New Bus - replacing the Cayenne


So the time came to replace my 2011 pre-facelift Cayenne which I bought somewhat hastily back in january 2018. It had been an ok work/family daily for around 10 months or so but with the rest of my cars refreshed to 2018 models, the Porsche SUV started to make it's age felt. In truth it really felt a little dated from the off as it replaced a 2017 Golf R which goes down a road like a piece of witchcraft from the future and day to day it started to annoy me here and there with its laggy ponderous drivetrain, heavy lumpy ride, general agriculturalness and its super harsh Bose stereo. The Porsche seat salso have always made my back ache on occasion, something I inconveninetly forgot about my first mk1 Cayenne that I woned back in 2009.

Of course the Cayenne has always been the class leader as far as driving is converned but the fact is since 2010 when this generation was launched, SUVs like the Bentayga and the SQ7 have moved the game on considerably in terms of refinement, road manners and modernity. Moreover, chassis and ride/damping tech in general for all cars has moved on hugely in the last 8 years or so.

What to replace it with then ? Not such an easy one because firstly the 4X4 from Stuttgart (or rather Bratislavia) is still effectively a very well specce'd £60k motor and has a useful amount of road presence out in the wild so whatever it's upgraded to needs to be pretty high level inside and out and all the way through the chassis too.



My quest for a replacement started with that erroneous old chestnut of trying to shoehorn yet another exciting 5 star performance car onto the driveway. I tested the very handsome Gulia thinking that I could hire a van on the odd occasion that I needed supersized carrying capacity but surprsingly, the Gulia Quadrofoglia I found a little underwhelming. The performance saloon sector is a very difficult form factor and I find that cars in this genre get talked up quite a lot as well. The Gulia is probably the most lively saloon there is and it might be of interest if it was your only car but I found it a little highly strung, lacking in cabin quality and it didn't feel especially fast either. The dirivng modes are not as 'd like them (why does the engine only sound good when all the driving aids are turned off ?) and the car just didn't really inspire or instill even a fraction of desire in me.

There is great fluid body control there and I'm sure it would offer up some degree of fun on the back roads but all this test drive did for me was to once again confirm in my mind that you must buy the right car for the job rather than chase the highest overall fleet BHP figure. The Cayenne replacement basically needs to be a luxurious long distance Motorway cruiser with acres of space and carrying capacity that will render the most stressful and lengthy journeys as something quite meditative and pleasing. For this reason, as I walk away from the Alfa dealer I discount the rather pretty but cramped and performance orientated Stelvio as well.



Now I have always had a soft spot for M5s and my visit to BMW Cobham treats me to this brutal piece of eye candy above. The new M5 is gorgeousely appointed and such an imposing masculine shape. I am almost tempted to go back on everything I garnered from the Alfa visit but no, seriously, an M5 again as a works car would be a silly idea not to mention theif magnet. As I leave the BMW dealership I glance over the 5 series touring and X6 and whilst these are impressive packages (and meaning no disrespect to BM lovers) M5 aside, I just don't really feel this marque right now. I am not even sure why, I am just not a BMW person at the moment and perhaps might never be again.

There is another visit that does not have an accompanying picture and that was to Mercedes Benz world to drive (for a second time) a C63 AMG Wagon. Now last time I drove one of these I was looking for something quite stimulating and exciting and found it ordinary but this time round with a different set of wants, the AMG is hard, harsh, brick-like with not nearly enough give and the cabin and infotainment is due for an update as well.

And on that last point, as I exit the Merc dealership, I surmise that whatever car I get, it has to be the very latest tech and infotainment. This purchase will probably last me the next 2 or 3 years till EV's have been properly beta tested so I don't want a car that's already halfway through it's lifecycle but something completely of the now and up to date. As I ponder on all of this, I also realise that one of the most important things for this new purchase is the self-driving ability. Driving in the south of the UK these days is sitting in stop start traffic a lot of the time or cruising at 60 on a 5 lane smart (sic) motoroway or 50mph on one that has roadworks for 20 miles, so to that end, this replacement must sport the very lastest in adaptive cruise and traffic jam/city assist. If the car can steer itself as well then hell yeah, I'm gagging for that too.


Al roads then, lead to Audi. At Geneva 2018 I had made a special visit to see the amazing minimalist interior of the new A6 and had been impressed and I have grown fond of Audi styling in general over the last few years so was keen to explore further. The other thing with Audis is I always find that they never quite deliver the driving experience that they promise from the excellent visuals on the outside. A BM will always drive a little better, a Porsche better again, but for this purchase this is actually what fits. I do not want a car that majors on driver appeal; comfort, tech, looks and approachability are far more important. I just want a car that is easy to drive and does not grate and I find that Audis fulfil this brief rather well.

My first exploration with the very patient and helpful sales people at Walton Audi is in a 2016 S4 Avant. Now this car really impressed me. It had a great ride, a supple but taught shell, lovely virtual LCD cockpit and a fabulous engine which really felt far faster than I was expecting. The S4 is quite small so feels compact and coherent even over the roughest of roads. Very very tempting especially at about £40k for something nearly new. As a counterpoint I also drive the incredibly sexy and classy RS4 Avant. This is a hugely desireable motor and I really hoped it to be the one but the reality is it's a little too taught and tight for my everyday loafing and cruising and I don't even need half the performance on offer here.

Back to the S4 then and the drawbacks of this car are it's more cramped cabin and smaller load space and then the fact that it does not have the very latest Audi infotainment. The new A6 Avant does though and it's a bigger car too so that is the next test drive. Sadly though the way that car goes didn't really inspire me. The chassis is a little dead and unlike the S4 there's not much joy streaming up from the road surface.

At that point I cease test drives with my dealer for a last hurrah in the Cayenne. A trip to Switerland and back will also prove useful in answering that age old SUV vs. Estate question. Now I have always lauded the Chelsea tractor form factor for getting you high up and giving you a visual command of the road that has very genuine benefit on long distance journeys but I want to really focus on this for once and for all and make the call about whether I go back to estates or not. A heavy vertiginous SUV will always exhibit more disconnect between "input and output" or "you and the road" and they are therefore actually slightly more taxing to drive than an estate in this respect (control = security = ease) but once you point a luxury "ballroom on wheels" on a 200 mile straight line motoroway run, this disconnect or indirectness ceases to be an issue and the other myriad benefits of being a big bus kick in.



My Switzerland trip which I was dreading in the Cayenne turns out to be quite enjoyable. The Cayenne on the flat EU roads is actually a different beast as well and a lot more palateable as far as body control and ride comfort is concerned. I have my answer as well. Being high up for 9 hours all the way to Basel is something I definietly don't want to be without. For me it makes a big difference. There is nothing quite like being in something akin to an Airbus A380 when you have 500+ miles to conquer all in one stint.

So the natural target now, almost by discarding everything else, is the new Audi Q8, the only other model in the range to have the latest infortainent and haptic touchscreen dash layout from Ingolstadt. The Q8 had piqued my interest right from the very first Autocar youtube offering where it was being tested in the Atacama desert. To my eyes it's a very handsome shape, extremely well resolved and with not too much fashionista flamboyance or bling or aggression.

My test drive goes well. I feel like I have the enjoyability of the S4 back but have added a load more space and luxury and of course height. The Q8 actually feels very car like, a world away from the 2011 model Cayenne which is like a tractor in comparison. It has that very mainstream Audi feel with the light steering and nicely coherent body control. I try out some of the driving modes and there are meaningful changes there to the chassis. There is plenty of torque to get you moving for an everyday car, more than enough performance. My only gripe when we're done is that the gearbox and engine torque hole low down do sometimes conspire to make the Q8 hesitate. Like all these modern diesels there are umpteen gears and the ECU is always shuffling you into 5th and 6th and beyond before you've even barely left the driveway so when you do need a bootfull, there can sometimes be a bit of a delay whilst cogs drop and boost kicks in. That said, the Q8 is nowhere near as bad as my Cayenne in this respect and you can always preempt things and drop down a few gears manually in readiness.

At the end of the test we go through some of the tech and gizmos that the Q8 offers. It's all deeply impressive stuff. This car performs so many tricks and the onscreen 3d view of the car + environment which can be rotated around is truly baffling. I was a 3d visual effects supervisor on Hollywood blockbusters in a former life and even I can't work out how they make this work !



That night I ponder on the new 2018 Cayenne. Surely I should be stacking the Q8 up against the modern equivalent of what I already have ? Well no, I am sure the Cayenne will now be close or even match the Q8 for refinement and road manners since they share the same MLB Evo platform but the Cayenne seats which my back dislikes remain and overall I much prefer the slinky sleek vibe of the Audi to the more upright SUV-esque stance of the Porsche. The Cayenne styling i'm done with as well. I'm ready for something completely newfangled and along with the Urus and the Bentayga, the Q8 is the best looker in the marketplace right now for this type of car. The Q8 is the one then and I was able to intercept an incoming new car in the right colour, with the all important Tour, Comfort and Sound packs, Pan roof and 22" alloys.

Some notes and impressions to follow soon after I have some miles under her belt.











The Jackals Racetrack 1998 Richard Morris