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.