The last few years have been tough for Porsche diehards, not to mention a disbelieving automotive press. First, there were rumors. Then, serious consideration by Porsche management. Soon after, engineers in Stuttgart were in full swing, and spy photos of disguised prototypes lit up magazines and the Internet.
The new Porsche sport/utility vehicle, the Cayenne, is here. Debate over. Porsche execs have won, and they're looking to score a big hit in North America with the type of product they feel is necessary to gain marketshare and profits. But whether a five-passenger vehicle of any type will do the job for what's been the staunchest of sports-car makers for more than 50 years remains to be seen.
The Cayenne offers luxurious top-level interior materials and textures--and a grab handle
The four-door, five passenger, all-wheel- drive Cayenne, born out of collaboration with Volkswagen, marks more upscale territory on the high-performance end of the spectrum. Many people will be surprised by how well the VW Touareg (Motor Trend Magazine, February '03) competes with the likes of Volvo, Lexus, and BMW. But Porsche Cayenne engineers have set their sights even higher, hoping to outperform every SUV by delivering untouchable handling characteristics and strong off-road capabilities. The first of these priorities makes sense to us, but the second raises questions. More on that later.
Although the Cayenne's shape is of the conventional, modern-day sport/utility vehicle (basic jelly bean with a hood, i.e. Nissan Murano, Volvo XC90, Acura MDX, BMW X5), it does have some dramatic Porsche styling cues. Bulging fenders at all four corners, especially at the taillights and headlights, give this SUV a muscular stance, with hints of the 911. Rear styling is dominated by a taillight hump to the edges of the body that provides the Cayenne with a hunkered-down, round-shouldered look. In addition, quad exhaust pipes on all Turbo versions make it appear more aggressive, not to mention giving it a wonderful engine growl. Cayenne S models offer modest front-bumper air intakes, while the Turbo has gaping air ducts below the headlights and in front of the engine (to provide improved airflow) and an imposing wide-mouth look, similar to the GT2.
Underhood, an all-new 4.5-liter twin-cam V-8 is the base engine for the S model, factory rated at 350 horsepower and 318 lb-ft of torque with 4.10:1 axle gears. This all-aluminum 32-valve engine is perfectly adequate for getting the 5200-pound SUV (about as heavy as a larger Chevrolet Tahoe or Toyota Sequoia) to scoot around town and keep ahead of the highway crowd. The extra weight comes from an ultra-rigid unibody and multiphase high-strength A-, B-, C-, and D-pillar steel roof supports. Want more? The same engine is available with twin turbos and a large intercooler, boosting output to 450 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 457 lb-ft of torque at 2250 rpm. That makes it the strongest factory SUV on the market.