Preview: 2008 Porsche Cayenne

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author photo by Dan Jedlicka May 2008

The first-generation Cayenne SUV was one of Porsche's bestsellers, but had bland styling and occasionally jerky power delivery. The new second-generation Cayenne has better styling and the power delivery problem is gone, as tests of this SUV showed during a media preview in southern Spain.

The land of flamenco dancers, fighting bulls, quick horses, sherry and stunning "white villages" seemed an appropriate place for the debut of the 2008 Cayenne (there is no 2007 model).

The new 4-wheel-drive Cayenne goes on sale in March. Porsche buffs should be accustomed to it by now. Many howled in protest when it arrived for 2003.

And for good reason, according to their thinking. Porsche had been only a sports car and race car producer since its official inception in 1948 with its 356 model, so what was it doing building a truck, of all things?

Well, the auto world changes, and Porsche-along with its dealers-tired of seeing its sports car owners buying SUVs from rival automakers. Besides, BMW and Mercedes-Benz had SUVs, so why not Porsche?

Turns Out Well
It has turned out well for the automaker. Enthusiastically received from the start, the Cayenne even outsold the entire Porsche auto line in 2004.

"The Cayenne launched Porsche into a new orbit-with increased sales, turnover and profit for a whole new dimension," Porsche executive vice president Wolfgang Durheimer said at the Cayenne preview.

Indeed. Without Cayenne profits, Porsche probably would have had far less development money for its upcoming sleek 4-door coupe. That model will be another major departure for Porsche, but one it feels is needed to compete with cars such as the racy Mercedes CLS sedan.

Porsche is one of the world's smallest independent automakers, but also one of its most profitable-thanks to expensive sports cars and the pricey Cayenne. As of this writing in early 2007, Porsche even recently bought a nearly 30 percent interest in Volkswagen, Europe's largest-volume car producer.

Racier Styling
The first thing I noticed about the new Cayenne was its racier styling, thanks to a more swept back aggressive looking front end with headlights moved far to the outside and a wide and muscular new body accented by broad wheel arches.

However, the new Cayenne doesn't look radically different from the first-generation model because Porsche believes in styling continuity. (The popular Porsche 911 sports car has the same basic shape as the first 911, initially shown in Europe in 1963.)

Porsche spokesman Bernd Harling said the new Cayenne design came from aerodynamic development, not an attempt to make the Cayenne look sportier. Porsche is a pragmatic German automaker that never has believed in frills or fads.

Goes Its Own Way
"We're a small operation among giants," said Peter Schwarzenbauer, president and chief executive officer of Porsche Cars North America at the Cayenne preview. "We carefully decide what new vehicles would make business sense for us.

"We don't hold consumer clinics, at which people tell what they like or dislike about a new or proposed vehicle. We decide internally what's right for us. If we're not totally convinced that a proposed new vehicle doesn't have Porsche DNA, then it's put aside."

Uneven Power Delivery Gone
The first thing I noticed while driving the new Cayenne on city, country and mountain roads near Cadiz, Spain, was the absence of uneven power delivery that the first generation model had under some driving conditions with both its V6 and V8 engines. The new Cayenne has smooth power delivery.

The 2008 Cayenne comes as the base $43,400 version with a 290-horsepower V6, as the midrange $57,900 "S" trim level with a 385-horsepower V8-and as the mighty $93,700 twin-turbocharged 500-horsepower Turbo version.

More Powerful Engines
All engines have significantly more power. The V6 can be had with a reinforced 6-speed manual gearbox or with a $3,000 automatic transmission with a manual shift feature. The V8 versions have only the 6-speed automatic with the shift control.

Even the Cayenne V6 is quick, although its automatic transmission shifts more often than with the V8s to keep the V6 in the right power band for the best performance.

The Turbo does 0-60 mph in just 4.9 seconds and reportedly can reach 171 mph. The 385-horsepower V8 version-Porsche's most popular Cayenne-hits 60 in 6.4 seconds and can do 155 mph. Even the V6 does the 0-60 mph run in a fairly quick 7.5 seconds with the manual gearbox, or in 7.9 seconds with the automatic-and can hit 141 mph.

The V8s have new VarioCam Plus valve control, which enhances performance through infinite valve timing and valve lift adjustment on the fuel intake side.

Lots of Weight
The acceleration figures are impressive because the Cayenne is very heavy, weighing from 4,762 to 5,191 pounds. That's partly because it's loaded with comfort, luxury, convenience and safety equipment. The weight can be felt during quick maneuvers.

Impressive fuel economy figures shouldn't be expected with the Cayenne's power and weight. However, economy is up from the first-generation models, thanks to such items as direct fuel injection, which also reduces emissions.

Preliminary economy figures say the 2008 Cayenne Turbo delivers an estimated 13 mpg in the city and 20 on highways. The non-turbo V8 provides 14 and 21, while the V6 version is the economy champ, delivering 18 mpg in the city and 22 on highways.

Off-Road Prowess
Schwarzenbauer said few SUV owners do serious off-road driving, but the Cayenne is ready for such action if it's called for. Driving the new Porsche on a rugged off-road portion of a test route during the preview showed it has the 4-wheel-drive grip and ground clearance to tackle very rugged terrain.

The ride is comfortable, and steering is sharp and nicely weighted, although it feels a little heavier with the V6. There is no noticeable body sway in this rather tall SUV even when taking curves quickly with Porsche's Dynamic Chassis Control. And the powerful brakes are controlled by a pedal with a nice linear action.

For those who fear that the manual-transmission Cayenne will roll back on hills when the clutch is disengaged, Porsche has given the manual gearbox a system that automatically applies the brakes to prevent the Cayenne from rolling.

Flat Cornering
What else is offered? Actually, quite a lot. For instance, the Cayenne can be equipped with Porsche's $3,150 Dynamic Chassis Control. It includes anti-roll bars that almost completely eliminate body sway in turns, improving handling comfort and safety on roads while enhancing traction during off-road driving.

Also new are Dynamic Curve Lights (standard on the Cayenne Turbo and a $1,560 option on other trim levels) to enhance a driver's view at night on curving roads.

Standard on all versions is Porsche Stability Management with new functions such as pre-loading of the powerful brake system when needed for surer stops, new Trailer Stability Control and an off-road anti-lock brake system.

Rollover Protection
For the first time, Cayennes have a rollover sensor. It's capable in an emergency of triggering the seat belt latch tensioners and curtain airbags, helping cut the risk of occupant injury in a rollover. Besides the Cayenne's six standard airbags, this system gives this new vehicle what Porsche calls a "benchmark occupant safety and protection system."

Other new features: A standard push-button Sports mode for all engines; by pressing a button, a driver can choose between the standard and sports mode setups. In sports mode, the engine responds more spontaneously. And trim levels with an automatic transmission, $2,990 air suspension (standard on the Turbo) and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) also switch to more dynamic configurations for the software that controls their hardware.

Larger Wheel Availability
There's also availability of 19-inch wheels or massive 21-inchers (the base version has 17-inch wheels, the V8s 18-inchers), rail-mounted cargo management system and XM Satellite Radio.

The Cayenne is moderately high, so entering calls for above-average effort, although large outside door handles help. There's room for four tall adults in the quiet, upscale interior with its easily read gauges and nicely placed controls.

Front seats are large and well-bolstered for lively driving. The center of the back seat is too stiff for comfort, but there's a fold-down center armrest with cupholders. Rear door openings are narrow, forcing occupants to twist ankles to clear door frames to exit.

Spacious Cargo Area
The spacious cargo area can be made even roomier by folding the rear seats entirely forward. A standard power hatch moves up and down fairly quickly.

The Cayenne and Cayenne S come with steel spring suspensions, while the Turbo has the air suspension and PASM, which allows raising or lowering the body.

Add up the improvements and you've got a much-improved Cayenne. No version is inexpensive, but Porsches never have been cheap. Moreover, the automaker has a revered name, high customer quality ratings and its vehicles have strong resale values to partly offset their prices.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Preview: 2008 Porsche Cayenne - Autotrader