The Sunday supplement: the new Cayenne Turbo in the Borderlands

It’s early autumn in the Kielder Forest, one of the largest man-made woodlands in Europe, and your tribe scribes are feeling pretty lucky.

3y ago

We’ve only just laid eyes on the new Cayenne – the Turbo was revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September – and yet here we are, sat in the driver’s seat on the misty borderlands straddling England and Scotland, wondering which driving mode to select from the touchscreen display. Road? Rocks? Mud? Sand?  

The answer is Gravel. Every year millions of trees are planted here to replace the ones they chop down and haul away on logging trucks, along tracks that form the stages of the annual Pirelli International Rally. It’s on one of these where we find ourselves now, in a 542bhp (Combined fuel consumption: 11.9–11.7 l/100km, CO2 emissions: 272–267 g/km) machine with four-wheel-drive and a brain more powerful than the one in any human head.  

Want proof? Just ask for all of that power to be delivered at once, without quibbling, on a surface of stone ball-bearings. Jam open the throttle and the Turbo surges forwards, spraying gravel behind it like a gritter, gripping and going like it’s on much firmer ground. Honestly, it doesn’t even spin a wheel, which has little to do with driver skill and everything to do with the traction management system. It’s electronic voodoo.  

The Cayenne thunders through the forest like a Group B rally car, one with leather seats and room for five, the sound of its 4-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 ricocheting around the spruce trees. When the road disappears briefly into a stream, we raise the suspension and cross the gurgling water as it pours through the 21-inch alloy wheels, before driving out and blasting up a slate slope. The Turbo doesn’t put a foot wrong. If it’s like this on the rough stuff, imagine what it can do on real roads …  

But first, a quick recap. The all-new, third-generation Cayenne is faster, lighter and stronger than ever. It borrows all sorts of technology and know-how from the 911 series, and features active aerodynamics, rear steer, electric roll stabilisation and mixed tyre sizes for improved handling. New tungsten-carbide-coated brakes are optional on all models, while the Turbo also has the option of high performance ceramics, which as we’ve just discovered, do a fine job of stopping you before careering through unexpected rivers.  

We cross a creaky wooden bridge, which feels like a good time to remind ourselves that the Cayenne weighs 65kg less than its predecessor, and leave the track behind. Not that it makes much difference – a film of sodden leaves and farm slurry covers the tarmac – but at least it’s a chance to engage comfort mode and enjoy the Cayenne’s more soothing side while the mid-morning sun dries the road.  

On the far side of the forest, as you cross the border from Northumberland into Scotland, the landscape is suddenly stripped of trees and apparently made for driving. The wide, smoothly-surfaced A68 swoops over Carter Bar where you can see a million miles in all directions. The road barrels up and down and the Turbo soars along, climbing the long hills on great waves of torque while the hi-def widescreen shows a Google Earth view of the surrounding moorland.  

A series of long, arcing bends reveal just how effectively the rear steer system helps to angle the car into corners – even sharp turns can be tackled with a measured flick of the wrists. But the best bit about slow corners is getting back up to speed again. The Turbo with launch control explodes from 0-62 in 3.9 secs (half a second quicker than its predecessor), and from there on the road – or whatever you’re driving on – is sucked beneath you like a crazy treadmill. Where the law allows, you can carry on to over 177mph, at which point the car’s active rear spoiler – an SUV first – is on hand to keep things steady.  

If it weren’t for the fact this car must soon be returned to Germany, we’d keep going, and going, past Edinburgh, into the Highlands, all the way north until the road turns into sea. But alas, our time with the Cayenne is nearly up. Before we hand over the keys we find a roadside car wash, staffed by the hardest working man in Britain, who hoses the grime away before turning his soapy jet on the line of cars behind us. It’s been a mucky old day, we’ve covered lots of ground, some of it precarious, but the Turbo has lapped it up.

It’s 15 years since the original Cayenne entered showrooms. Three generations and more than 700,000 examples later, it’s still the king of drivers’ SUVs. Especially if you live at the end of a long forest track with a river running through it.

Fuel consumption* Cayenne Turbo: Urban in l/100 km (mpg) 16.4 - 16.2 (17.2 - 17.4); Extra-urban in l/100 km (mpg) 9.5 - 9.3 (29.7 - 30.4); Combined in l/100 km (mpg) 11.9 - 11.7 (23.7 - 24.1); CO2 emissions in g/km 272 - 267.

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