Porsche builds cars that deliver exciting driving dynamics. In a nutshell, this is the company's raison d'etre, the defining characteristic of the luxury German marque. Equally, the sculptural form of the 911 is also central to the brand - its timeless aero-driven design has only evolved cautiously through the decades. Porsche would have probably continued to be happy simply creating variations of this winning formula if it wasn't for today's highly competitive market, where carmakers are expected to venture into profitable sectors that are not always suited to their personalities.
The first-generation Cayenne was introduced in 2002. An all-out sports utility vehicle, it shared its platform and much of its technology with the Audi Q7 and Volkswagen Touareg. Big and bulky, the Cayenne felt like an outsider in the Porsche family - even before the arrival of the anti-SUV brigade, the bad press that followed, and the social stigma attached to owning a gas guzzling large car. In 2004 ex-Saab design boss Michael Mauer took on style leadership and, soon after, Porsche announced the Panamera. A sporting four-door that teamed the 911's distinctive sporty facial expression with a four-seat functional high-performance family car. It was an instant hit, selling twice the original estimated numbers. Its success, in turn, has allowed Porsche to be a little more daring with the second-generation Cayenne.
We caught up with the car and the design team in Leipzig, in the heart of former East Germany, where both Panamera and the Cayenne are built at a modern assembly plant. 'We wanted to visualise that this is the Porsche amongst the SUVs,' says Mauer. 'We knew we needed to move the expression of the car closer to what we believe the brand stands for.' By this he means the 911. The new Cayenne, therefore, makes some visual references - both externally and internally - to Porsche's core product, including a longer shark-like nose, a slanted windshield and a sloping roofline, teamed with a more pronounced shoulder line for a sportier expression.
Mitja Borkert, the designer in charge of the exterior project, says the shark nose also references Porsche racing cars from the 1960s. 'Our design DNA is the 911,' he notes. 'This is the benchmark we all follow in design.' The 911 is famously rear-engined, and the teardrop form is a visual clue to where it is located. In a similar vein, two subtle lines on the Cayenne's bonnet direct the attention to the engine below.
One of the main goals with the new Cayenne was weight loss. Despite being longer by 48mm and wider by 11mm, around 180kg has been shed through the extensive use of aluminium and magnesium. Clever interplay between the bodywork and glasshouse makes the car actually appear more compact - the shallower side glass and the different distribution of glass to body help create the impression that the car sits lower than it actually is.
'The old car had a very rational tailgate design,' explains Mauer. 'This car, from a functionality point of view, doesn't have any disadvantages - it has the same load capacity - but we have tried to disguise the shut line to make it look less functional and SUV-like.' There are also new headlights inspired by the Carrera GT, and the car features jewel like LED daytime running lights as seen on the Panamera.
Step inside and the Cayenne is immediately reminiscent of the Panamera, with a slick centre console housing most of the car's functions, and a simple dash with centrally-located rev counter (very Porsche). The extensive use of soft leather and authentic material throughout the car also harks at its low-slung sibling and the new Cayenne is far more driver oriented than its predecessor; the driver sits low in a cosy, cocooned zone.
The leafy roads around Leipzig's more prosperous neighbourhoods proved an ideal place to test the new car - the Cayenne nipping in and out of the narrow cobbled streets with ease. Off road, on a trail created to train the former East German army, the luxury SUV functioned just as well. And, as we've come to expect, it felt pretty nimble around Porsche's own racetrack.
As well a range of high-performance V6 and V8 petrol and diesel variations and a flagship turbo to choose from, the new Cayenne sees the debut of Porsche's first production hybrid drive. With the 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol engine and 34kW electric motor working simultaneously, the Cayenne S Hybrid promises to achieve 34.5mpg, emitting CO2 emissions of under 193g/km and yet producing a total of 380bhp. In 'sailing mode', when the vehicle is cruising, the petrol engine is automatically cut at speeds of up to 97mph allowing the car to be driven in pure electric mode.
'I feel that Porsche is about understatement,' notes Mauer. And in this sense the new Cayenne is a successful model. The owner is highly unlikely to take the luxury SUV off road, nor are they going to race it on a track, but they'll be reassured to know that the car is capable of both. Ultimately, however, even though the new Cayenne is more luxurious than before, it gives a welcome nod to Porsche's noble sports car tradition.