Monday 22 November 2010

Trying my best to do an even-handed review:- Cayenne V6

Eight years have now passed since Porsche first bestowed upon us their controversial Cayenne SUV, gifting Journalists around the world the softest target for constructive critique they had enjoyed for years. Thousands of column inches have been spent discussing it, the words used being not wholly positive, it must be said. Now the roads are truly littered with them, it’s high time we looked at whether the criticism was truly deserved.

Firstly, I’m not even going to mention its egregious ugliness. The Cayenne’s challenging appearance has been so well documented that further comment now seems redundant. Besides which, to be fair Porsche have at least had a go at lessening the disgustingness of later Cayennes. Alas, The car on these pages is a mid-2006 example, from far before any of this beautification was attempted.

So, how has the Cayenne fared since launch? Now a common sight on the school run in affluent areas throughout Britain, surely there must be some substance under that grisly exterior? Well, yes there is. It’s a very simple package, a straight forward 4x4 with a big, estate-car style boot and many nuts and bolts in common with the VW Touareg, as you already know. Porsche and VW didn’t break any new ground whatsoever when developing this car, it does precisely the same job as any other prestige SUV but seeks to do so in a slightly more Stuttgart manner.


With your eyes shielded until you reach the safety of the drivers perch, you remote unlock the car noting that the key itself is shaped like a tiny Cayenne, and a little smile breaks out on your face. That’s nice, Porsche are making an effort. This is how I felt, it was dark, I was in a comfortable yet supportive seat and all around me there are little touches of Porscheness. Or so it seems at the moment.

At a standstill I first notice the effect of those colossal wheels and tyres, the whole front end of the car wanders sideways when I wind on some lock, an amusing little quirk I’ve never come across before. A quick check in the rear view mirror alerts me that I’m blocked in by three other cars, and there ends my introduction to the car for today. I don’t get a chance to turn that cute little key until tomorrow morning, where I begin exactly where I left off.


With my eyes half closed this time until I reach the open road, I’m deliberately giving the Porsche as fair a crack of the whip as I can. Fortunately, driving it I can feel a little bit of Porsche influence shining through, but it is an extremely little bit. It manifests itself mainly in the steering which offers more feedback than you’d expect of an SUV, endowing the whole plot with a far more eager feel on turn-in than you might give credit for. In fact the handling, as might be expected, is very good for an SUV. Also, I found it very easy to position myself on the road; the Cayenne doesn’t feel as big from the drivers seat as it does when you climb up on board. The ride, too, even on those 20” wheels that still manage to somehow look lost in the arches, is still pretty good. Again, for an SUV.

You’ll notice that pretty much everything I’ve so far written is qualified by the caveat for an SUV, and that is pretty much what damns this car in my view. It’s made harder by the fact that this particular car is the basic, entry level Cayenne with the V6 engine. Of course, for an SUV it’s quite fast, and makes quite a nice noise as well. Thing is, it only makes a nice noise because that engine just happens to make a nice noise in every single car it’s bolted into, it sounds just like a Golf VR6. Also, because it has to work so damn hard to shift all that bulk, don’t expect much in the way of economy from it. The gearbox shifts smoothly, with kickdown on demand and tiptronic manual gearshifting available, but I ignored this as, I suspect, most people do.

The interior feels well made, as it should. But that’s it. On my first meeting with the car it was evening and I could only see what it wanted me to see. Now it’s daylight and the Cayenne has nowhere to hide. There is no darkness to conceal its shortcomings. Everywhere I look something shows up and feeds my contempt for it. The oval Porsche style instrument binnacle does its best to inject a bit of 911 DNA into all the murky plastic blackness, but convinces as badly as stone cladding on a post-war semi. The Boxster style steering wheel has no place in an SUV. Everything smacks of pointless trinketry. 


The Driver Information Display flashes up the Porsche script on start-up, as if to hammer the message home that you really are in a Porsche, honest. Minor HVAC controls are concealed under an unnecessary flip-up panel with Porsche written on it. The main body of the dash itself is uniformly square and free of sculpture, and there is nothing whatsoever that convinces you that you’re sitting in a thoroughbred. Especially when your fingers come across bits of thinly disguised VW switchgear. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it constantly reminds you that this ain’t no Porsche.

VW Touareg didn’t exist, and that fact alone is enough for me to dismiss the Cayenne for dishonesty. Apart from the excellent handling, which should be a Porsche given; it doesn’t do anything significantly better than any other SUV on the market, especially this entry-level V6 model.


And there we hit upon the crux of the matter. Not whether the car is any good or not, but what it actually means. Stuttgart’s massaging of a Volkswagen off-roader into something that could wear the Porsche shield was done with the intention of increasing market share, and it’s been incredibly successful in its quest. Suddenly, for a few dollars more, people out shopping for a tall family car with rugged, off-road credentials could find themselves behind the wheel of a Porsche. These were not heartland Porsche customers, in fact I’d wager that the majority of Cayenne buyers knew nothing of the brand other than that they sell flashy and desirable sports cars. But like it or not, 4x4s have become extremely popular as family beasts-of-burden and one with Porsche logos nailed to it is a recipe for instant sales success.

This car, though, in V6 format, is clinging onto its Porsche identity with its very fingernails. If aficionados of the marque disliked the V8 and Turbocharged Cayennes, the V6 and diesel versions were welcomed with lynch-mobs and pitchforks. It’s a cynical car, a brand-extension exercise akin to slapping a signature on a Casio keyboard and selling it as a Steinway. Nevertheless, if you’re the kind of fool happy to pay £60 for a Stussy T-Shirt identical in every way to a £15 TopMan item, then I can understand you buying a Cayenne V6. It only costs a bit more than the competition, and it is a Porsche after all, isn’t it? Well, if you insist.

I can make far less of a case for buying a used Cayenne like the one on these pages, though. Firstly, it’s the old shape, the much harangued and globally maligned one we all love to hate. You’d surely have to be quite desperate to own something with Porsche written on it to want one, surely? Yet the used values haven’t plummeted, there are no bargains to be had. You still have to spend a big wad of cash for the privilege of driving one of these monstrosities, money that would surely be better spent on a Range Rover or something else that hasn’t dated so ferociously

The old-shape Cayenne is a very good car that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. It still costs too much money and is good at everything except being a Porsche. I think that about sums it up, and I even managed to avoid mentioning how appallingly ugly it is. 


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