First drive: Porsche Cayenne

It may look like a big chunky off-roader, but most owners of the first generation Porsche Cayenne used it to tackle nothing more challenging than urban speed bumps. For the second generation, Porsche has caved in and dropped some of the off-road pretence, billing this as a purely sporty SUV.

This means the ungainly looks of the original have been toned down in favour of a sleeker, more pointed style. The result is undeniably Porsche, with 911 design traits obvious all over the big car.

The front has been sharpened up, and the snub nose has been dropped but the best changes come at the rear, with the previously utilitarian tail now sculpted in a more flowing manner. With this new look comes a new mentality – the Cayenne feels more at home on the track than plugging up and down muddy hills. There are a host of buttons on the centre console that will help with the rough stuff, but everything is now electronic so there is a slight feeling of detachment while tackling tricky terrain. This is unlikely to bother most of the Cayenne's owners, as most will never take it off road. Should they ever need to though, tricks like hill-descent control, ride-height adjustment and custom off road modes that change the gearing and throttle response means there is a fair amount of capability here.

On the road, the Cayenne feels much more at home, although it suffers from a firm and sometimes bumpy ride in even the 'Comfort' setting. You also get 'Normal' and 'Sport' mode, but these don't affect the comfort drastically, doing more to improve responsiveness and handling. Every one of the S, Turbo and Hybrid options are rapid, with all three getting to 62mph in 6.5 seconds or under. The Turbo is naturally the quickest at just 4.7 seconds and it feels gloriously powerful at almost every level of the rev range. It uses the same 4.8-litre engine as the S, and should keep going to 172mph. Not only is it fantastically responsive, it sounds brilliant too.

Fuel economy is not great on the Turbo at 24.6mpg, or the S at 26.9mpg for that matter, but it is kept in check by the smoothest stop-start system we have ever experienced. It took a good while for us to notice it was even cutting out, such was the speed and smoothness of the system. Shedding 180kg has also helped the new Cayenne improve its economy by up to 20 percent on most models.

But those who will want to save money on running costs and still get the performance benefits of a petrol engine will naturally be drawn towards the new Hybrid. Essentially the same as the Volkswagen Touareg's new hybrid system, it pairs a supercharged V6 engine with an electric motor.

It is certainly still quick, but the power isn't instantaneous in arrival, occasionally taking a moment or so for the engine to respond to the accelerator. The link between the electric motor and the petrol engine is fantastically smooth though, and the switch between the two is barely noticeable, at whatever speed.

In fact the engine can remain idle up to speeds of 40mph on the electric motor alone, which should owners achieve the claimed 34.4mpg fuel economy. As this is still lower than the diesel's claimed 38.2mpg, and the hybrid is set to cost around £5,000 more than its oil-burning equivalent, it may be hard to make the financial case for the hybrid. But for those who wish to evade London's congestion charge, and get the benefits of an efficient petrol engine, then there's a case to be made.
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