Text and photos by Eric Tipan
Sprinting across the stony desert of Oman and climbing its rocky mountains wasn’t exactly how I expected the test drive of the 2018 Cayenne to go down because of the simple fact that, it is a Porsche.
As capable as the automaker claims it to be, no owner in this region of the world will subject this luxury SUV to testing so rigorous it almost felt like auto-waterboarding but with sand and rocks.
It hurt me more than I’m sure it did the vehicle when we gave it a jagged once-over from the streets of Dubai to the ‘roads less travelled’ in Oman.
I know you’re all excited to read about it, but first a history lesson. The Cayenne is loosely based on three Porsche 911’s that were modified to suit the now defunct FIA Group B specifications for rally racing. These became known as the legendary 959 rally cars.
Using these regulations, automakers were able to develop some of the fastest and most powerful vehicles to ever race in rally, making that four-year Group B period a time many refer to as the ‘golden era of rallying.’
In 1986, its final year, the 959s finished 1-2. Being a full-on SUV, the third-generation Cayenne bears little resemblance to the 959, sort of like Kylo Ren to Hans Solo — it took a part of its DNA but is a totally different vehicle in itself.
On the outside, it looks meek to the point of being weak because it’s smaller and leaner than the previous generation, but as with everything Porsche, looks are totally deceiving.
The hood bears subtle lines from the top down to create texture but the bulbous shoulders last seen on the E1 model (first generation) have now been reduced for that sleek new look.
Its profile comes with more character from the conspicuous and higher-than-normal centerline that extends from the front fender all the way to the rear, but it’s really the slim taillights, the way it wraps around from one side to the other with the word Porsche right at the center, that will keep your eyes glued as it blows right past you.
Unlike other models with deco roof spoilers, the Cayenne’s is actually adaptive and is the first-ever SUV to use it. Available on the Turbo trim, it shortens braking distance, and increases efficiency and downforce depending on its position.
12 shiny new Cayennes were made available the day of the drive at the posh Fairmont located in Fujairah, a town in Dubai which shares a border with the country of Oman.
Sitting in the pristine, new-look cockpit made me feel like heading off to the Billionaire Mansion, Dubai for some Beluga Volzhenka Caviar instead of the rock-strewn sands of Oman but Germans were out to prove a point and weren’t to be dissuaded.
Designers did a superb job in revamping the interior. Gone are the numerous buttons that looked like a giant Vertu cellphone along the center panel and in its place is a glossy surface with switches for climate control and the Porsche Communication Management system.
The massive tablet-like touchscreen is stunning, and at 12.3-inches, is probably one of the biggest in its class. I’d Netflix on that thing if it were possible and with a 10-speaker system, all that’d missing is popcorn and a La-Z-Boy.
Combining rich black and brown leather creates a comfortable yet sophisticated ambiance and though it doesn’t have contrasting stitching, the sum of all the parts still make for quite an opulent look.
Two trims were made available to us in Dubai, the Cayenne and Cayenne S. Both with a V6; the former a 3.0L turbo and the latter a 2.9L twin-turbo.
Surprisingly, it does not use Porsche’s famed dual-clutch system or PDK. Instead, it sports an eight-speed Tiptronic S gearbox, which should be the better performer in hauling and off-road scenarios.
City cruising is a breeze in the base model with 340-PS and 450-Nm of torque. Strict speed limits kept much of that power reigned in, but as soon as we got onto open road, we picked it up more than a few notches.
Undulating back roads in Oman weren’t much of a challenge despite the entry-model running without the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and four-wheel steering. The only standard features are the Porsche Traction Management (PTM) AWD Standard and Porsche Stability Management.
Electronically-assisted steering was pin-point precise but felt light to the touch — maybe a tad too much — and that’s not because these new units are a combined 120 kilograms lighter (55-kg for the Cayenne and 65-kg for the Cayenne S) than the previous generation.
That lightness of the body comes from the intelligent combo of alloy and steel body along with a completely aluminum exterior. Handling was smooth and felt almost intuitive as we attacked the zig-zags and rolling hills. But as good as that all was, it was going to get better.
Default drive mode is Normal but buttons along the center panel let you choose between Sport and Sport Plus, which basically changes engine mapping and suspension tuning for the desired ride quality.
In Offroad mode, four selections appear: Onroad, Gravel, Mud, Sand and Rocks. But what makes this such a trip is the air suspension adjusts based on terrain with a High, Medium or Low setting to either increase ground clearance or lower for aerodynamic efficiency.
According to the instructors, these settings eliminate the math and calculations for torque distribution and differential control should you decide to go off-roading. “Just look at the ground and select the mode,” they said.
The Cayenne S with 440-PS and 550-Nm of torque was obviously the more consummate performer. Throttle and steering response was so instantaneous that you’d just think it for a split second and you’re there. We thought we could go ‘drifting’ for a moment on the slippery surface (but we didn’t) caused by very fine sand and loose top soil and even though there was a tiny hint of oversteer especially on the long bends we took at speed, it kept its poise.
If NVH was down to almost zero on the road, the 35-series on the 21-inch rims didn’t do it any favors as rock fragments made their presence felt through the tires and suspension.
It was barely a shimmy in the cabin save for when we hit huge holes on the ground as the suspension did a heck of a job capturing and dispelling all the external forces exerted on the chassis.
Forty-five minutes after the climb along Dibba Road and into territory only 4x4s dare to roam, we made our way to the exotic Six Senses that sits at the top of Musandam Peninsula with a breathtaking view of Zighy Bay.
The entire drive may have been just a little over three hours but it was a brutal assault on the vehicle from city driving to rugged terrain, the magnificent yet harsh landscape of the Valley of Sale and the twisty mountain roads. I knew it wouldn’t fail but it surprised me that it excelled.
It offered comfort when there was none, poise under duress and power on demand. That being said doesn’t mean you should start planning a trip to the top of Pinatubo. One look at this vehicle and you wouldn’t want to either.
This beauty shows the combined effort of 500 people who worked tirelessly to fuse features of an SUV with 911 driving dynamics on a body of a Porsche, according to Stephan Lenschow, Manager Body Product Line SUV.
Working it in the sands of Dubai and Oman, the new Cayenne is simply all sorts of spice and everything nice.
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