Porsche Cayenne Turbo S | The Brave Pill

Who feels ready for Bork Factor Nine?

By Mike Duff / Saturday, November 28, 2020

Many people make mental note of their personal best automotive scores, from top speed witnessed (and the subsidiary 'top speed admitted to a significant other') to the maximum value of loose change lost inside a seat mechanism. My stingy Scottish ancestry means I've always included observed economy high on that list, which is why the sight of a Cayenne Turbo will always make my wallet pucker.

When Porsche's turbo nutter SUV was both new and outrageous I was dispatched to do a story intended to demonstrate the rotundity of its talents. This was a tale of contrasts, involving both validating its 165mph top speed and engaging in some photographic on-track hooning – both of which were carried out at Bruntingthorpe – and then mud-plugging at an off-road site near Northampton.

Multiple trips down Bruntingthorpe's two mile runway were necessary for the photographer to get a sufficiently sharp image of the Turbo's speedo needle. Equal effort was put into capturing jaunty lean angles for the cornering shots taken on the tighter bits of track. The off-roading was similarly exciting, with V8 roar and roostertails of thrown muck rather than cautious rock-scrambling. Yet I was still surprised when the Cayenne's fuel light came on less than 100 miles after the tank had been filled. When photography was concluded I jetwashed a fair amount of Northamptonshire out of the Turbo's arches and brimmed it again, achieving a score that still tops my personal list of eco shame. Drumroll please – 6mpg, with that including 30 miles of on-road 'transit section.' Even paying 2004 petrol prices, that was effectively a quid a mile.

Granted, this was an extreme case. The Turbo could be stretched into the mid teens with gentle use, and few early buyers would be selecting it with an eye on running costs. But nearly two decades later the big Porsche's ability to turn large amounts of cash into small amounts of forward progress remains almost unparalleled, and it has also demonstrated an equal talent for dropping the sort of bills that trigger seismometers in other countries. Even compared to the high standards set by previous Pills, a Turbo S will be one of the costliest to run.

Yet it's never hard to see the appeal – and especially as the weather turns cold and roads turn slippery. Even in the dry the Cayenne Turbo is indecently quick; on greasy surfaces its ability to find huge traction makes it faster than almost anything else. It can off-road too, as I discovered all those years ago, the first Cayenne dating from the era when manufacturers still believed there was enough chance of buyers taking their £70K toff-roaders into the wilderness that they still fitted low-range gears and locking differentials.

Senior Porsche engineers never actually used the expression 'necessary evil' when talking about the boggo Cayenne, but when it was launched that was the implicit message: a car the market wanted, to provide cash to underwrite the future of the sportier models we actually cared about. But the message behind the Turbo was always different – this was one they were genuinely proud of, having put massive engineering effort into making sure it could handle it ridiculous power output.

There had been performance SUVs before the Cayenne Turbo, but none in its league. Mercedes had launched the 342hp ML55 AMG three years earlier; it wasn't very good, but it proved there was substantial untapped demand from those in search of a fast and showy SUV. BMW responded by putting its 340hp 4.6-litre V8 into the better-handling X5 in 2001, with this iS becoming the pick of the clan. But when the Cayenne Turbo arrived it blew them straight into the weeds.

In the hierarchy-obsessed minds of Porsche's development engineers the Cayenne S, with its 340hp naturally aspirated V8, was the equivalent of the AMG and iS. The Turbo was on a whole other level, its twin-turbocharged 4.5-litre V8 producing 450hp in standard form, more than a contemporary 911 Turbo, and capable of blasting the two-and-a-bit tonne Cayenne from 0-60 in just five seconds. Critics were a bit ho-hum, but rich, bling-hungry buyers were soon forming lines, and the Turbo's early success created an arms race. Mercedes launched the 501hp ML63 in 2006 and the X5M followed three years later. Wanting to stay on top of the tree, Porsche made a series of upgrades too, with a brawnier 4.8-litre engine and a Turbo S variant. The latter launched in 2006 with 520hp, and was upgraded to 550hp with the bigger engine in 2008.

But, like many of-the-moment products, the Cayenne Turbo struggled to stay in fashion. The arrival of the more visually harmonious/less gopping second generation in 2010 made the original look immediately old. And well before reaching middle age the first-gen Cayenne had acquired a reputation for expensive mechanical issues, these including errant coolant hoses, chocolate propshafts, electrical maladies often caused by leaks and temperamental air suspension. The good news is that the Turbo doesn't suffer from the scariest of these – the Lokasil lining failure that afflicts the atmo V8 in the Cayenne S – but it is still a car that requires a hefty contingency fund and a sense of humour.

But however you parse it, a Cayenne Turbo is a huge amount of car for the money. Our Pill is indicative of how cheap even the more desirable Turbo S has got. It's an early 2006 model being offered by a dealer for just under nine grand. Metallic silver isn't the most flattering colour for the first gen Cayenne's shape, and the grey interior is showing some signs of wear and well-scrubbed grime. It also has an aftermarket audio head unit in place of the original Porsche unit, although it also has the BOSE speaker upgrade. With just 89,000 miles showing it's only averaged 6,500 a year since it was new – and the advert even promises service history. It failed an MOT in November last year with excessive play in track rod bearings and an asymmetric handbrake, but subsequently earned a pass which commented on nothing more than slight brake hose deterioration.

For those with six figures to spend, or robust credit, there is no shortage of options when it comes to brand new uber-SUVs. For those on a tight budget, choice is much more limited. There's long been something of the 996-gen 911 about the way the Mk1 Cayenne is now regarded – a link that goes deeper than their shared headlight design. Both are now seen as the least desirable versions of their clans, but are actually still impressively talented. That certainly seems to be where the market is putting the Turbo at the moment, at a substantial discount to any obvious alternative. You'd need to be courageous to consider swallowing a pepper this spicy, but that's why we're here, right?

See the original advert here

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