Porsche Cayenne S

S proves that the fastest isnít always the best

by MICHAEL TAYLOR

ENGINE 2894cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo / POWER 324kW @ 5700-6600rpm / TORQUE 550Nm @ 1800-5500rpm / WEIGHT 2020kg / 0-100KM/H 4.9sec (claim) / PRICE $145,000 (est) EANDERING, annoyed, up a Cretan mountain track scratches microscopically at the core of the third-generation Porsche Cayenneís athletic prowess. Especially when what Porsche calls its ďoff-roadĒ section could be cheerfully traversed in a Golf.

So the Cayenne S can raise its ride height to 240mm, with its active rear anti-roll bar pushing wheels down into holes and its all-wheel steering shrinking its turning circle. Some domestic driveways will be worse.

A bit later, though, this very same Cayenne S whips into a third-gear left hander with a trace of all-wheel drift, slips into understeer on the stillwet patch of tarmac in the shaded lee of an overhanging cliff face, then re-gathers itself as quickly as it de-gathered, punching effortlessly M with incessant dollops of new speed.

And there was a soaring road crown and lumpy, broken edges that the chunky Porsche just ignored, swallowing up the suspension equivalent of nails and broken glass like they were sips of hot chocolate.

It all happened so swiftly, seamlessly and elegantly that a casual observer wouldnít have noticed anything out of the ordinary.

But something was clearly out of the ordinary, because two tonnes of highrise luxury isnít supposed to do that.

In historyís less ethical epochs, people convinced elephants to tap dance, but they didnít tap dance well. And yet, thatís the engineering equivalent of whatís happened here.

For the driver, this sort of thing is simple. Not quite effortless and a sanitised step removed from ďengagingĒ, but itís calm, comforting, reassuring and composed nonetheless.

For Porscheís engineers, making this happen was everything except simple. Audiís engineering team did a lot of the heavy lifting, but Porscheís Dieselgate memories are fresh enough to know Neckarsulmís work is worth checking forensically.

There are three stars to this show: the sweetest V6 on the market, the brilliant chassis dynamics and an interior shorn of the button-fest that dominated the bye-bye car.

While the base model is the most improved player on the Cayenne team and the Turboís power delivery remains so brutal that itís only ever a twitched toe away from playing minigolf with a driver, the Cayenne S is by far the best. (Itís also far from the best seller, with the so-far-invisible Diesel dominating the Cayenne scorecards).

STAR RATING 4.0

Like Chassis poise; sweet power delivery Dislike Steering feel; still very heavy; fixed headrests

Its ride and handling stand out; capable of comfortable cruising and pothole masking

Where the Turbo is all theatrical thump, the S feels more rounded, more usable every day and more fun to drive when the roads get interesting.

It has a broader torque range than its more expensive sibling, and 550Nm is usually enough from 1800rpm. It has a broader power range, too, and feels and sounds far happier about revving to its 6800rpm limiter, as if by nailing the throttle, youíve asked it to do what it wanted to do all along.

You donít realise just how sweet and smooth the new 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 is until you drive the Turbo, and 324kW is more than enough to make its short ratios (astonishingly, 5.00 for first, with a 3.24 final-drive ratio) of fleeting relevance.

Itís so clean and strong that Porsche says it hits its 265km/h top speed in the direct-drive sixth gear, with the last two long cogs there for cruising with better fuel economy and a quieter cabin.

Itís a wonderful motor to drive, punching out of corners on either torque or high-end power, capable of terrific feats of throttle response and thereís enough of everything to drift the big SUV on dry tarmac.

Porsche claims it will hit 100km/h in 4.9 seconds, but thatís only with the optional Chrono Package, otherwise itís a 5.2-second exercise.

But for all the potency, the star(s) of the show live below decks and include such notable techy stuff as all-wheel steering, an electro-mechanical anti-roll bar and a three-chamber air suspension system that finally works properly. Driving most of that stuff is a 48-Volt system that replaces Audiís battery with a lighter capacitor.

The stock brake package does without the Turboís new tungstencarbide coated brake disc in favour of a steel frisbee with six-piston calipers up front, all surrounded by 255/55 ZR19 rubber at the front and 275/50 ZR19s at the back.

Its ride and handling stand out, capable of comfortable cruising, effective pothole masking and, with the hang-on rear differential, a terrific ability to shrink in tight corners and stretch for stability on the faster ones.

And the well-weighted steering, wide power curve and clean gear shifting make it massively flexible and forgiving in hard driving. And, surprisingly, fun. M