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IT wasn't all that long ago that Porsche proudly declared it would never build a diesel-powered car. But times -- and the lure of the dollar -- have changed all that.
Porsche now builds more diesel-powered SUVs and sedans than it does petrol-powered sports-cars. As far as bold proclamations go, the embarrassing backflip over "we'll never do a diesel" is going to stick for some time.
The irony, however, is that diesel engines are now not only Porsche's bread and butter, the company does a damn good job with them. The "regular" 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 version of the Cayenne SUV priced from $101,000 accounts for 70 per cent of that model's sales.
Even though that engine is borrowed from Volkswagen and has changed little, Porsche has managed at least to make the whole package steer a lot better than the donor vehicle, the VW Touareg. For Porsche's second diesel Cayenne offering it has dipped into Audi's goodies bag and borrowed a turbo diesel V8, and starts from $142,000, a handy stepping stone through the model range.
Individually, turbochargers, diesel engines and V8s are the three best automotive sounds in the world (IMHO), but put them all together in a Porsche context (ie: with a sports exhaust) and you have what sounds like a B-Double that can tear-up a race track. Which is kind of what the Cayenne S Diesel is.
Indeed, when my learned colleague Paul Pottinger jumped into one of a dozen Cayennes lined-up at the international launch last year, he returned moments after blasting up the road -- and demanded he be given keys to the diesel he was there to test, not some high performance petrol V8. He was sent back out in the same car. Yes, it's that good.
I wasn't able to have the benefit of going into this car blind because I knew what I was getting into: it said so on the key. But I still wasn't expecting a vehicle with the power of a Panza tank and the needle-threading ability of a sports-car. The Cayenne Diesel S is epic.
The 4.2-litre turbo diesel V8 is not as quick as the flagship twin turbo 4.8-litre petrol V8 of course. But a 0 to 100km/h time of 5.7 seconds isn't shabby, and delivers 90 per cent of the exhilaration for a little more than half the price of the turbo petrol model ($142,000 versus $260,000).
With 281kW of power and 850Nm of torque, the Cayenne S Diesel has a good spread of power right across the rev range. Leave the transmission in D for "derr" and the eight-speed auto will shift gears according to your mood, or rather, your sense of urgency.
But alas, the Cayenne S Diesel is not perfect. The Cayenne still comes with counter-intuitive tabs on the steering wheel for changing gears should you so desire (rather than the more intuitive levers available on the sports cars).
And, in our hands at least, the tricky air suspension system was too tricky and too uncomfortable for its own good. Set it too low or too high and it thumps over bumps. Sport mode is to be avoided, comfort just makes it bouncy. In the end, we landed on the middle setting for everything, but only after a few days or trial and painful error (I thought the rear suspension was broken).
And then, for some odd reason, most of the electronics reset themselves every time I got in the car. The settings for the radio, steering and seat positions went back to suit a very tall person with very poor taste in music. And it wasn't my colleague. He's not that tall.
At least I got a chance to enjoy the cabin ambience while I left thumb impressions all over the touchscreen as I tried to fix the settings. But alas, all I ended up with was a touch screen that looked like a fingerprint pad.
Of course, all of these things would be sorted if you actually bought one. But if you do, resist the urge to put bigger wheels on it (the air suspension already makes it too bumpy). Unfortunately, Porsche won't supply it with regular suspension. Pity. This is a case of technology being too smart for its own good.
Nevertheless, this version of the Cayenne is so good and has such broad appeal, I reckon Porsche now only needs three models in its Cayenne line-up: the $101,000 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, this $142,000 4.2-litre V8 turbo diesel and the 4.8-litre turbo petrol (between $222,000 and $260,000).
The base model petrol V6, the petrol-electric hybrid and the regular V8 Cayennes are just taking up showroom space.
|(base)||3.6L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$57,860 – 66,550||2014 Porsche Cayenne 2014 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|Diesel||3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$45,900 – 69,900||2014 Porsche Cayenne 2014 Diesel Pricing and Specs|
|Diesel Platinum Edition||3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$46,888 – 56,850||2014 Porsche Cayenne 2014 Diesel Platinum Edition Pricing and Specs|
|GTS||4.8L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$77,990 – 79,990||2014 Porsche Cayenne 2014 GTS Pricing and Specs|