When the Cayenne hit the market back in 2002, it was the first off-road Porsche since the Stuttgart manufacturer’s Super and Junior models of the 1950s - and they were both tractors. With its 911-on-steroids looks, the Cayenne was never seen as a Range Rover rival. Instead, it slotted perfectly into the high-performance SUV segment; a sporty machine with a V8 under the bonnet and a suitably aggressive exhaust note. Add to the mix a 521bhp twin turbo option and ultra-low profile tyres on 19-inch rims, and you can understand why it was seen as a grand tourer rather than a wadi-basher. But, it may come as shock (it certainly did to me) that from the off, the Cayenne was designed to happily venture off-piste, with adjustable air suspension giving it 273mm worth of ground clearance and a traction-enhancing locking diff system, all developed at Moab, Utah – Jeep’s main proving ground.

Steve Chalmers

Few owners knew, or even cared that the big SUV had a specialist off-road package that allowed the anti-roll bars to be decoupled for an extra 60mm of ride height – that’s proper hardcore, rock-crawler spec and we’re surprised the Cayenne wasn’t offered with a winch and a rack of KC spot lamps.

The 3rd gen Cayenne

We’re in Fujairah, about to put our 2018 Cayenne through a gruelling wadi exploration drive. But, looking at our Biscaya Blue model, we’re finding it hard to believe it can mount the pavement outside Choithrams, let alone tackle some rocky dirt roads.

The latest Cayenne has been completely redeveloped and on

first looks, it appears that Porsche is moving away from the original model’s Range Rover-chasing capabilities. For starters, the alloy wheels are now 19-inches in diameter, with options stretching up to 21-inches. These are shod with 255/55 ZR 19s up front and wider 275/50 ZR 19s at the rear – not exactly the chunky, high-side walled tyres you see fitted to Jeep Wranglers.

Porsche is also keen to point out the new engine options, with the big V8 of old making way for a pair of more efficient V6s, both mated to a new eight-speed Tiptronic S gearbox. Power wise, the entry-level turbo three-litre turbo engine delivers 40 hp more than the previous model, peaking at a meaty 340hp, with the twin turbo in the Cayenne S, producing 440 hp – an increase of 20 hp.

However, outright horsepower off-road is only for the Baja racers, as the rest of humanity needs usable torque to keep us moving at a gentle and consistent pace. Here the V6s produce 331 and 405lb ft respectively, with a nice flat torque curve from 1800 to 5500rpm.

Chassis magic

A quick blast along some challenging coast roads had the Porsche 4D Chassis Control system doing its thing; analysing the current longitudinal, lateral and vertical acceleration, then using these findings to calculate optimum information about the driving status. Basically, the chassis components work together to respond to the imminent driving situation. It’s all very high-tech and as we finally take a right turn onto our first dusty road leading to an even dustier single-track gravel track, we’re feeling reassured that the Cayenne knows what it’s doing.

We’re off roading!

It’s a surreal sensation gazing down to see the Porsche badge on the steering wheel and then looking up and seeing nothing but dirt, dust and mountain. We’re in the middle of nowhere in a high performance luxury SUV but we’ve got some serious bits of tech helping us along that would have a Hilux owner frothing at the mouth.

To be fair, we’re not really trying very hard here; the Porsche is doing everything for us. All we’re doing is choosing between the five different drive and chassis modes; the computers are doing the rest. Obviously, the Porsche is configured for normal road use as standard, but we switched to ‘Gravel’ as soon as the road turned from black to brown. There’s also a ‘Mud’ setting for those post-rainy days in the desert when parts of the region turn to soggy, rutted roads.

From the off, the Porsche Cayenne was designed to happily venture off-piste

There’s an additional ‘Sand’ setting, with the ‘Rock’ option nothing to do with Bryan Adams, instead it allows the big SUV to negotiate hard and uneven surfaces found in rugged terrain.

There’s even an optional off-road package that displays additional information on the Cayenne’s steering angle, transverse gradient and longitudinal incline – a cool bit of kit that was originally seen in the J70 Toyota Land Cruiser.

The drive, chassis and deferential locks can also be selected to adapt to the relevant scenario, which would be extremely helpful if the Porsche found itself stuck in the desert. Plus, the intelligent, fully variable Porsche Traction Management (PTM) distributes the driving force between the drive axles.

For some of our tighter maneuvers, a reduced turning circle means less steering input, and the Cayenne is also lighter than its predecessor, using an intelligent combination of alloy and steel to slim down from 2040 to a 1985 kgs – even the innovative lithium-ion polymer starter battery saves 10kg over the old version.


A Porsche that thinks it’s a Wrangler/Patrol/Land Cruiser? It sounds unthinkable, but it is absolutely true. Thanks to its considerable electronic and mechanical aids, the Porsche can off-road with the best of them and completely and utterly destroy any 4×4 on-road. For soft-roading, the Cayenne is unmatched in its mix of luxury and capability, with its only limitations in the more serious terrain being the 19-inch alloys. It’s the norm in the Middle East to drop tyre pressure when heading off road and

technically, the Porsche’s low profile tyres could be run at a lower pressure, but there’s a chance you could pinch the tyre between the rim and the ground, or even worse, scratch your nice new Cayenne rim. The fact that we’re even thinking about dune bashing, or wadi exploration in the Porsche says it all, and just to completely reassure you of the Porsche’s off road abilities, the Cayenne came first three years in succession on the punishing TransSyberian Rally – a 6200km race through Russia, Siberia and Mongolia. Parking on the sandy bit outside Choithrams really isn’t a problem.