Porsche's decision to go into the 4x4 SUV business with a vehicle it calls Cayenne has generated controversy and interest. Die-hard Porsche enthusiasts scoffed at the idea of the German company, which produces some of the finest sports cars in the world, jumping on the SUV bandwagon. That concept seemed about as strange as Rolls Royce making an entry-level compact to compete against the Kia Rio. It has happened, however, and now roaming across the U.S. is an SUV from the German supercar maker.
Besides a bit of controversy, the introduction of the Cayenne in its S and Turbo forms has also created lots of curiosity. This was evident as we drove our Cayenne S tester through the SUV-rich environment of Los Angeles. Those not familiar with the Cayenne would slow and stare, trying to figure out what it was. One bold onlooker flagged us down and asked, "Hey, what is that thing?" When we told him it was a Porsche (pronounced Por-sha, by the way, a two-cylinder word), his very-California response was, "No way, dude!" Well, yes way, dude.
All of the curious would ask the same question. "How is that thing?" Luckily, we were able to get plenty of seat time in the Cayenne, so we could answer that question.The words "slow," and "Porsche," aren't usually used in the same sentence; so it is no surprise that when you step on the Cayenne's gas pedal, it rips. At the track the Porsche tore through the quarter-mile in 15.92 seconds at 87.65 mph, and achieved 60 mph from 0 in 7.9 seconds, making it the fastest SUV Four Wheeler has tested.
This is especially impressive, considering that the Cayenne tips the scales at 4,949 pounds. Making all of this possible is a 4.5L DOHC V-8 that is a technological marvel capable of 340 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Even better is that in the S, torque peaks-indeed, plateaus-from 2,500 rpm all the way to 5,500 rpm, making the 4.5L a very strong-pulling engine. If that is not enough power for you, a twin-turbo version is available in the Cayenne Turbo. That one develops 450 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque. That ought to be enough.
The engine is not the only star, however. Mated to it is the best transmission we have ever come across, the six-speed Tiptronic automatic. This wonderbox can be taken through all of its gears manually through the use of buttons located on the steering wheel, or by using the shifter itself. Doing so was rarely necessary, though, as the transmission is a smart thinker and even when we ignored the shifter, the Porsche always seemed to be in the right gear.
Pushing on the brake pedal of the Porsche produced a religious experience. Long have we suffered with over-boosted and over-ABS'ed spongy brake pedals with little feel. Not here. Touching the Cayenne's brake pedal resulted in an immediate response, engaging the six-piston calipers in the front and four-piston calipers in the rear. While the brakes did not produce the shortest stopping times we have seen in our 60-0 mph testing, they were the best feeling brakes we have ever tested, allowing for easy modulation.
Handling was breathtaking. Put the Porsche into a corner and it will stick and track its way around the corner with no detectable body roll. Flogging around freeway offramps at double the recommended speed was no problem, and the only thing keeping us from pushing harder was our lack of nerve.
The fact that the Cayenne was impressive on road was not too surprising. Its namebadge says "Porsche," after all. But in the dirt, the results were less impressive. The Cayenne relies on enough traction technology to fill a book. A host of processors help to modulate the brakes to provide power to the wheel with the best traction. This system worked well on solid footing, but in looser terrain, it seemed to get confused, and forward progress was halted. An electric rear locker is available as an option-and is standard on the Turbo-and would have helped immensely.
Also hampering the Cayenne off pavement was a lack of flex, making it extremely easy to lift a tire. The suspension features three adjustments (comfort, normal and sport) for damping, but even in its softest mode, the ride was extremely firm. On washboard roads, this left us wishing for a kidney belt. An aspect of the Porsche's interesting optional air suspension that was an aid in the dirt is its ride-height adjustability. In low range the Porsche can be raised a full 2 inches over its normal ride height, providing more clearance. Other aids currently in Porsche's pipeline will include antiroll bars that disconnect themselves when low-range is selected, helping articulation.
The Porsche Cayenne is one amazing SUV. It takes all the excellence Porsche is known for and wraps it in the body of an SUV. While it is extremely capable on the highway, we found it to be less so on the trail. Porsche has a ways to go before its name also becomes synonymous with big-time trail performance.
Vehicle Model: 2003 Porsche Cayenne S
Low Range Ratio: 2.70:1
Rear: Independent with air springs
Turns (lock to lock): 2.65
Track, f/r (in.): 64.6/65.2
Maximum Towing Capacity (lbs.): 7,716
Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.): 2.54
Acceleration, 0-60 mph (sec.): 7.90
Acceleration, 30-50 mph (sec.): 3.17
Acceleration, 50-70 mph (sec.): 4.66
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): firstname.lastname@example.org
Braking, 60-0 mph (ft.): 153.12