Apart from those in 911s and Caymans, Porsche doesn't have a stellar reputation for manual transmissions. Many years ago, a senior Porsche distributor confided that only a dope would order a 928 coupe with its clunky, slow-shifting manual. He'd probably say the same thing about a Cayenne V-6. For much the same reason.

Electing to shift it yourself will shave $3000 off the price of a Cayenne V-6 auto. Surprisingly, roughly four to five percent of Cayenne buyers elect to do just that, even though it's barely a six-percent savings on an SUV that takes a mere handful of options to nudge $50,000. It's more to do with their perception of the Porsche image, we suspect, than any real cost-saving strategy.

Those contemplating the manual to inject more driver appeal into the entry-level Cayenne need only a quick trip around the block to realize it doesn't. The six-speed is notchy and rubbery, with long throws and an indeterminate gate, characteristics far from helpful in ensuring smooth progress in a 290-horsepower SUV weighing 5045 pounds. Worse, the noise, vibration, and harshness inherent in a V-6 engine are simply amplified through the direct mechanical connections; you feel a constant buzz on the ball of your left foot from the clutch pedal, for example. An automatic transmission hides a multitude of V-6 sins.

For all that, the Cayenne's chassis is one of the better ones in the SUV class. The 38/62 front/rear torque split means less understeer on turn-in, and you're better able to balance the car on the throttle through the turns. The steering is also lighter and less corrupted than in other all-wheel-drive SUVs. The ride is horrible, though: jittery at low speeds, with lots of crashing and thumping from the wheels over the usual urban road acne.

If you must drive a Porsche SUV, skip the manual Cayenne V-6. Spend the extra money on the automatic, and you'll be rewarded with a smoother, quieter, more user-friendly vehicle, albeit one with the usual Cayenne caveats: the cramped, somber, and plasticky interior, plus the sneaking suspicion that everyone knows you bought one just for the badge.


2008 PORSCHE CAYENNE
Base/Tested Price $43,400/$50,635
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.6L/290-hp/273-lb-ft, DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed manual
Curb Weight (F/R) 5045 lb (51/49%)
Wheelbase 112.4 in
Length x width x height 188.9 x 75.9 x 66.9 in
0-60 mph 7.3 sec
Braking, 60-0 MPH 125 ft
Lateral Accel 0.84 g avg
MT Figure Eight 27.6 @ 0.60 g avg
EPA City/Hwy Econ 14/20 mpg
CO2 Emmisions 1.20 lb/mile
On Sale in U.S. Currently