It’s been a long wait, but you can finally own a Porsche sport-utility vehicle. The new Cayenne has been one of the most eagerly anticipated and controversial machines in recent automotive history. But can an ultra-luxury SUV also satisfy traditional Porsche-files as well? Or is this Cayenne a Porsche in name only?
The only way to find out is to drive it. And to make a true Porsche driving experience, the engineers have equipped our 2003 Cayenne S with very advanced hardware. But it’s hardware that some purists may reject as not genuine Porsche.
The chassis is an all-new, stout, unibody design, but one that’s shared with Volkswagen’s new Touareg SUV. And Porsche also passed on their traditional high-revving flat-6 engine, in favor of a robust V8 that displaces 4.5-liters and makes 340 horsepower. Maximum torque is 310 pound-feet, available at only 2,500 rpm.
Not enough for you? Well hold on, a 450 horsepower twin-turbo Cayenne Turbo is also available. Purists should note that V-8s are hardly strangers at Porsche, having powered the 928 for 17 years.
The Cayenne transmission is a new 6-speed Tiptronic automatic. It’s flexible and shifts smoothly and firmly. On the base Cayenne S, the steel spring suspension consists of a heavy-duty double-track control arm design up front, and a new multi-arm system mounted to a hydraulically-dampened subframe in the rear. Porsche’s Active Suspension Management, with three driver selectable damping modes and load leveling air springs, are both standard on the Cayenne Turbo and optional on the ‘‘S’‘. Air springs provide six driver selectable ground clearances over a 4 , inch range from about 6 to nearly 11 inches.
If you had any doubt this is a robust design, you shouldn’t. Cayennes are capable of towing over 7,700-pounds. Try that with your 911! A serious SUV has to provide tenacious all-weather and off-road traction at a minimum. To that goal, Porsche engineers fitted the Cayenne with Porsche Traction Management permanent four-wheel-drive, the brand’s most sophisticated traction system yet. Traction is split 38% front, 62% rear, with a hi-low transfer case, lockable center differential, and hill holder. Traction control and Porsche’s Stability Management system are also standard.
All this equipment gives the Cayenne impressive off-road abilities that few competitors can match. Cayenne is no poser SUV. That’s impressive for a machine that will rarely see terrain rougher than a parking lot speed bump.
On-road, the Cayenne is equally adept, and more than able to hold up the Porsche name. It not only out-handles all other true SUVs, but will kick a few cars in the taillights as well! With standard 255/55 18-inch tires and rims, turn in is precise, and steering feedback spot-on. Grip levels are high, and body roll is low. While not quite the sport sedan handling delivered by the BMW X5 4.6 I and V-8 Infiniti FX45, the Cayenne is no one-trick pony. Even at the limit, the only handling deficiency is a bit of sluggishness on turn-in, but there’s no lack of grip or control.
It goes well in a straight line, as well. Our 340-horsepower S runs to 60 in 7-seconds flat. The 1/4 mile takes 15.3 seconds, at 86 miles-per-hour. With 4,949 pounds to haul, the Cayenne S is a little sluggish off the line. But throttle response is crisp, the power band wide and flat. The Cayenne Turbo eliminates any hesitation and takes over a second off both times.
When it’s time to stop, the Cayenne has huge ABS-equipped 4-wheel disc brakes, with 6- piston calipers up front. Stops from 60 averaged a stable, consistent 129 feet. But pedal feel seemed distant and not as connected as we’d like.
Style-wise, there’s no doubt that the Cayenne is a Porsche. The front facia and strong shoulders owe an obvious debt to the 911 and Boxster and makes the Cayenne a natural showroom partner. Bi-Xenon headlights with automatic leveling are optional. Separate cornering lights automatically brighten to illuminate bends in the road. Side glass also mimics a 911 with taut lines and tight curves. The twin-exhaust rear, however, is blunt and bland, almost like designers didn’t want anyone to easily identify what passed them at a hairy clip.
Inside, the 5-passenger Cayenne is a thorough mixture of Porsche style trim, serious controls, and extreme luxury. Like a 911, the instrument panel displays a clean, no-nonsense layout, with a full set of overlapping gauges. Crash protection includes front and side impact airbags, and head-curtain airbags front and rear. There are the expected supportive, power-adjustable leather seats, navigation system, automatic dual zone climate control, 14-speaker, 350-watt Bose Surround-Sound audio, and front and rear Parking Assist.
The second-row seats feature good adult-size leg room, and a 60/40 split folding back. While behind a big hatch, with separate opening glass, the luggage bay provides 15.3 cubic-feet of cargo space seats up, and 62.5 seats down.
But the biggest Cayenne numbers are on the window sticker! Base for the Cayenne S is $55,665. With options, our test machine will run you $68,760. Opt for the Cayenne Turbo, and lay out $89,665! Big money, even by Porsche standards. But it buys a spicy hot recipe of big performance and big luxury that could only be a Porsche, and an SUV that can blow just about everything else into the proverbial weeds, and look great doing it. And if that’s not authentically Porsche, we don’t know what is!
Engine: 4.5 Liter V-8
Torque: 310 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.0 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.3 Seconds @ 86 MPH
60-0 MPH: 129 Feet
EPA Mileage: 14 MPG City 18 MPG Highway