Recounting one’s steps is a gift, not a curse. It gives one a chance to look back, sit up, and take stock of what has gone before. Going back to the drawing board to reassess is an adage commonly bandied about. And for a manufacturer to admit, in no uncertain terms, that it may have taken the wrong steps and direction due to legislative pressures and be mature enough to listen to customer demand and align its product offering to that clarion call is something I greatly admire.
Porsche is one such company! Following a rather disappointing move to a V6 twin-turbo engine layout in both its S and GTS Cayenne models in recent years, the Stuttgart brand has found it prudent to return to form by reintroducing the V8 engines, first in the GTS and now most recently in the S models, which is the subject of this review. It is indeed a fitting move to welcome a burbling V8 back into the Cayenne S, as it adds a layer of performance befitting a premium-performance SUV. For the Cayenne to remain significant, it has to match its rivals on every possible level, and that also includes powertrains.
But before we delve into the oily bits, it is also good to point out that the Cayenne has received some cosmetic updates – minute for the most part – but updates nonetheless. These include a revamped front valance with its squared-off jaw-like design and redesigned headlights, while the rear sees the P-O-R-S-C-H-E lettering strewn across the boot lid under a perspex cover – very neat. The numberplate recess has also been given the once-over, while the cabin arguably gets the most updates, thanks to the Taycan-inspired dash that sees a new infotainment screen and instrument cluster, while the gear lever is now located on the drop-down console just to the left of the steering wheel column in the interests of utilising space more efficiently.
Overall, it is a clean, minimalist design that doesn’t detract from the premium ambiance but rather adds slivers of classy modernity to the painstaking German precision and functionality on offer. Everything is where you expect it to be, breeding a sense of familiarity, just like that trusty pair of moccasin loafers that contour to the shape of your foot. There are less buttons than previously and all the better for it, as it frees up space for additional storage nooks. Most functionalities are home to the infotainment screen that offers intuitive menus that are reminiscent to one's smartphone in operation. There's a modicum of passenger space, even for the rear occupants, so long hauls should be a relatively comfortable affair. Overall, a functional cabin architecture if not entirely exciting.
Of course, being a Porsche, there’s a great deal to glean from behind the steering wheel: driver engagement. So, find a comfortable seating position, crank up the V8 engine, and the bark from the sports exhaust is enough to quicken your pulse rate. It is a rorty-sounding thing that burbles and crackles in equal measure, and this is even before you start fiddling with the drive modes. On test here is the Coupe variant, replete with a sloping rear roof line that has become the rage among style-conscious buyers looking for something, well, a tad unique.
The 4.0-litre V8 turbo engine is no stranger, as it does duty in many of the VW Group’s products to great effect, and this is no exception in the Cayenne S. Pushing out 349kW and 600Nm via an 8-speed automatic transmission, there’s more than enough performance for daily trudges, but also enough poke to exploit the chassis and keep the driver fairly engaged. Much like the insanely capable Turbo GT flagship model we drove in 2022, the latest Cayenne S manages to mimic its more powerful sibling in the dynamic stakes.
Thanks to PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management), the Cayenne’s body roll mitigation is one of the best in the business, helping this towering SUV to corner with the verve of a diminutive sportscar, leaving you a little stupified by its physics-defying abilities. Traction from the massive 315/35/21 rear tyres is prodigious, while the 285/40/21 upfront offer great front-end grip and steering feedback alike. As a sporty SUV, the Cayenne S delivers handsomely on this front, but it also delivers on the other end of the spectrum, offering a supple ride quality despite the large, low-profile tyres. This, once again, points back to the PASM system, which has resolutely rendered the correlation between low-profile tyres and brittle ride quality obsolete.
The Cayenne has, for the most part, offered premium luxury experience at a relatively attainable price point and this remains true to this current generation. It bristles with tech, is dynamically polished, and an absolute hoot to be driven enthusiastically all the while lugging the family and luggage with utmost aplomb. Being a Porsche, it more than likely have better residual values than some of its German compatriots, which is yet another feather in its cap that eggs you get one.
Once reserved for the GTS and above, the Cayenne now offers a more accessible entry point for those seeking V8 excitement. The Cayenne S is now the sweet spot in the range, offering all the quality attributes that continue to make this a well-sorted and polished package with contemporary tech updates and cabin appointments. The fact that you can now have a V8 powertrain in the S models places the Cayenne, once again, on the top shelf of the premium SUV offerings. Not convinced? Well, the proof of the pudding remains in the tasting. Just remember to tick the optional sports exhaust option!