We walked out into the -16 degree Celsius Finland morning air to see Porsche's entry-level SUV package, known simply as Cayenne (no S). Over the din of chattering teeth, we heard about Porsche's plan to increase its SUV sales by 5000 units with a "basic" model, consisting of a smaller engine, 17-inch wheels, and slightly decontented interior.
The idea is that without a pricey V-8 underhood (as fitted to the S and Turbo models), Porsche can trim the sticker and entice new buyers to the Cayenne clan. Although the core 3.2-liter narrow-angle V-6 is from Volkswagen, the company is quick to claim the DOHC V-6 is a true Porsche piece, as it incorporates a unique composite intake manifold with variable-length intake runners, a heavy-duty oil/water heat exchanger, a sport-tuned free-flowing exhaust system, and special computer calibration.
Although the V-6 delivers a rated torque of 228 pound-feet with 220 horsepower, it won't be setting any records. However, we did find it to offer good propulsion over a wide rpm range, as we confirmed at Porsche's cold-weather proving ground just north of the Arctic Circle. We did not find this too surprising since the V-6 model weighs almost 200 pounds lighter than its 4.5-liter V-8 counterpart. No modifications were necessary to the computer software in the four-wheel drive system as a result of the changed weight distribution.
During cruising, the V-6 provides smooth operation and decent passing power, but it may be challenged when the call comes for towing or effortless runs on inclines. Off-road, the base Cayenne has no problem plowing through snow and clawing over body-twisting ditches, thanks to its self-leveling six-position air suspension and great four-wheel-drive system (complete with a low-range transfer case). It's all closely monitored by computer-controlled Porsche Traction Management.
A base Cayenne comes in at about $44,000, making it more attainable for cash-challenged drivers yearning for the famed Stuttgart badge. The bad news is the V-6 Cayenne doesn't offer the same raw exhilaration for which Porsche is known with its autobahn-tested cars. At volumes this small, it looks like an inexpensive Porsche can exist.