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Porsche Cayenne engines, drive and performance

2018 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 4.7 out of 54.7

Written by CJ Hubbard and Murray Scullion Published: 23 October 2023 Updated: 25 October 2023

  • V6, V8, and plug-in hybrids
  • No diesel or 100% electric
  • Frugal to ferocious – in the same version

Petrol engines

Following the 2023 facelift, the conventional engine range in the third-generation Porsche Cayenne is limited to the 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 in the entry-level Cayenne and the 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 in the non-hybrid Cayenne S. Everything else is now an E-Hybrid model, and we’ll get to these in a bit.

The Cayenne V6 produces 353hp and 500Nm of torque (pulling power). It’s good for 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 154mph. If you crave nothing more than a premium SUV with a great interior, loads of cachet and a beautifully well-mannered – even involving – driving experience, this is a superb choice. And substantially less expensive than more potent variants.

However, prior to the introduction of the full range of E-Hybrids in October 2023, most UK buyers opted for the Cayenne S. The bigger engine not only provides a substantial injection of performance – with 474hp and 600Nm of torque, it does 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and 170mph – it also has the enthusiast kudos of that eight-cylinder configuration.

Porsche Cayenne review - 2023 facelift - Turbo E-Hybrid, cj hubbard driving
All versions of the Porsche Cayenne are great to drive.

Supported by an addictively bassy and melliferous soundtrack, we can certainly understand why customers would go for this while such things are still available. The ban on internal combustion engines may have been pushed back until 2035, but you still sense a Cayenne V8 is on borrowed time in the grand scheme of things.

So while the difference in performance between these two variants is negligible during in everyday driving – the Cayenne S only definitively showing its advantage when travelling flat out – there’s still plenty of satisfaction to be had from the muscular presence of that bigger unit.

Plug-in hybrid engines

There are now three E-Hybrid versions of the Porsche Cayenne, each benefitting from a larger 29.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack and a more powerful 176hp electric motor integrated into the gearbox. This alone produces 450Nm of torque, and can propel these plug-in hybrids to 84mph all by itself while also significantly improving energy recuperation for greater efficiency.

The difference between the three comes from the associated petrol engine. And good grief what a difference this makes.

The entry-level Cayenne E-Hybrid uses a 304hp version of the 3.0-litre V6 turbo. Combined total system output is 470hp and 650Nm. Which means that despite weighing 370kg more than the regular V6 Cayenne it still manages to do 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds. The transition between electric and petrol power is seamless, and with the ability to waft silently for up to 48 miles at a time, it’s a satisfyingly deft, premium eco-SUV choice.

Porsche Cayenne review - 2023 facelift - Turbo E-Hybrid, white, rear, driving on circuit
These aren’t the planet-saving hybrids that you’re looking for…

The Cayenne S E-Hybrid winds the V6 up to the same 353hp as the non-hybrid model, giving it a total system output of 519hp and 750Nm of torque. This trims the 0-62mph time back down to 4.7 seconds but more pressingly delivers mighty mid-range and top-end performance. The result is a 2.5-tonne SUV you can hustle along a twisting mountain road with scarcely believable conviction.

The Cayenne Turbo E-Hybrid, however, operates at an entirely different level of performance. This packs a 599hp 4.0-litre V8 turbo under the bonnet, creating Porsche’s most powerful Cayenne ever. Combined system output is a staggering 739hp and 950Nm of torque. It’ll do 0-62mph in an entirely believable 3.7 seconds, leaving a vast array of conventional sports car eating its dust.

The extra weight in the nose means it isn’t quite as corner-hungry as the S E-Hybrid, but you can easily make up for this whenever the road is vaguely straight. The four-wheel drive system standard on all Cayennes is capable of delivering enormous traction, even under this level of duress.

What’s it like to drive?

  • Assured handling, huge performance
  • Optional active anti-roll and rear-wheel steering
  • Drive modes to tailor the experience

The Porsche Cayenne is hard to beat if you’re an enthusiastic driver after a large SUV – even the otherwise impressive BMW X5 pales in comparison. And though the Cayenne shares its fundamental underpinnings with the Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentayga, you’d be hard-pressed to tell given the degree to which they have been redeveloped to suit Porsche’s standards.

The steering is fantastically well weighted and precise, while regardless of whether your Cayenne is fitted with conventional steel springs or air suspension it will deal well with bumps and remain poised in corners. Though this can come at the cost of a slightly firm ride. Adaptive damping can help take the edge off this, but a Bentayga is ultimately more comfortable.

Porsche Cayenne review - 2023 facelift - Turbo E-Hybrid, white, front, driving round corner
Updated air-suspension brings big improvements.

Following the facelift, however, there’s been a major upgrade to the air suspension. This new two-valve system deals better with bumps while helping to better keep the tyres in contact with the tarmac – resulting in boosted comfort and increased traction.

We’ve lapped a racing circuit in the most powerful E-Hybrid versions as a demonstration of this prowess. The Cayenne never feels anything less than very big and heavy in this environment, but it can really move very quickly, even so. In the less extreme circumstances of fast road driving, this translates into an immensely assured and involving experience.

Everything feels tight and controlled, and if you push the Cayenne hard, there’s enough information coming through the steering wheel to give you confidence and a feeling of stability. Something this big shouldn’t handle as well as it does, but Porsche’s expertise leaves the whole thing singing – especially if you dive into the options list for some of the more advanced chassis enhancements.

Porsche Cayenne review - 2023 facelift - Turbo E-Hybrid, white, side, driving
You’ll need to tick all the options for the very best driving performance.

These include not only the adaptive suspension (Porsche Active Suspension Management – PASM) but also an active anti-roll system (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control – PDCC) to reduce lean in the corners, torque vectoring for the back axle (Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus – PTV Plus) that helps transfer power to the rear wheel with the most grip, and rear-axle steering.

This last allows the back wheels to steer slightly in tandem with the fronts. Below 50mph this makes the Cayenne more agile, able to turn in a smaller area because the rear wheels turn the opposite way to the fronts. Above 50mph both sets of wheels steer in the same direction, which increases high-speed cornering stability.

It’s a credit to Porsche that even with all these systems fitted, the Cayenne still feels remarkably natural and authentic to drive. The only issue we experienced was a tiny amount of slack in the steering on the motorway, which can become a little tiring as it makes it seem as if you constantly have to make micro corrections. Strange, but entirely liveable given the rest of the driving experience.

Porsche Cayenne review - 2023 facelift - Turbo E-Hybrid, white, rear, driving round corner
Driving modes make a big difference here.

Driving modes can be selected using a neat rotary control on the steering wheel. Go for the extra-cost Sport Chrono Package, and this is enhanced with an additional Sport Plus mode and a Sport Response button in the middle of the controller that summons maximum performance for 20 seconds, regardless of which mode you’re currently in. This makes overtaking a blink of an affair.

Every Cayenne gets an eight-speed automatic transmission as standard, labelled Tiptronic S. This is wonderfully smoothly in its default setting, but as you dial the drive modes up through Sport to Sport Plus, the changes get far quicker and more abrupt.

You can control the gearbox using steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters, with very little of the frustrating lack of response some other cars exhibit. But at its most aggressive we’ve found it’s often keener to downshift than we are, so you might find you go quicker leaving it to its own devices.

All told, this is a deeply magnificent driving machine.