2004 Porsche Cayenne - 2004 SUV of the year
The Sports Car of SUVs
A Porsche SUV, you ask? The only thing that makes sense about a Porsche SUV is the business case behind the Cayenne. Porsche says building the high-profit SUV allows it to expand its business and gives it the cash flow to build better sports cars. And we all know that is where Porsche's heart really is. Porsche wants to see the weekend racers towing its race cars with its tow vehicle - to Porsche, it makes perfect sense. And while the Cayenne has been accused of not being a real Porsche, we've seen this new model take off as one of the hottest in the market. We aimed to test the Cayenne, not to determine if it was a real Porsche, but to determine if it was a real SUV.
From the first look, the Cayenne is clearly sporting Porsche DNA with its pontoon fenders, bulbous flanks, and 996-style headlamps. It took our testers some time to become accustomed to the styling of the Cayenne, and the rear view never did completely grow on us. However, we did like the real brushed aluminum exterior trim, which added a technological feel to the design.
With AWD and a potent normally aspirated 4.5L DOHC V-8 making 340 hp, the Cayenne S is a performer. From the driver seat, the Porsche was the quickest in this test, but because of its nearly 5,000-pound curb weight, it wasn't by much. The slightly heavier but more torquey Pathfinder Armada was only 0.03 seconds behind it to 60 mph, and the lighter Cadillac SRX was slower through the quarter-mile, but only 0.10 mph behind in trap speed. Off the line, the Porsche feels slow because the transmission always starts off in Second gear, unless you override it in the Tiptronic mode, which is not perfect. When in manumatic mode, it will shift for you as the engine red-lines, defeating the purpose of having a manual setting and frustrating our testers. Once it gets going, though, hold on, because the transmission gears are perfectly spaced and always keep the engine on boil.
At the track and on the streets, we found the steering to be flawless and the handling fantastically balanced, but it does ride very firm. There is hardly any bodyroll in the turns or nose dive to speak of on hard braking. The big binders halt the Cayenne to a stop with effortless, fade-free results.
The Cayenne looks like a tannery on the inside with every surface covered in lush hides. We wonder how many cows gave up their lives for this opulence. Our judges felt that the rear seat was too firm and slippery to hold onto passengers in the esses, but the front seats kept a firm grip on all of our staffers. Our major complaint about the Cayenne is how steep the learning curve is to operate all of its secondary controls and few ergonomic miscues, such as a mirror adjustment switch that causes you to sit out of position to operate and some less-than-luxurious switchgear.
Those quirks aside, the Porsche is one fine tourer and is an SUV that emphasizes sport. However, with 10.7 inches of ground clearance on the highest suspension setting, a 7,716-pound towing capacity, and locking differentials, we can tell you with a straight face that the Porsche Cayenne is indeed a real SUV.
From the Logbook:The ride feels a bit harsh, and the overall package could be lighter.Editor Steve Warner
The Tiptronic transmission would have been better with a paddle shifter, rather than steering wheel buttons.Technical Editor Bob Ryder
A vehicle this expensive should have an auto-dimming rearview mirror.Associate Editor Sean P. Holman