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What Porsche's 2.2-tonne Cayenne is like on the racetrack

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The Cayenne is an important car for Porsche. Out of 240,000 global sales in 2017, approximately one fifth were of the Cayenne alone.

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"High-performance electric vehicles is one of the core pillars of Porsche's product strategy." - Arthur Willmann, the new managing director of Porsche Asia Pacific

Sepang, Malaysia

"A PORSCHE is always the sports car in the segment, and with the new Cayenne, I would say you can enjoy the experience of a Porsche on a racetrack," said Arthur Willmann, the new managing director of Porsche Asia Pacific, on why the company chose to showcase its new sport utility vehicle (SUV) at, of all places, a racing circuit.

"Motorsport is part of our DNA, and this is in each and every one of our cars," he added.

Mr Willmann was speaking to The Business Times at the regional launch of the third-generation Cayenne at Sepang International Circuit, where the media got to experience the car's abilities at two extremes: tyre-screeching speeds on the track and crawling over extreme obstacles off-road.

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The Cayenne is an important car for Porsche. Out of 240,000 global sales in 2017, approximately one fifth were of the Cayenne alone. In Asia-Pacific, that ratio is about one in four, with the Cayenne accounting for 1,377 of 5,390 sales in the region.

Last month, the order books opened for three variants in Singapore: the S$343,988 Cayenne, the S$433,988 Cayenne S, and the S$607,188 Cayenne Turbo, all without Certificate Of Entitlement. The latter is quite the beast, with a 550 horsepower, twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that shoots the 2.2-tonne leviathan from 0-100km/h in just 3.9 seconds; quicker than Porsche's flagship 911 Turbo sports car from 15 years ago.

Not all Cayennes will have a gas-guzzling image, however, as fuel-sipping petrol-electric e-hybrid versions will come along in the near future, which might make the image of large SUVs more socially acceptable.

This is in line with Porsche's strategy to be a leader in high-performance electrification, a topic Mr Willmann is optimistic about for Singapore. "I would say Singapore is one of the markets where it's easier to establish electrification. If you look at the country itself, about 25 by 45 km, it's perfect," he said.

On the issue of setting up the infrastructure for charging, he is just as positive. "Personally I feel that Singapore is quite proactive in such matters, that it is quite open to innovation, that the authorities are pushing for certain solutions, and that they are keen to implement something like this," he said.

This is an issue that Porsche is keen to resolve quickly. Its race-winning cars are now electrified, and bringing racing tech to the road is something the brand is famous for. "High-performance electric vehicles is one of the core pillars of Porsche's product strategy," said Mr Willmann.

As for the new Cayenne itself, at Sepang it showed a breadth of dynamic ability that proves it certainly deserves its reputation as the sports car of SUVs.

You might expect that such a tall, heavy vehicle would trip over itself on the high-speed expanses of a Formula 1 track, but it doesn't at all. Body roll while cornering above 120km/h is staggering in its absence, while the spot-on weighting of the steering means threading the Cayenne precisely through the corners is a doddle.

There was no chance for us to drive the Cayenne on normal roads, but one new feature should ease the urban grind. This is the first Cayenne to feature rear-axle steering (standard on the Turbo, optional on the others), which steers the rear wheels opposite to the fronts below 80km/h, resulting in significantly less arm movement while turning at low speeds, and a markedly smaller turning radius which would be a boon at U-turns.

Most customers will never tap the amazing abilities of their Cayennes, but like an expensive watch that can survive the ocean depths or the heights of space, it's nice to know that it can handle anything you throw at it - whether on the racing track or on the road.

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