The Porsche Cayenne evolves
The Porsche Cayenne's keyfob is something of an automotive novelty. Over the decades, the humble ignition key has evolved steadily from nugget of metal to multi-functional device. With manufacturers putting time and energy into differentiating their plipper from everyone else's, Porsche's effort stands out: rather than produce a sleek block of black plastic, the company's designers have sculpted the little three button device to resemble a miniature version of the car itself, complete with ersatz headlights, a rising roofline and the stylised outline of the side glass. It won't be long, we imagine, before key fobs jangle with dainty scale models of the car they unlock and start up.
Put simply, the Cayenne is an SUV that thinks it's a car. Introduced in 2002, the Cayenne simultaneously horrified Porsche purists and delighted Stuttgart's accountants, with impressive sales that have helped the company deliver solid financial results in the gaping maw of global recession. As the Cayenne has evolved, it has grown steadily more powerful, culminating in the 550 hp Turbo S model, one of the fastest SUVs on the market.
In any other era, this combination of size and swiftness would be hailed for the engineering achievement it undoubtedly is, but right now the Cayenne feels slightly out of time.
Developed in conjunction with Volkswagen at the turn of the century (it shares many parts with the VW Toureg), the Cayenne has far better road manners than most family saloons yet feels as if it was built for a world that no longer exists. It's not just the wailing and keening of the purists, offended by the presence of the Porsche badge on something far removed from a traditional sports car. With physical scale and fuel economy high up the public and political agenda, the Cayenne makes a conspicuously contrary statement.
Right now, none of this matters when there are sales to be made. There's an all-new Cayenne lurking on the horizon, as the current model reaches the end of its production life. With it will come Porsche's first hybrid system, currently being tested on a fleet of Mark 1 Cayennes and also due for installation in the Panamera. It's barely a decade since the first hybrids made their way to market, quirky Japanese models that had to build their brand allure from scratch, but with an impending flood of hybrid models from the German luxury brands, the image of the electrically assisted car is about to be comprehensively shaken up.
At the moment, if consumption issues are all that's keeping you from upscaling your mode of transport, consider the Cayenne Diesel. The big diesel engine gives you plenty of torque, more than enough to give this sizeable car a suitable turn of speed, although the combination of clattering noise (barely audible from inside but very obvious to anyone standing alongside the car) and the even greater absence of sports car dynamics make this model the choice of the conscientious brand collector and not a true aficionado. Conscience has its rewards, however, not least far better fuel economy.
There's also the new Cayenne GTS Design Edition, a limited production run that gets exclusive paint, details and interior finishes, tapping into the carmaker's sister company's product design expertise.
With the long-awaited Porsche Panamera making its global debut at April's Shanghai Motor Show, the Cayenne will get its first true rival. Porsche presumably feels each model will secure its own distinct customer base, but both offer a similar level of practicality and performance, with the Panamera's low stance implying a more sporting driver experience. Anyone in the market for a fast four door should watch this space and wait.