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End Of Term Report

I bought a new car today. More on that later, but for now, I wanted to give a proper send-off to the Beast.

The Beast in a rare moment of looking small beside another car

Oh yes, it’s still in rude good health. I’m not selling it because of anything that is wrong with it, it’s just time to move on.

It is true that the Beast did finally blot its previously-unblemished copybook when it came to maintenance. While the Turbo engine is more reliable than the non-Turbo ones in this generation of Cayenne, it does have one notorious Achilles’ heel: Porsche engineers, in their wisdom, decided to fit two cooling pipes made of plastic that run basically right under the engine. Shockingly, this turns out to be a terrible idea, and the pipes are known to fail. Unfortunately, because it’s a horrible job – not quite engine-out, but near enough – it’s not the sort of thing you would do as preventative maintenance, or that you could tack on to routine maintenance. As an owner, you cross your fingers and hope.

Well, my luck finally ran out over the summer, and I had to get a tow back from a dinner in the wee hours of the morning, and then pay an unconscionable amount of money to have the busted plastic pipes replaced with more robust aluminium versions. I don’t think I’ve ever paid a bill that had a worse ratio of parts to labour! Then again, I got off fairly lightly compared to one owner, who had the broken pipes dump coolant right onto the tyres and ended up wrecking his car as a result.

Apart from that, though, the Beast is still a beast. Its party trick is still the mountains of torque that it can throw at any problem. It’s not that good at a standing start, because the traction control and gearbox do not get on particularly well together. I mean, it can be done, and 0-100 kph in five seconds flat is nothing to sneeze at in something that big and heavy, but the process is so unpleasant if you have any mechanical sympathy at all that it’s not really worth doing regularly.

Moving smoothly off the line is a better bet. Once the Beast is rolling, the combination of big-displacement V8 and a brace of turbochargers gives in-gear acceleration that can only be described as "violent". Motorway slip roads are the perfect environment for this sort of thing; as the on-ramp straightens out, simply floor the throttle. The Tiptronic transmission takes a moment to gather its thoughts, then drops into third, a donkey kicks you in the small of your back, and suddenly you are going very fast indeed, with the V8 bellowing and the turbochargers adding a shrill wail over the top. Around 6500 rpm – not too shabby for a big turbocharged lump like this – the Beast changes up into fourth and continues accelerating just as violently, and by the time fifth gear shows up it’s high time to back off the throttle and coast back down to the speed of the traffic.

That rush never gets old, and the looks of shock and awe on the face of other drivers when they see a big SUV move like that are just the icing on the top.

However, the Beast is getting to be an old lady, and there are more big bills lurking in its future. The timing belts will need doing soon, as will all four brake disks. I also had to send the summer tyres for recycling, and the sorts of compounds the Beast requires are fearsomely expensive, especially given the sheer acreage of rubber involved. Finally, even though it’s over ten years old and therefore benefits from the maximum discount, Italy’s horsepower tax is just too painful to deal with any longer.

I’ll miss the space, the comfort (enhanced by the air suspension), and the commanding driving position, not to mention the enormous thrust. I won’t miss the thirst, though, especially since the V8 is mostly inaudible from the cabin in normal driving, without any deep-chested burble to make you feel like you are getting your money’s worth for all that petrol you’re burning. It’s also worth noting that I used the locking diffs and low-range gearbox exactly twice in nearly four years of ownership, thereby proving every stereotype about SUVs’ typical usage patterns.

So it’s farewell Beast, and hello younger, more supple model. More on the car hunt soon, as well as the final choice!

Stupid Car Review, One Year In

Since I just renewed the insurance on the ridiculous thing, I thought it an appropriate time to look back on a year with a very silly car.

A year ago I had just quit my job. The old job was one of the few that still came with a company car, so I had to get myself a new car quickly to be able to drive to the airport for the new gig. Luckily I’m a fool car nut, so I had a short list ready to deploy. (As it happens, I have a short list for every occasion…)

I ran the short list past my wife, AKA the sensible person in my house, and she immediately nixed all but one of the options. So that was easy.

So what did you get?

I got myself a Porsche Cayenne (955) Turbo S. No, the new job was not as a bank robber! I found a lightly used one that was eight years old by the time I got it, and despite the low mileage and generally excellent condition, it cost about the same as my wife’s new mid-spec Golf. Still an extremely silly car, but not entirely idiotic.

Let's review some of the relevant stats (emphasis mine):

It was powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.5-L V8 that produced 521 PS (383 kW) and 720 N·m (530 lb·ft) of torque. Acceleration from 0–60 mph (96 km/h) was 5.0 seconds and the top speed was 171 miles per hour.

Beyond a certain point, I think car manufacturers should just do like Rolls-Royce and simply declare horsepower to be "adequate".

Since I bought it I’ve put 30k on it with zero maintenance issues so far, apart from a single burned-out light bulb (touch wood). Sure, it drinks like a drunken sailor with a drinking problem who’s really thirsty and also isn’t paying for his own drinks, and likes to wash its drink down with the occasional drop of oil too - but every time I put my foot down I forgive it. Basically it’s the cheapest way I could find to drive something fun that could haul the kids and all their clobber. It also very definitely has presence - looming suddenly into someone’s rear view mirror generally causes them to jump out of the way pretty promptly, and if they don’t move over, the xenons are probably bright enough to give them sunburn.

What’s it like to drive?

It’s surprisingly capable in the twisty stuff, unless the going gets really tight. It’s definitely better than it has any right to be, especially with the air suspension dropped a notch and set to Sport mode. I have had the tyres chirping a few times on late night drives - the rear tyres, note. Even though it can feel like it’s reluctant to get its nose into the corner, you can drive around that and find a surprising level of agility. Okay, it’s no Caterham, but compared to other big SUVs I’ve driven, it’s night and day. "Worst Porsche, best SUV", as the saying goes.

Straight-line speed is, predictably, ridiculous, being apparently unrestrained by mere laws of physics, but only by the driver's desire to hang onto their license. Amazingly, I have so far managed to avoid speeding tickets too. Probably jinxed myself on both counts (that and maintenance) now!

I will say that having this much power under my right foot has paradoxically made me a more relaxed driver. Knowing that I can at any moment summon the thunder and disappear into the distance in a cloud of dust means I don't feel the urge to floor it at every possible opportunity, and am more likely to view aggressive drivers' antics with amused condescension than as any sort of challenge.

The Tiptronic S transmission is… fine. In automatic mode it shuffles ratios fairly competently, although it has the usual failing of automatics, where it is always either trying to hang onto a gear too long, or dropping two cogs at once. The former isn’t that big a problem with this much torque, just giving you a moment to enjoy the feeling of the building boooOOOOST, but the latter can leave you with a double-handful of unwanted revs and sudden acceleration. Fortunately there are steering-wheel-mounted buttons to control matters. Even one year in, I still find it odd that there is a + and a - control on each side of the wheel, rather than one side being + and the other being -. To avoid confusing myself, I tend to use each side for only one purpose. I don’t think I’ve ever shifted with the gear lever - not least because you can still use the Tiptronic controls while remaining in automatic mode. This will let you drop a gear or two for an overtake or a tight corner, and then revert to slushmatic mode a few seconds later - very convenient.

Being a Turbo S, the thing comes with front and rear locking diffs and a low-range gear box, so it’s probably more capable off road than I am. The worst terrain I need to deal with is the occasional dirt road, though, so I haven’t actually used those features yet beyond checking that they worked. I did overtake the snow plough driving up an Alpine pass one night, but that was enabled more by good winter tyres than any special drivetrain mode.

Surely it can’t be all good, right?

If you want a real-world picture of the downsides, I’ll just say that I’m now on first-name terms with the staff at my usual petrol station… The Beast (as it is nicknamed for obvious reasons) is picky about its fuel, too, preferring to drink the 98-octane-plus top-shelf stuff, which is only available at two locations that are convenient to me.

Also, even though I bought the thing on the right side of the depreciation curve (seriously, I paid something like one-sixth of the original list price), parts are still Porsche parts, with a price tag to suit. I had to fit new front brake disks, and each one ran over €900! I was actually braced to replace all four, since you don’t want to skimp on brakes, especially on something that big, fast, and heavy. However my local Porsche dealer was scrupulously honest, and after I had already approved replacing both fronts and rears, they called me up and told me the rears were good for another year or so. After that one, they’ve got themselves a customer for life.

Tyre prices are equally terrifying, but when you see the sheer acreage of rubber (245/40/20) next to more normal tyres, you begin to understand why - plus of course you need compounds rated for the speeds and loads the Beast puts on them. Once they’re on, they seem to last well enough; the new winter set that just came off looked nicely healthy and evenly worn, and still had plenty of tread left.

On the plus side of that equation, Porsche ownership gets you invited to Porsche events - so last weekend found me haring around the Circuito Tazio Nuvolari in the new 718 Boxster S, before hitting the handling track in the new 911 C4S (the one with the rear-wheel steering - very nice).

What would you change

I already changed the one thing that really bugged me, which was the in-car entertainment system. The Beast came with PCM 2.1, and that is really quite dated, with no Bluetooth, USB, or even aux-in - basically no way whatsoever of talking to the outside world. The novelty factor of the curly-cord handset in the armrest was cute, and I was able to get a second SIM card for my mobile number to put in the car, so I ran it like that for a while. However, after a few months I had had enough of having to swap out CDs in the six-disc changer in the back, not being able to listen to podcasts, and having nearly decade-old maps in the satnav.

I replaced the original ICE system with an Alpine head unit with CarPlay1, so now I just plug my iPhone into the armrest where that phone handset used to go, and I have all my music, podcasts, and maps on the screen in the dashboard. There’s even a dedicated Siri button, so the Son&Heir can tell her to "play some Ramones" as soon as he gets in the car. I had to get an additional amp to feed the (very nice) Bose system that the car came with, but I am very happy with the results.

The only other thing I am tempted to change is the exhaust. There’s a lovely burble when starting the engine from cold, but unless you’re really hoofing it, it’s pretty subtle on the move. (Tunnels are great fun, though!) I would quite like to hear more of the engine’s voice, but I can’t really justify the four-figure cost, especially for something that would probably make my wife’s eyes roll right back into her head.

There is absolutely no call for chipping it, what with the amount of power it’s throwing about already. I love the looks just as they are, and the 20" Porsche OEM wheels are perfect too, so I think it will stay stock apart from the PCM swap.

Now tell us what you really think

Bottom line, I love the thing to bits, even though it has probably spoiled me for any other car that does not have heated electric everything and all the POWERRRR in the world. Buy with care, and you can have a lot of fun with one of these things.

  1. Yes, the steering wheel buttons work with the new head unit thanks to a little adapter, so between that and Siri, my fears over CarPlay were not justified.