It dropped below zero last night in Graz, Austria and I am to drive a 377bhp Porsche Cayenne S Diesel on roads glistening with snow half an hour from now.
At last night’s product presentation, Porsche engineers painstakingly explained how the new all-wheel-drive system on this most powerful of diesel Cayennes can send up to 53 percent of its power to the front axles, should you need a bit of help mid-slide, and in the warmth of the conference room, it all sounded rosy. This morning, I’m not so sure – Mother Nature and physics have a way of overwhelming the best engineering on the planet.
In a way, today’s conditions are the perfect way to see how the S Diesel behaves in the conditions it was designed for. See, most Cayenne owners never venture off road; they just like the idea that they could. Conditions like today’s – narrow, slippery roads – are the worst most Cayennes will see.
Under the hood is an Audi-sourced 4.2-litre, twin-turbo diesel V8 that’s pumping out a transmission-twisting 86.6kgm, mated to an eight-speed torque converter automatic. It’s like the engine in the Audi Q7, but Porsche has tweaked it to run higher turbo boost pressure, which is why this one makes approximately 40bhp more than the Audi. There are specially treated pistons to handle the extra load, the exhaust valves are made of a special alloy and the engine’s cooling package has been borrowed from the petrol Cayenne Turbo.
Porsche has even made various mechanical tweaks to the exhaust to make it sound like, in their words, an old American muscle car. While this might be stretching it a bit too far, there is a nice V8 rumble from the pipes under load, if you listen carefully.
So the Cayenne S has the requisite muscle to overcome its not-inconsiderable 2.2-tonne weight and send it rocketing to 100kph in 5.7sec. While the rest of the world sees this big lump of Porsche accelerate unusually quickly, its occupants won’t feel it, and that’s because the Cayenne S Diesel picks up speed like an aircraft would – it feels gradual, even though it is anything but. Porsche has tuned the fuel delivery to ensure acceleration is absolutely linear, with no spikes in power as the two turbochargers kick in. And because it accelerates smoothly and is so planted, you don’t realise how much danger you’re putting your driver’s license in every time you cross 2000rpm. Its point-to-point pace is simply shattering because there’s an abundance of torque everywhere in the rev range. What is a slight chink in its armour is the eight-speed auto. It copes well with the stresses it’s under, but it is not the snappy affair that is a double-clutch gearbox. It isn’t as quick to respond to tugs on the paddles, but it must be said that it shifts smoothly in normal driving conditions.
Hammer it around corners, though, and you’ll still notice quite a bit of dive and body roll, as
2.2 tonnes get thrown around on the optional air-suspension. Still, on these slippery roads, it feels sure-footed, and there’s plenty of traction thanks to Porsche’s clever traction management system that juggles power between the front and rear axles. In addition to this, you can also option Porsche’s torque-vectoring system that distributes torque between the rear wheels. So, while I can feel the car slipping on low-traction surfaces, I can also feel the power being shuffled around to keep me on this narrow strip of road just outside Graz.
And for those who might actually attack hillsides, this Cayenne has differential locks
and a ride-height adjustment system.
Besides this, you can expect what you would of every Cayenne, and that means an especially smooth and refined engine and beautifully built interiors.
We have to head back now, and on Austria’s smooth autobahns, the S seemed absolutely unperturbed by speed, which isn’t surprising – it was designed for it. What is surprising, though, is the slight bobbing over expansion joints, even when it is on the softer of its suspension settings. It’s not a major issue and I’ll admit that I am nitpicking; I’m being forced to – the Porsche Cayenne S Diesel is a quietly impressive car.
The car will be available in India in early 2013 and will be considerably more expensive than the V6 diesel Cayenne.
And while the V6’s performance will be more than enough for most people, the S is just that much quicker and more effortless. If you like a bit of excess, you will most definitely love the Cayenne S.