Porsche Cayenne S
An SUV from Porsche? It's true, and it's also a fact that has the Porsche purists moaning. Found under the hood of our Cayenne S tester was a naturally aspirated 4.5L V-8 that produces 340 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is a six-speed automatic that can be manually shifted by rocker buttons on the steering wheel or by the console shifter. Power then runs through a sophisticated full-time transfer case that can transfer 100 percent of power to either the front or rear wheels. A 2.7:1 low range is also available for tougher terrain.
Independent suspension is found at every corner of the Cayenne. Our Cayenne S also featured the optional air suspension, which provides the Porsche with the ability to raise and lower itself up to 2 inches above or below its standard ride height on demand.
What We Liked
There was plenty for our judges to like about the mechanical aspects of the Porsche. First off, that 4.5L V-8 produces lots of power. The Cayenne is fast--and even better, its torque curve is flat from 2,500 rpm all the way to 5,500. This pleasant fact meant that the Porsche always has plenty of torque available. This helped to make the Cayenne the fastest vehicle during our dragstrip testing by a wide margin.
Mated to this magnificent V-8 is also one of the best transmissions we have come across. With six ratios available, it always seems to select just the right ratio to get the power to the ground most effectively. It also is one of the smartest, best-thinking transmissions we have used, as not only were its upshifts at the appropriate points, but so were its downshifts. The transmission's electronics are adaptive, so it learns the way you like to drive, and adjusts its shift points accordingly.
The Porsche's brakes also received high marks from our judges. Along with an admirably short stopping distance, the Cayenne's brakes, which use huge six-piston calipers up front and four-piston calipers at the back, also produce the best pedal feel of any SUV we have tested. The Porsche's accurate and quick steering also gained lots of praise from our judges.
Handling is breathtaking, as the Cayenne is as incredibly responsive as you might expect, and exhibits minimal body roll. It simply sticks and tracks around a corner, with little effort, at speeds much higher than any of the other SUVs in our test.
What We Didn't Like
The Porsche was great on the highway, but it was a different story on the dirt. First, the firm suspension values that work so well on the pavement mean that off-pavement, the Porsche has an amazingly stiff ride. The suspension also offered little flex--it would lift tires on just about any trail that wasn't flat. And though the air suspension will supply up to 10 inches of clearance, with the suspension topped out articulation is completely minimized, which means that over rough country, there will be tires in the air. With tires off the ground, the Porsche has to rely on its traction-control system to get though obstacles. Unfortunately, this system did not seem as well developed as we might have hoped--far too much wheelspin, accompanied by lots of grinds and groans from the system, was necessary to engage it, and it often became confused. In some difficult four-wheeling circumstances, the locking T-case differential would decide to unlock itself, causing a loud clunk and a jerk forward as the drivetrain took up the resulting slack.
The Porsche Cayenne is a sports car posing as a 4x4. It is at home blasting through twisty mountain roads at high velocity, but on the trail it is truly out of its element.
Check It Out If:
You are looking for one amazing ride on the highway that also provides light-duty four-wheeling.
Avoid It If:
You believe a 4x4 should be capable in the dirt.
The Short Version
It's fast, comfortable and homely, and it's aroused all kinds of passions, pro and con, among the Porsche faithful. As effective as it is on pavement, it's that ineffective off.