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Porsche Cayenne gets sports car flair with fat rear tires

The enhancements reflect the increasing pressure on the Cayenne, Porsche's biggest seller next to the smaller Macan SUV. PHOTO:PORSCHE

[FRANKFURT] Porsche's refreshed Cayenne sport utility vehicle features fat rear tires, sharper handling and brawnier engines as the German manufacturer draws on its trademark 911 sports car to counter a growing array of competitors for the big-selling model.

For a sleeker look, the third-generation Cayenne is 6.3 centimeters longer and nearly 1 centimeter lower than its predecessor. The rear wheels are now wider than the front ones and steer to assist with the SUV's cornering like in the 911. Meanwhile, the base version, which starts at nearly 75,000 euros (S$121,713) in Germany, boasts a 340-horsepower engine, 40 more than the previous model, the Volkswagen AG unit said Tuesday in a statement.

The enhancements reflect the increasing pressure on the Cayenne, Porsche's biggest seller next to the smaller Macan SUV. When the model was first introduced in 2002, it marked the brand's first expansion beyond low-slung sports cars, and its success helped spark the luxury SUV wave, with the likes of Jaguar, Maserati and Bentley following suit to challenge the upscale family car.

In addition to the Cayenne's sports car thrills, the Stuttgart-based manufacturer is adding gadgetry like a 12.3-inch high-definition touchscreen, voice control, LED headlights and LTE wireless data connectivity. The dashboard interface can also be adjusted for the driver's preferences.  The model is also as much as 65 kilograms lighter to improve fuel economy and acceleration, helped by a lithium-ion polymer starter battery, which alone saves 10 kilograms in weight, Porsche said.

Thanks to sharing underpinnings with models from sister brands Audi and Bentley, the Cayenne helps boosts Porsche's profits, which are vital for Volkswagen to stem an unprecedented financial hit from the diesel-cheating scandal that erupted two years ago. Porsche hasn't been completely unscathed by the crisis, with the marque was forced to recall some 21,000 Cayennes with tainted diesel engines. The German Transport Ministry also imposed a sales stop for the affected models.

Porsche will offer a plug-in hybrid version of the Cayenne, Chief Executive Officer Oliver Blume told reporters. A decision about offering a diesel variant could be made in the coming weeks, he said.

Demand for diesel in China and the US - Porsche's two largest markets - is minuscule, so the manufacturer might again focus on gasoline engines, and its upcoming all-electric Mission E in 2019.

"We're not a diesel brand as such," Wolfgang Porsche, the grandson of company founder Ferdinand Porsche, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. He called the technology important to meet CO2-reduction targets and rejected calls for setting dates for when combustion engines should be phased out. "It's not realistic. Who knows what the situation will look like in 10, 15 or 20 years time?" The revamped Porsche SUV will initially be available in two versions, with the higher-end, 440-horsepower Cayenne S starting at nearly 92,000 euros.