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.
With all that power, the Turbo Cayenne is a formidable beast, throwing you deep into the seatback. The two inline turbochargers, variable camshaft timing, forged pistons, and a host of other modifications let the Turbo V-8's 450 horses feel like more--the most hard-core Porsche-phile will have to crack a smile. Porsche will also offer a six-speed transmission, including a low 4.15:1 first gear. Even with five other close-ratio gears, shifting up or down the ladder is surprisingly smooth. The Tiptronic six-speed will be standard on all Cayennes and include a computer program that learns driver habits and adjusts accordingly, as well as continuously monitoring whether the vehicle is in a hard corner, on a steep grade, or under full throttle. Staying true to its performance heritage (even with an SUV), Porsche will offer paddle shifters off the steering column as an option. Manual shifting also can be done from the console stick.
The shift lever is flanked by two grab handles that, at first glance, look horribly out of place. However, the handles can be convenient for moving in and out of the vehicle. The Cayenne's cabin is a superb piece of design, with high-quality materials and stitching on par with fine furniture.
The Cayenne's four-wheel independent suspension uses high-strength steel to accommodate hard launches and braking and severe 4x4 duty. Coil springs are standard, with an almost infinitely ride-height-adjustable airbag suspension system available as an option. From full extension to kneeling, its adjustment range is an impressive 4.5-plus inches. This setup is designed to raise and lower automatically as different circumstances, parameters, and driving conditions arise; a center-console switch allows manual control. The air suspension also acts as an active handling system, continuously monitoring each corner during hard and less-aggressive driving/ braking to prevent the vehicle from the typical diving and squatting--and it allows for continuous load-leveling. Thoroughly impressive.
Braking performance is astonishing, via 13.8-inch six-piston Brembo stoppers in front and 13.0-inch four-piston clamps in back. We found the active suspension system incredibly quick to react and able to keep the Cayenne flatter than any SUV we've ever driven, even around hard corners and during panic stops. We were told by renowned rally legend and Porsche test driver Walter Rohrl that the Cayenne ran a tick faster than the BMW X5 and Boxster S around Germany's fabled Nuerburgring. The best time for a Cayenne S (non-Turbo) was nine minutes, four seconds, against the BMW X5's 9:06 and Porsche Boxster S' 9:05 Factory Turbo Cayennes run the Ring at 8:42.
No doubt there'll be both fans and opponents looking to make comparisons between Porsche's first four-door and its seminal sports car, the Carrera. That may not be a bad thing. The Cayenne is exactly what it needs to be, should be, and is expected to be: the best-handling and most-powerful sport/utility on the planet in terms of its on-road performance. Perplexing, perhaps, is that Porsche has gone to great lengths to incorporate bona-fide four-wheel-drive capability, as well. Nobody expects that from Porsche. It may even be argued that nobody really wants that from Porsche.
Regardless, the lead engineers on the project didn't want the Cayenne to be any less than it could be, so they included the Porsche Traction Management System, which combines a low-range-capable transfer case (with a 2.7:1 reduction gear) and a dual-mode traction control. In addition, Porsche will offer an off-road package that features a locking rear differential (locks automatically or manually), an electronic anti-roll bar disconnect system that allows the suspension to be more flexible over uneven terrain, and extra skidplating.
All this driver-activated and self-adjusting technology notwithstanding, why would Porsche make a $90,000 SUV (the base price for the Turbo) for a buyer to take where low range, locking diffs, and huge wheel travel are necessary? Maybe the answer is, simply, because it can. We've taken the Cayenne over sloppy downhill trails, off-camber hillclimbs, and through knee-deep mud pits. The fact is, Porsche has done it--and on par with some of the most impressive luxury SUVs sold.
Porsche engineers and marketing execs told us they want the Cayenne to be competitive off-road and the new benchmark on-road. It looks to us as though, for once, they may be guilty of underselling their accomplishments. Clearly, the Mercedes G500, Range Rover, Hummer H2, and Lexus LX 470 are different types of vehicles that have their strengths, but it's our guess the Cayenne will hold its own in just about every off-road performance test.
The Cayenne will base at $55,900, with many options available; Turbo models start at $88,900--and rise fast. This puts the entry-level Cayenne just underneath the BMW X5 4.6i ($65,000), LX 470 ($66,000), and Range Rover ($70,000), with the Turbo intended to establish the upper limits of the luxo/performance sport/utility segment. VW's Touareg will be positioned far below at a base of about $35,000 and fully equipped (with a V-8) just north of $42,000. Although its business plan may look challenging on paper, if ever there were a car company that could get away with such an expensive niche SUV, Porsche could be the marque to do it. The automaker hopes the Cayenne will increase sales by 50 percent in just three years and plans on getting more than half of all Cayennes rolling off the line to the United States. For the first year, that number will be somewhere around 12,500 units, with about 2500 of those in Turbo configuration.
Only time will tell if this is the product Porsche loyalists have been waiting for (we're told that over half of Porsche owners have an SUV in their garage) or if those shopping for a more performance-oriented SUV now have the choice they've been missing. Irrespective of anyone's philosophical or emotional feelings on the subject, the shouting is over, and the Cayenne is an outstanding piece of work. Into the fray it goes.
|2003 Porsche Cayenne Turbo |
|Drivetrain layout|| Front engine, 4wd|
|Engine type||90-degree V-8, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl, twin turbo, intercooled, alum block/heads|
|Max horsepower @ rpm||450 @ 6000|
|Max torque @ rpm||457 @ 2250|
|Suspension, front; rear ||Upper and lower control arms, air springs, anti-roll bar; upper and lower control arms, air springs, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, front; rear||13.8-in 6-piston vented disc; 13.0-in 4-piston vented disc, ABS, EBD|
|Wheels, front; rear||20 x 9.0, cast alum|
|Tires||275/40R20 Pirelli PZero|
|Ground clearance, in||10.8|
|Fording depth, in||21.9|
|Approach angle, deg||32|
|Departure angle, deg||27|
|Curb weight, lb||5191|
|Payload capacity, lb||1500|
|Towing capacity, lb||7716|
|Cargo capacity, cu ft||15.3/50.1 (rear seat up/folded)|
|Fuel capacity, gal||26.4|
|0-62 mph, sec||5.6 (mfr est)|
|Top speed, mph||165 (mfr est)|
|Turning circle, ft||39.0|
|On sale in U.S.||March 2003|
|Price as tested||$90,000 (est)|
|Airbags||Dual front, side, head, rear side|
|EPA mpg, city/hwy||13/16 (est)|
|Range, city/hwy, miles||343/422 (est)|
|Basic warranty||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||4 yrs/50,000 miles|