I drove the old Cayenne around Millbrook’s testing ground a few years ago, it was alright, I suppose. The trouble was, I was in a rush to drive as many cars as possible, and a 20 minute blast doesn’t always tell you all you need to know about a car to offer a realistic review, so I didn’t write one.
Fast forward a year, or two, and after a quick chat with Porsche’s PR team it transpired that for one reason and another, they weren’t able to lend me their new 2018 model Cayenne. However, to compensate, they asked if I would be interested in a morning down at their experience centre down at Silverstone. Would I? Umm, daft question.
Hang on, “what’s the Porsche Experience Centre?”
Well, within Silverstone there is, as Porsche puts it, a specially designed track that incorporates six elements - a Handling Circuit, Straights, Kick Plate, Ice Hill, Low Friction and an Off-Road circuit.
With a total length of just over 3 miles, the track has been designed to be split into the six separate areas that can be used independently of each other, or connected together to form a longer handling circuit.
One you’ve chosen which particular Porsche you want to drive, you are coached through all the circuits by an instructor so you understand how your Porsche works in a variety of different situations, from wet to dry, as well as simulating ice and snow driving.
Arriving early I devoured my complimentary breakfast of sweet potato pancakes (which if you visit I would whole heartedly recommend), and introduced to Stu, my guide and driver for the session. Wandering outside he introduced me to the new Cayenne, and went through the basics, not just about the car, but the route and test centre. Then we were off.
First we headed for the Handling Circuit on which we tested the Cayenne’s, well, handing. As expected for a Porsche it handled the corners very well, even for its size. Admittedly, Stu baffled me slightly with the array of suspension and drive settings. With each lap and stiffer suspension settings I was becoming more confident with the Cayenne and attacking each corner with a bit more speed.
At this point I was able to jump out and take a few pics of the other Porsches taking part.
It isn’t a huge circuit, but it gives you an idea of what your car is capable of.
In the centre of the Handling Circuit is what I can only describe as a drag strip, and as Stu directed me towards it, he showed me more settings from which I could get the best from the Cayenne. Once set it was a case of simply flooring the throttle until I reached 60mph, then slamming on the brakes.
“If it’ll make 0-60mph in six seconds, then it’ll stop in 3 seconds.” Stu explained. Yeah, that works, not bad for a big heavyweight SUV, I certainly made its 3.0ltr V6 work!
Next to the circuit was a huge figure of eight painted on the ground and the trick was to try and keep the car within white lines, again it was all about the handling, and again, the Cayenne behaved impeccably and was bloomin’ good fun.
Once I’d shaved some rubber off the tyres it was time to cool them down on the skid pan. Porsche call it their ‘low friction’ surface, and allows you to spin around with minimal tyre wear.
With around half a dozen water jets acting like fountains spraying water onto the track, my first drive through was just that, just to get a feel. Simply touching the brakes here would send my 1970 beach buggy into a spin, yet slamming on the anchors in the Cayenne, and we slid to stop with hardly any drama, and, more importantly, straight.
Second drive through and Stu set the ‘kick-plate’ in motion. This wonderful device is a large metal plate that you drive over at the start and kicks the rear wheels either right or left throwing you off into a spin.
On all three attempts I drove into the ‘zone’ at around 20mph not knowing which way it was going to kick me.
Over the plate at 20mph and ‘bam’, the rear end suddenly kicks out to my right. Maintaining my speed I automatically steer into the skid, then left and so on, until the Cayenne was driving in a straight line again, all very civilised, and again, bloomin’ good fun.
I had quite a few ‘attempts’ using different traction modes just to get a feel of how I and the Cayenne reacts when induced into a spin. It was all very interesting and I’m happy to report that unlike some who I witnessed, I managed to keep the Cayenne in a straight line, and not spin out of control!
Whilst taking photos of Stu in the Cayenne there was also gent in a GT3RS having fun too, and although he was spinning all over the place, I have no doubt he was learning a thing or two about its handling characteristics.
From here Stu directed me to what is called the ski slope. Basically it’s the same surface with two rows of water jets only, well, on a slope.
Starting from a standstill, and again playing with the different 4WD modes, the Cayenne made me look good behind the wheel.
“This time” Stu directed, “waggle the steering wheel.” Not his exact term, but you get the idea. On each drive I tried hard to induce the Cayenne into a spin, but I couldn’t.
I did question why the Cayenne had a button for ‘Half Traction’ as it seemed a bit useless, but as Stu pointed out, it’s useful because the tyres will spin more, therefore helping them to self clean. Ah, clever stuff.
Whilst taking photos from my high vantage point it was interesting to watch the other Porsches, especially the rear-wheel drive variants struggle, slip and slide whilst Stu, like me, tried his best to do the same with the Cayenne. Of course it did slide, but it was always in control.
After heading back to the centre for a change of Cayennes we then headed off to the off-road course. If your heading down here specifically for this, then I’m afraid you’ll be a little disappointed, it isn’t big. however, what it lacks in size it makes up for in severity. There are some tough and challenging sections, starting with the short, steep hill; I seriously thought we were vertical at one point, and I’m used to off-roading!
Like most other luxury SUVs these days you don’t have to worry about switching from high to low ratios, the Cayenne does it all for you, just press the off-road setting, then the surface you’re on; mud, snow, rocks and so on, and the Cayenne will take it from there.
The off-road course is obviously designed for the Cayenne and to flaunted its abilities, but it was by no means easy.
If you think that that there’s no way a manufacturer like Porsche can build an SUV with proper off-road abilities, think again.
Our second obstacle was steps, no, not the group, but large slabs of horizontally opposing concrete slabs. With the odd crunch coming from its undercarriage, this wasn’t an easy obstacle for it to negotiate, and we made the traction control work hard as between the slabs was loose shale and therefore nothing for the tyres to gain grip. With a constant throttle the Cayenne lurched, scraped and fought its way through. On reflection, that makes it sound like it struggled, it didn’t, though it wasn’t an easy challenge.
Side slopes freak me out. There, I’ve said it. My problem is that although I know that 4x4s can lean over to extreme levels, I don’t know what these levels are! Again, the Cayenne made light work of of it, more than any customer would want from their Porsche.
And that was it, time was up. Stu had another customer, and returned me to the experience centre for more light refreshments and the chance to have a more thorough look at not only the current Porsche range, but also some of their older race cars.
Although I didn’t get to experience what a Cayenne is like to live with for a week, I got so much more. At the Porsche Experience Driving Centre I was able to push the Cayenne to its extremes, more than I ever would out on the roads, and I had a great time doing it.
I think their bumf describes it better when they say that their driving experiences are designed to focus on a particular type of driving, model of Porsche or driving environment.
‘Whether you are looking to attain new skills, polish up some old ones or just have a great time driving we can help find the right course for you. The Driving Experiences are all undertaken in one of our Porsche vehicles prepared to the highest standards.
The aim of the Driving Experience is to improve your driving skills on an ongoing basis, enabling you to drive more safely and deal more effectively with hazards on the road. Some of our courses are more focused on motorsport, from the basic fundamentals to professional driving skills. The courses are clearly structured and build on knowledge from the previous level – each level must be completed in turn before graduating to the next.’
Overall I had a fantastic morning, and as I’ve said already, I learnt more about how to drive the Cayenne, and what it’s capable of, than I ever could have with a week’s loan. However, I would still like to get myself a Macan to test, I really like the look of them.
So all that’s left is to thank Porsche, and the Porsche Experience Centre, for the opportunity, and of course Stu for his professional advice and compliments on my driving skills!