Nearly three years after its introduction, the Porsche Cayenne no longer seems like such an incongruous idea. Porsche's sport-utility vehicle has quickly become part of the automotive landscape. The car-buying public has demonstrated its appreciation of the Porsche brand beyond the company's familiar sports cars, and Porsche dealerships are pleased by all the SUVs moving off their lots.
Longtime Porsche enthusiasts may have had the most difficult adjustment. For five decades before the Cayenne, their favorite car company carved its niche among automotive giants with quick, agile sports cars built on values diametrically opposed to those represented by big, strapping SUVs. It speaks to our changing automotive tastes, if not the changing car business, that Porsche was compelled to invest in an SUV and a new factory to build it.
With time and exposure, most fans of Porsche sports cars have come to appreciate the Cayenne as a true Porsche. The company's SUV is technically slick and remarkably fast, as Porsches are supposed to be, with on-road handling that belies (though does not defy) its mass. The Cayenne also delivers what most SUV buyers demand, starting with more cargo space than the typical sedan, more than enough capability for light off-highway use and impressive towing capacity. For style, pure performance and a balance of sport-utility virtues, the Porsche Cayenne is tough to beat.
Porsche hasn't been sitting still since Cayenne's launch in 2003. In 2004, Porsche introduced a V6 model that opened Cayenne to a much larger group of buyers. For 2005, it has added useful standard equipment and introduced new option packages. Most significantly, it offers Cayenne for the first time with something loyalists insist every Porsche needs: a 6-speed manual transmission.
But like many Porsches, the Porsche of SUVs can still be very expensive. The price spread across the Cayenne line is more than $50,000. A loaded Cayenne Turbo can crack the $100,000 barrier, and that alone will knock it off most shopping lists. Yet even the well heeled can be value conscious. Many buyers who can afford a Cayenne will find much of the performance and all the satisfaction of use or ownership for half that $100,000 price. The Cayenne will be truly appreciated by a relative handful of SUV buyers with exacting demands or unshakable brand loyalty. We might call them connoisseurs. In that respect, too, the Cayenne is a lot like most Porsches before it.
The Cayenne model line now spans four variants. Base prices span $48,200 from the least expensive to the most expensive, and with options the spread approaches $60,000.
In 2004, Porsche introduced a V6 model known simply as Cayenne. For 2005, the Cayenne ($41,100) comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission for the first time, lowering its price $1800 compared to 2004. The V6 model prices Cayenne in the thick of its luxury sport-utility competitors.
Cayenne is powered by a narrow-angle, single-cylinder-head V6 producing 247 horsepower, and comes standard with full-time all-wheel drive with a high- and low-range. The price includes leather seating with 12-way power adjustment, charcoal and micro-particle cabin filtration, heated retractable exterior mirrors, multi-function trip computer, a 72-watt 12-speaker stereo with CD, and insulated laminated privacy glass. New standard features for 2005 include a built-in Homelink transmitter to open garage doors or turn on lights and an electronically latching tailgate that sucks itself shut once it's lowered to the latch.
Cayenne Tiptronic ($44,100) is identical to the base Cayenne, except that it's equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission with Porsche's Tiptronic manual shift mode. Cayenne and Cayenne Tiptronic both come standard with sophisticated traction management and skid-control electronics.
In addition to slick electronics and the latest-generation antilock brakes, all Cayennes get luxury-grade passive safety features, starting with six airbags: dual-stage front and side-impact airbags for front passengers, and curtain-style head protection airbags on both sides of the cabin. All five seating positions have three-point belts with pretensioners to instantly tighten them and limit stretching on impact. The front belts also have automatic force limiters, reducing potential for belt-related injuries.
The other two models are built around Porsche's 4.5-liter dohc V8 engine. The Cayenne S ($56,300) comes standard with the Tiptronic automatic, and retails anywhere from $14,000 to $2,000 more than these luxury-class SUVs: Acura MDX, BMW X5 3.0, Cadillac Escalade, Hummer H2, Infiniti FX45, Lexus GX470, Mercedes ML500 or Volvo XC90 T6, not to mention that standard Cayenne. The normally aspirated Cayenne S delivers 340 horsepower (more than most of the SUVs noted above) and adds several items to the standard Cayenne equipment list, including automatic climate control with dual front-passenger settings and a 350-watt, 14-speaker Bose stereo.
Porsche raises the ante considerably for the Cayenne Turbo ($89,300). The Turbo costs more than just about any SUV on the planet, but with a twin-turbocharged version of the V8 and a whopping 450 horsepower, the Cayenne Turbo also delivers more power than any other SUV. The Turbo also adds adjustable air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), a variable dampening system that uses five accelerometers and electronically controlled adjustable shocks to manage body weight transfer both on and off road. The Turbo includes upgrades such as heated front and rear seats, electric steering wheel adjustment and park-assist radar warning front and rear. It's equipped with Porsche Communications Management (PCM), a GPS navigation system with integrated telephone and audio controls. Finally, the Cayenne Turbo has bi-xenon headlights that turn, Tucker-style, with the steering wheel.
Most everything on the Turbo (except the turbocharger) is offered as an option on Cayenne and Cayenne S. We've tested all models, but the most recent was the Cayenne Tiptronic with these extras: Porsche Communications Management system ($3,070); driver memory package ($360); heated front seats and steering wheel ($520); power glass sunroof ($1,100); high-gloss light wood package ($990); Olive wood steering wheel ($290); 19-inch Cayenne Design wheels ($2,390); six-CD changer ($650); and Prosecco metallic pai
What makes a Porsche a Porsche? The company insists styling is a crucial element, and it's easy to see Porsche in the Cayenne. The family resemblance is obvious in the Cayenne's headlights and grille work, which closely resemble those on the 911 and Boxster sports cars. As it is with the 911 Turbo, the Cayenne Turbo is easy to distinguish from its lesser siblings, thanks to larger grilles that increase the amount of air flowing through the engine bay.
The designers believe they've transferred all the emotion of a Porsche sports car to the Cayenne, but we'll leave that call to you. Tastes in styling are subjective. Many who examined the Cayenne during our test drives loved it. More than one observer said it resembles a frog. Either way, the designer's handiwork has produced a 0.39 coefficient of drag, impressive for a big SUV, and good for limiting wind noise at high speed.
Cayenne is not a small vehicle. Measuring 188.3 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 112.4 inches, it's longer than the BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class and a few hundred pounds heavier than either. Conversely, at 4785 pounds in its lightest specification, Cayenne weighs 550 pounds less than a Lincoln Navigator, which is two feet longer. An inspection underneath this SUV suggests that it's well engineered, perhaps over-engineered, compared to many mass-market sport-utilities. Apparently Porsche engineers preferred not to take chances with their first SUV, in the event that some owners actually drive it aggressively off road.
In size, Cayenne most closely matches Volkswagen's Touareg, which is no surprise, given that the two vehicles were developed jointly by Porsche and VW. As a result of this cooperation, Cayenne and Touareg bodies are built at the same plant in Bratislava, Slovakia. Engines and other Cayenne components are built by Porsche in Zuffenhausen, Germany, and mated to the Cayenne shells at a new assembly plant in Leipzig, constructed exclusively for Cayenne with its own pavement and off-road test tracks.
These days ground-up vehicle development runs in the $1 billion range and that puts a small company like Porsche (which sells 55,000 cars in a great year) at a distinct disadvantage, especially if it's venturing into new territory. Porsche had little choice but to find a partner in developing Cayenne, and it chose the Volkswagen-Audi Group, a company that has previously worked with Porsche on cars such as the 914 and 924. As a result, both Cayenne and Touareg were created from the same basic blueprint. The standard Cayenne even shares its V6 engine with the Touareg.
Porsche was the project leader in the Cayenne/Touareg joint venture, and much of the work done on Volkswagen's dime was conducted by Porsche's contract engineering division, which accounts for a third of the company's business. Joint development was limited to the basic floor pan and some drivetrain components. Engine and suspension tuning, styling and all the finish work were the separate responsibility of each manufacturer.
This auto-industry backgrounder is relevant to any consumer preparing to part with a substantial amount of money for a high-end SUV, because if two vehicles share a foundation, they're likely to share a basic quality, or lack thereof. Porsche insists that Cayenne is uniquely Porsche, and as reviewers we can vouch for that. We can also tell you a loaded VW Touareg sells for about 40 percent of the price of a high-end Cayenne, and the choice is worth considering.
In Porsche's view, the Touareg is more utilitarian than Cayenne, and built for comfort. Cayenne has Porsche emotion, and it's built for speed. Porsche executives note that Cayenne has Porsche-tuned or -built engines, all six-speed transmissions and a unique all-wheel-drive system with a power bias toward the rear wheels. We'd agree that Cayenne and Touareg have different character, regardless of which is better or worse. A
Anyone who has spent time in one of Porsche's sports cars will get a familiar feeling in the Cayenne driver's seat. The cues are pure Porsche: the shape and feel of the gear selector or the thick, grippy, steering wheel; the three-spoke hub design, with a brand crest and multiple controls for audio, trip computer and climate adjustments; the ignition switch to the left of the steering column or the contour of the seats.
Cayenne's instrument cluster is tucked under a single, prominent arch, with two big gauges (tachometer left, speedo right) on either side of a central multifunction display. This display presents information on audio and trip functions, mechanical operations and ambient conditions. Automatic speed and wiper controls are located on stalks on either side of the steering column. The bulk of the switches, including primary audio and climate controls are racked in the center of the dash above the center console. These are replaced with a CRT monitor on Cayennes equipped with Porsche Communications Management. A dozen vents throughout the cabin distribute warm or cool air evenly.
The Cayenne is not as richly appointed as a similarly priced Range Rover, but it's not supposed to be. The emphasis here is sporting flair, rather than traditional luxury. With the exception of a cheesy looking headliner and oddly designed armrests in the doors, the materials and finish are acceptable for a vehicle of this ilk. One of our test vehicles was equipped with the Light Wood package. It's polished to a gloss and expensive looking, but almost blonde. Some of us at newcartestdrive.com love light woods. My tastes lean toward the dark Burr.
The standard leather upholstery is high grade, while the standard metal trim has a brushed finish. The front seats stand out for their balance of support, comfort and adjustment range, and the navigation display screen is one of the largest we've encountered.
The navigation system calculates routes and makes adjustments more quickly than just about any we've used. This GPS system has been further improved for 2005, with DVD rather than CD data disks. This allows maps for the entire United States on a single disk, rather than several that must be changed from region to region.
Cayenne transports five adults in reasonable comfort. The rear seat is well countered, with excellent headroom and decent legroom, even when the front seats are well back in their travel range. Seating for five is something we haven't seen previously in a Porsche, but don't expect the interior volume of a Lincoln Navigator, and don't look for a third-row seat.
A few other things we've never seen in Porsche before Cayenne: The rear seatback folds forward in a 60/40 split, and it includes a pass-though slot with a ski sack, allowing Cayenne to haul longer, narrow items inside without flattening (or messing up) the rear seat. There's a standard cargo net to keep grocery bags and other items from sliding around during travel and a retractable shade-type cover that opens and closes over the cargo hold.
The Cayenne boasts 19 cubic feet of stowage space with the rear seat in place and 62.5 cubic feet with the seat folded. That gives the Porsche more cargo space than the BMW X5, slightly less than the Mercedes M-Class. The tailgate is two-stage, so either the glass or entire gate can be opened upward, and there's a new electronic latch for 2005. Simply lower the gate to the latch, and an electric mechanism pulls it shut.
The dimensions of the tailgate opening and load floor allow Cayenne to haul small appliances such as a bar-size refrigerator or a large TV set. Moreover, with an impressive payload of 1600 pounds, a Cayenne owner should be able to haul just about anything that can be crammed inside and on top without worrying about exceeding recommended weights.
The Porsche of SUVs is what those familiar with the brand probably expect from a Porsche. If you pay close attention, you can feel most of the mechanical components working, each doing its own job, yet it all blends together in a smooth, synchronous whole. The Cayenne is fast, satisfying and, even in the things it does least efficiently, utterly competent. It stops with more energy and precision that any SUV you can name. Even the V6 is a solid performer, although it's the V8 engines that begin to separate Cayenne from others in the SUV pack.
Want Porsche? Sit still in the Cayenne's driver seat and gently blip the accelerator pedal (just like the guy in the commercial). These are not the sounds emanating from the typical SUV. The Cayenne's exhaust rumbles a bit louder, maybe, but certainly deeper. Even at idle, the burble of low-restriction mufflers, the cams and the suck of intake air remind us of the late, great Porsche 928, a V8-powered GT that swallowed chunks of pavement at an alarming rate. Yet this is the Porsche SUV, and the thought can be difficult for longtime Porsche enthusiasts to get their arms around. Perhaps Cayenne more appropriately invokes images of the Porsche 959s that won the grueling Paris-Dakar Rally through North Africa, skimming over giant dunes in the Sahara at 140 mph.
The Sahara we couldn't arrange, but we have mucked the Cayenne through a muddy off-road course in the south of Spain. This was not a bolder-laden wilderness trail like the Rubicon, but it included axle-deep mud and steep, low-grip 50-yard grades. Up, down and across, the Cayenne performed flawlessly with little sweat for the driver. In most cases the onboard electronics did the heavy lifting, and the driver had to simply, lightly, modulate the throttle or brake in low range. When introduced, Cayenne's back country performance impressed even the jaded, and it supported Porsche's assertion that it has more off-road capability than the BMW X5 or Mercedes M-Class, which we've tested in similar circumstances. Cayenne has maximum ground clearance 8.54 inches, or 10.75 inches with the optional air suspension, and a fording depth of 21.9 inches. There's even an Advanced Offroad Package that adds skid plates to protect the underbody and a locking rear differential.
At one point during our off-road adventure, we crept the Cayenne through a succession of holes a couple of feet in diameter and 10 inches deep, dropping a wheel on one side into one of the holes and then another wheel on the opposite side into another hole, so that the vehicle repeatedly bobbed left-right like a pack camel dipping its legs to be loaded. This is what SUVs are supposed to do, regardless of whether Cayenne's off-road capability actually amounts to a huge sales point. Porsche salespeople joke that few 911 owners will even take their cars out in the rain. If that's true, then there's not much reason to think Cayenne owners will allow their SUV to be blasted with gravel or painted with mud. Still, the hole-crabbing was instructive as to the overall stiffness of the Cayenne's body/frame, and to its rattle-free operation on pavement. It flexed just in bit in situations that might bend lesser SUVs in half.
We also got some lessons off road in the operation of Cayenne's permanent all-wheel-drive system, and how it might effect performance on pavement, where most owners are more likely to drive. This system, with its variable-rate center differential managed by multiple clutch plates, is similar to that used on all-wheel-drive versions of the Porsche 911, with two Cayenne enhancements: the standard low range for real off-roading and a lock for the center differential. It's managed by Porsche's latest stability- and traction-control electronics.
Like similar systems, Cayenne's AWD can vary the amount of engine power distributed to the front and rear wheels, sending more or less power in one directio
Impossible to imagine ten years ago, but true: The Porsche Cayenne is a 165-mph high-performance machine that will fit a family of five, haul a small washing machine, tow a large boat and get you carefully through the woods when there's no road. It's a 5000-pound speed-sled that can handle rugged trails.
Porsche performance, design and engineering values come at a premium price, however. The Volkswagen Touareg V8 has German engineering and similar horsepower, equipment, luxury and utility for about $15,000 less than the Cayenne S. Yes, the Cayenne has unique Porsche character, but it shares its basic floor plan with Touareg, and both are very good SUVs.
Do rapid acceleration, excellent brakes and the right sounds add up to a Porsche, or just a nice SUV that goes faster than the rest and costs more than most? We can't imagine that many buyers need the extreme mix of attributes offered by the Cayenne Turbo. But then, how many buyers actually need an SUV? Often, need isn't the issue or even the primary motivation in purchasing an automobile. Having built smallish, specialized, really fun sports cars for more than 50 years, Porsche knows that better than most.
Mitch McCullough contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Porsche Cayenne ($41,100); Cayenne Tiptronic ($44,100); Cayenne S ($56,300); Cayenne Turbo ($89,300)|
|247-hp 3.2-liter ohc single cylinder head V6; 340-hp 4.5-liter dohc 32-valve V8; 450-hp 4.5-liter dohc 32-valve twin-turbocharged V8|
|6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|antilock brakes; Porsche Traction Management; Porsche Stability Management anti-skid electronics; seatbelt pretensioners and force-limiters; dual-stage front airbags; front occupant side airbags; curtain-style head protection airbags|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|4 years/50,000 miles|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Porsche Cayenne Tiptronic ($44,100)|
|all-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case; leather seating with 12-way power adjustment; charcoal and microparticle cabin filtration; heated retractable exterior mirrors; multi-function trip computer; 72-watt 12-speaker stereo with CD; power windows with one-touch operation; insulated laminated privacy glass; cruise control; central locking with remote; Homelink remote garage door and lighting operation|
|Options as tested:|
|Porsche Communications Management system with GPS navigation and integrated telephone/audio controls ($3,070); driver memory package ($360); heated front seats and steering wheel ($520); power glass sunroof ($1,100); high-gloss light wood package ($990); Olive wood steering wheel ($290); 19-inch Cayenne Design wheels ($2,390); six-CD changer ($650); Prosecco metallic paint ($495)|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|3.2-liter ohc 24-valve narrow-angle V6 with variable valve timing|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|247 @ 6000|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|229 @ 2500|
|6-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual shift|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|39.68 /NA/40.63 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|62.5 cu. ft.|
|independent, aluminum double wishbone|
|disc/disc with ABS in.|