avoid the hybrid and Turbo models. Their extra weight compared with our favourite V6 S make them feel more cumbersome, and their steering feels less sweet.
Should you want the ultimate in cornering agility, you can get four-wheel steering. It makes the Cayenne feel more nimble in low-speed corners and more stable as speeds increase. Air-sprung cars also have the option of active anti-roll bars that virtually eliminate body lean.
Grip levels are very high, and while you’ll feel the nose slip first, you can neutralise this with a bit of added power. If you’re really committed, you can even make the rear tyres slide. All Cayennes should manage most off-roading that’s asked of them, too, but if you’re planning to venture farther off the black stuff, buy a Range Rover Sport instead.
Noise and vibration
All the engines are smooth under normal use, including the creamy 3.0-litre V6 in the entry-level model (and when running on petrol power, in the E-Hybrid, too) and the 2.9-litre V6 in the S. The S is a little louder, but in an appealingly sporty way, while the V8 Turbo and the hybrid version of it deliver a menacing rumble.
Unsurprisingly, both hybrids are all but silent when running in electric-only mode, but their brakes are terrible. They stop you efficiently, but, with the regenerative phase that recharges the battery, they are horribly grabby in traffic. There are no such issues in the regular models, which offer a very progressive middle pedal.
All models come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard that glides between ratios and is pretty responsive to manual commands as well. Wind and road noise are well contained, but the rear suspension is surprisingly loud in its operation.