Road Test: Porsche Cayenne Diesel 3.0 TDI

Rain, snow, sleet and ice are with us for a large part of the year, and the need for robust, go-anywhere chauffeur vehicles doesn’t go away just because the sun shines for a couple of months.

Many chauffeurs have added four-wheel drive sports-utility vehicles to their fleets, but apart from the mighty Range Rover, there are very few SUVs that can offer the levels of comfort, luxury and refinement that chauffeur customers expect from a long-wheelbase saloon.

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But that level of prestige comes at a price – even the most basic Range Rover carries a whopping £70,000 price tag – a hefty premium over a decent-spec LWB full-size chauffeur saloon. Further down the price ladder, there’s plenty of SUV choice in the £40-50,000 zone. But does anything compare to the Range Rover? Even quality offerings from BMW, Mercedes and Audi don’t come close.

We started looking closely at the SUV sector last year when we included it as a new category in the Professional Driver Car of the Year Awards, and the judging process threw up a very clear category winner. Prestige badge that’s a cut above the main luxury brands? Check. Class-leading residuals? Check. Running costs and CO2 emissions well inside acceptable limits for a big 4x4? Check. Sub-£50k price tag? Yep, tick that box too.

The car? The Porsche Cayenne Diesel. Not an obvious choice for sure – the Cayenne’s somewhat unwelcome reputation is a as a flash-boy premier league footballer’s carriage, parked up in the million-dollar Cheshire garage alongside the slightly crumpled Ferrari and the camouflaged Bentley.

But the more we looked at the Cayenne, the more we liked it. Especially in the rather understated basic four-cylinder Cayenne Diesel trim level. It’s slightly smaller than its most obvious rival, the Audi Q7, which shares much of the Cayenne’s running gear. But much of the Audi’s bulk is external – if anything, the Cayenne feels roomier inside.

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And the combination of sporty styling and superb dynamics – easily the best on-roader of the off-roaders on the PD CoTY shortlist – made the Cayenne a popular choice. Even before we factored in the price and running costs, the Porsche outscored all the other cars on test – including the Range Rover.

The clincher is the price. £46,744, well within the price range of the Audi Q7 SE (£43,395) and Mercedes-Benz ML250 SE (£43,865), and in the same 40mpg area in terms of fuel economy. It should be comparable to the Q7 – the powertrains are pretty much the same.

It’s hard to imagine that the Cayenne has been around for more than a decade – production started in 2002, kicking of a period of intense expansion for Porsche and taking the brand away from sports cars and into unexplored territory. Later it would be joined by the Panamera four-door saloon, another off-beat favourite for high-end chauffeurs.

The original Cayenne was replaced by a “spot the difference” second-generation model in 2010. But while the overall look was retained, the second-gen Cayenne was very different – lower and externally smaller, but with a 40mm longer wheelbase. And although that doesn’t sound a lot, it has made a big difference to the rear-seat legroom of the car.

Performance and economy

The 2011 Cayenne was almost 250kg lighter than the previous models due to extensive use of aluminum and magnesium in the body, helping it to become more fuel efficient than the previous version, which had gained a 3.0-litre diesel variant in its last year of production – previously, all Cayennes had been petrol-engined.

The addition of Volkswagen’s 3.0-litre V6 TDI engine has transformed the Cayenne into a practical chauffeur car. The 240PS engine offers a lusty 550Nm of torque, making for a low-revving on-road cruiser with claimed 39.2mpg combined performance – very acceptable for a big 4x4.

Inevitably, we didn’t manage this level on test, but nevertheless achieved an acceptable 33.6mpg over the course of our test – figures slightly skewed by a couple of long-distance motorway runs, which made the average speed of 39mph a little higher than you might expect. Urban-only driving came out around 30mpg – still pretty good for a big SUV. And these figures would not have been shabby for, say, a previous generation E-class or Audi A6. Indeed, we achieved 34.4mpg in an old-shape A6 back in 2010. 

Interior

Our silver test car looks the part, with gunmetal grey alloys and black window trim rather than chrome. It’s an understated look – no roof rails or off-road paraphernalia. This is a car designed for arriving at a movie premiere, not yomping through a forest track.

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From the driver’s seat, the experience is very much like sitting in a seriously jacked-up Panamera. The dashboard layout is unmistakeably Porsche, from the overlapping dials with the rev counter in the centre to the ‘herringbone’ switchgear on the centre console. The prominence of the rev counter does make the speedometer a little small and oddly calibrated in 25mph increments, though a digital speed display at the bottom of the rev counter makes life a little easier.

One of the dashboard dials is, like on the Panamera, a digital screen, which can display different information such as radio, navigation instructions and even a detailed map – so you could have a 3D display on the main satnav screen and a local 2D version on the small screen. A useful and flexible feature. The information screen is controlled by a separate stalk – one of four on the steering column – the others control lights, washers and cruise control.

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Our interior is perfect for chauffeuring – understated black, with aluminium highlights round the vents and gearshift. Perforated leather sports seats in the front are extremely comfortable, especially on a motorway run, though they’re somewhat surprisingly not heated.

Rear seats and loadspace

The rear seat could take three people but is more suitable for two – the centre of the seat back incorporates a large, fold-down armrest, flanking two sculpted seats. Legroom and headroom are fine – not far off Range-Rover standard. Indeed, the only off-roader that exceeded the Cayenne significantly in terms of rear legroom was the LWB Mercedes-Benz R-class, a car that’s about to come to the end of the road in the Mercedes range, and one that is some way short of the Cayenne in terms of refinement.

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Luggage space is acceptable – we could easily accommodate our standard cases with room for more. The load floor is quite high, as you’d expect from a SUV, but there’s a metal scuff guard between the carpeted boot and the bumper. The top of the plastic bumper is exposed though, and could easily get scuffed when loading.

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Driving dynamics

On the road, the Cayenne’s diesel engine lets you know it’s there. This is a Porsche, after all, so you get a nice throaty roar from the engine when you hit the throttle. The 8-speed Tiptronic gearbox gives admirably smooth shifts, as you might expect. There are big, chunky steering wheel paddles built into the steering wheel for manual override.

There are several ride options – including comfort, which does make a difference. And while the big alloys look the part, smaller hubs with more rubber and air would help smooth out the potholes. On the motorway, it’s very solid and unhurried, especially when the cruise control is engaged.

Around town, the Cayenne is surprisingly manoeuvrable, with an exceptionally tight turning circle for a big, wide 4x4. It’s fitted with stop/start, though it seemed reluctant to operate. We still don’t like stop/start systems, and until your customers are really accustomed to the engine turning off and on at every set of traffic lights, we’d rather turn it off. 

Verdict

The Surprise SUV winner? Maybe not so much as you might think. The Porsche Cayenne Diesel makes a compelling financial case, regardless of the appeal of the brand and the car’s distinctive sporty looks.

Tested up against key rivals from Mercedes, BMW and especially Audi – much of the Cayenne’s underpinnings are shared with the Q7 – the Cayenne’s whole-life costs are among the best in the class. Purchase price may be a little higher, but residuals also hold up better. There’s very little to choose in terms of mpg between Cayenne, Audi Q7, Mercedes M-class and BMW X5.But the Cayenne trumps its rivals in terms of brand prestige and exclusivity.

This is a sub-£50,000 SUV that is also more car-like than its competitors. And for chauffeur work, where hardcore off-roading is not on the agenda but the ability to cope with snow, ice and flooding increasingly is, the Cayenne copes admirably.

Read seat comfort is good for its class – a little more legroom wouldn’t go amiss, but you could say that about almost all the luxury SUVs we’ve driven. And there’s plenty of luggage space too.

The Cayenne can do everything a Range Rover can do – and for £20,000 less. Not that your clients will know this – they’ll see the Porsche shield on the bonnet and assume the car is every bit as pricey as Solihull’s finest. A worthy winner indeed.

 


 

DATA

Porsche Cayenne Diesel 3.0 TDI
Price: £46,744
Options:
Metallic paint £697
MP3 Connectivity £77
Bluetooth £445
Rear seat entertainment £2,419
Specification
Engine 3.0-litre 24v common-rail turbodiesel V6
Transmission 8-speed Tiptronic, permanent all-wheel drive
Power 245PS at 3,800rpm
Torque 550Nm at 1,750-2,750rpm
0-62mph 7.6sec
CO2 emissions 189g/km
Fuel consumption 39.2mpg (combined)
Luggage volume 670 litres
Overall length 4,846mm
Overall height 1,705mm
Overall width 1,939mm
Wheelbase 2,895mm
Fuel tank capacity 85 litres
VED Band J
Warranty 3 years/Unlimited miles

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