In Greek mythology, Icarus and Daedalus were so desperate to escape the island of Crete that they made wings to fly away. Porsche was so desperate for us to drive the new Cayenne that it flew us (on non-melting wings) to Crete to test the latest edition of its mid-size SUV on the island’s serpentine highways and rocky trails.
That has always been the Cayenne’s promise: Porsche handling and mountain goat capability. It is a promise the original edition didn’t meet especially well, because imbuing a corpulent 4×4 with 911-like handling pits engineers against Newton’s fundamental laws of physics.
Similarly, that first Cayenne sought to incorporate familiar 911 styling cues to indicate that this massive wagon was a member of the family. Unsurprisingly, enlarging and distorting 911 styling produced a grotesque caricature rather than the intended 911 tribute.
That first 2003 Cayenne attempt to bridge that gap was not especially successful dynamically either. Instead, the Cayenne punished occupants with a stiff sports car ride while nevertheless remaining ponderous to drive.
Still, Porsche sold a quarter million Cayennes during the first generation car’s production run. The second-gen 2011 Cayenne got closer thanks to the installation of optional air suspension and active anti-roll bars but still missed the mark. Customers recognized the improvement with sales of half a million.
Finally, this third attempt brings the Cayenne handsome style of its own and enough technology to provide the ride expected of a luxury SUV with handling worthy of the Porsche crest on the hood. Now the air suspension has three chambers that provide a sufficiently wide range of control, while rear-wheel steering gives the Cayenne a nimbleness otherwise impossible for a vehicle of its size.
We confirmed these bona-fides while shredding the relentless twisties of Crete’s mountainous roads, while appreciating the cushy ride on the island’s rural roadways.
Off-road mode is a button-press away, raising the Cayenne’s air suspension for more ground clearance and reprogramming the all-wheel drive system to deal with slippery surfaces.
Our testing in this mode was less conclusive, as it consisted of a drive on rocky trails, but no real off-roading. Which is fine, because real off-roaders are going to buy something else.
The “Porsche Turbo” brand implies that the Cayenne Turbo is a rocketship, and it absolutely holds up its end of that promise, with 178 mph top speed and 3.7-second 0-60 mph acceleration. It has a 550 horsepower twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 and the biggest carbon ceramic brake rotors and 10-piston calipers we’ve ever seen on a production vehicle.
Actually, though, all three of the new Cayenne’s engines are turbocharged. The base vehicle gets a 340-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, while the Cayenne S has a 440-horsepower twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6. Both of them are so fast that it is hard to justify upgrading. At least, until driving the even-faster versions.
Just enjoy that speed judiciously. Because there’s no way to escape the cops on an island like Crete. Unless you have a pair of homemade wings to fly away on.
The 2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo arrives in 2018, with a starting price of $125,650, with our test unit topping out at $154,300.