2003 Porsche Cayenne Turbo First Drive
Porsche's sport/utility proves to be more than a visceral experience
We're fast approaching a yellow triangular sign with a squiggly arrow and suggested speed of "two-zero" for the series of upcoming corners. Glancing at the speedo, we quickly calculate we're traveling at nearly three times the speed the government thinks we should take the curve. We tap the brakes to settle the nose, flow through the apex and squeeze on the power, only to lift a bit to bring the rear around. We repeat the process through the series of switchback turns, and remark to our co-driver that the sequence was almost too easy. The reply instantly cut the Zen-like feeling, "You realize we're driving an SUV?"
Yes, Porsche's Cayenne Turbo does things an SUV shouldn't do: handle canyon roads like a Boxster, be ungodly fast, and carry two-by-fours under the hatch. While we agree the words "Porsche" and "sport/utility" seem to go together like tonic water and 90-weight gear oil, the Stuttgart-based company pulls it off in spades.
Porsche's pepper is certainly spicy under the bonnet, with a twin-turbocharged 32-valve 4.5-liter V-8 supplying 450 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque through the standard fare six-speed Tiptronic and Porsche Traction Management all-wheel-drive system. As one would expect, the setup provides exhilarating acceleration. In our test trials, the Turbo posted a 5.4 pull to 60 mph, and tripped the quarter-mile timing lights at 13.79 @ 102.47.
Of note, the blown motor's engine management system has been specifically tuned not to unleash its ferocity at initial tip-in. There's just a hint of turbo lag as the blades spool up, but power delivery is constant and linear throughout the rev band. Just think Starship Enterprise making the jump to Warp Speed.
To handle the power supplied to the optional 9x20 wheels shod in 275/40R20 shoes (18s are standard and 19s are also optional), the Cayenne's binders employ six-piston front, and four-piston rear calipers with 13.8 and 13.0-in vented discs respectively. Paired with standard ABS, the Turbo takes 320 feet to stop from 100 mph and 112 from 60. We're impressed with the lack of dive and smooth ABS operation that felt powerful and linear, producing string-straight, repeatable stops with minimal fade.
To give the Cayenne Turbo its un-SUV-like handling characteristics under nearly all driving conditions, engineers incorporated an extra-large double-track control arm configuration up front, and a rear sub frame-mounted multilink assembly. Both ends employ airbags for load leveling and selectable ride height. With six different levels, the Cayenne Turbo adjusts ride height over a range of 4.56 inches, giving it a maximum ground clearance of 10.75 inches.
Given its Autobahn breeding, the Turbo is surprisingly compliant off road, soaking up almost all irregularities terra firma can dish out. Selecting the 2.7:1 low range, the Cayenne has no problem ascending steep trails. We're impressed with Porsche's Active Suspension Management System that steadies body sway over deep ruts by adjusting shock rates at any corner within milliseconds. Onroad, the system allows three damper settings: Comfort (for a Cadillac-like ride), normal (which feels like Boxster tuning), and sport which is 911-ish in nature.
With all the ruggedness outside, the Cayenne Turbo's interior is all Porsche inside. Front, side, and curtain air bags are standard in all Cayennes, hidden beneath layers of supple leather and suede. Aluminum trims the cabin, creating an elegant yet technical-looking living space. As with all Porsches, the front buckets are perfectly sculpted, providing great support for long stints behind the wheel. There's plenty of back seat space, with great head, leg, and foot room for two adults. Three will fit, so long as you don't mind being friendly. And unlike the BMW X5, you can get a weekend's worth of luggage in the cargo for four adults, the Cayenne besting the Bimmer's capacity by nearly 3 cubic feet.
One aspect we never thought we'd see in a Porsche is towing capacity, and the Turbo pulls quite well. With a max tongue weight of 616 lb and a 7716-lb capacity, it's a safe bet that you'll see Cayennes hauling cabin cruisers as easily as if they were personal watercraft.
Starting at $88,900, and quickly working into the mid-90s with a few options, the Cayenne Turbo is in rarified air. But for those who want the power, excitemen, and driving dynamics of a Porsche, paired with the liveability and convenience of a sport/utility, the Cayenne Turbo really has no competition -- it truly is in a class by itself.