2006 Porsche Cayenne Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The Porsche of SUVs.
Four years after its introduction, the Porsche Cayenne has become part of the automotive landscape. The car-buying public has demonstrated its appreciation of the Porsche brand beyond the company's familiar sports cars by purchasing them in numbers far beyond expectation.
The five-passenger SUV is technically slick and remarkably fast, as Porsches are supposed to be, with on-road handling that belies (though does not defy) its mass. The Cayenne also delivers what most SUV buyers demand: more cargo space than the typical sedan, more than enough capability for off-highway use and impressive towing capacity. For style, pure performance and a balance of sport-utility virtues, the Porsche Cayenne is tough to beat.
Porsche didn't sit still after the Cayenne's launch in 2003, adding a V6 drivetrain that opened the model to a larger group of buyers and more useful standard equipment and option packages. For 2006, in synch with its philosophy of adding even more power during a model's life cycle, Porsche offers the 510-horsepower Cayenne Turbo S, which takes the concept of a SUV muscle car to a highly rewarding extreme.
New features for 2006 include a new ignition key with separate lock and unlock buttons; new front airbag technology; an electronic logbook; an update to the Porsche Communication Management system that allows it to play MP3-encoded CDs; and a cellphone module that hooks into PCM. Optional equipment includes Offroad Navigation that lets drivers trace their way back to a starting point, even when the area doesn't appear on the nav's system's internal map. Wider rear 20-inch SportTechno wheels, an independent interior pre-heating and pre-ventilation system, new Dark Olive Metallic exterior paint, a new Sand Beige leather-wrapped steering wheel and seats with the Porsche crest embossed on the headrests are among other new options.
Like many Porsches, the Porsche of SUVs can be very expensive. An abundance of options means a fully loaded Cayenne Turbo S cracks the $125,000 barrier, and even the V6's fully equipped price reaches far beyond its $42,200 base price. Yet whichever powertrain sits beneath the bodywork, the Cayenne will be truly appreciated by those SUV buyers with exacting demands or unshakable brand loyalty.
The 2006 Porsche Cayenne model line spans five variants. All models come standard with full-time all-wheel drive with a high and low range.
The Cayenne ($42,200) is powered by a V6 producing 250 horsepower and comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic ($3,000). Leather seating with 12-way power adjustment comes standard, along with titanium interior trim; manually controlled climate control with charcoal and micro-particle cabin filtration; heated retractable exterior mirrors; multi-function trip computer; 12-speaker stereo with CD; air conditioned glove compartment; cruise control; insulated laminated privacy glass; Homelink; immobilizer anti-theft alarm; and an electronically latching tailgate.
The Cayenne S ($57,200) comes with Porsche's 4.5-liter dohc V8 engine that delivers 340 horsepower and the Tiptronic automatic. The normally aspirated Cayenne S and adds automatic climate control with dual front-passenger settings and a 350-watt, 14-speaker Bose stereo.
The Cayenne Turbo ($90,200) features a twin-turbocharged version of the V8 rated at 450 horsepower. The Turbo also adds adjustable air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), a variable damping system that uses five accelerometers and electronically controlled adjustable shocks to manage body weight transfer both on and off road. The Turbo includes upgrades such as heated front and rear seats, electric steering wheel adjustment and park-assist radar warning front and rear. It's equipped with Porsche Communications Management (PCM), a GPS navigation system with integrated telephone and audio controls. Finally, the Cayenne Turbo has bi-xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel.
The new Cayenne Turbo S ($111,600) pumps up the action with a 520-hp version of the twin-turbo V8 mated to the six-speed Tiptronic gearbox. It's equipped in similar fashion to the Turbo but has larger brakes, recalibrated suspension and engine management electronics and sports 20-inch wheels in place of the Turbo's 19-inchers.
Most everything on the Turbo and Turbo S (except the twin turbos) is offered as options on Cayenne and Cayenne S. Among them: the air suspension with PASM ($2,990), wood trim packages of various hues ($1,385), front and rear park assist ($990), a trailer hitch and ball ($630) and 20-inch wheels. Seat upgrades and a full Smooth Leather package that covers everything from grab handles to the center console in hide ($3,040) are available. Porsche Entry and Drive ($995) allows a driver to unlock and start the Cayenne by pulling the door handle and touching the shift lever, while leaving the keys in his pocket or her purse. Cayenne offers factory installed satellite radio, with a choice between XM or Sirius systems, and there are also SportDesign and Black Monochrome Exterior packages. Porsche's factory customization program allows buyers to order a Cayenne however they want it, limited only by imagination.
Safety features on all models include electronic stability control, traction control and the latest-generation antilock brakes. Six airbags come standard: dual-stage front (newest generation for 2006) and side-impact airbags for front passengers, and curtain-style head protection airbags on both sides of the cabin. All five seating positions have three-point belts with pretensioners to instantly tighten them and limit stretching on impact. The front belts also have automatic force limiters, reducing potential for belt-related injuries.
Cayenne's headlights and grille work closely resemble those on the 911 and Boxster and identify it as a Porsche.
As it is with the 911 Turbo, the Cayenne Turbo models are distinguished by larger grilles that increase the amount of air flowing through the engine bay. The Turbo S is further distinguished by quad tailpipes, body-color front grilles and special badging.
The designers believe they've transferred all the emotion of a Porsche sports car to the Cayenne, but we'll leave that call to you. The designer's handiwork has produced a 0.39 coefficient of drag, impressive for a big SUV, and good for limiting wind noise at high speed.
The Cayenne is not a small vehicle. Measuring 188.3 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 112.4 inches, it's longer than the BMW X5 and and about the same as the 2006 Mercedes M-Class and a few hundred pounds heavier than either. Conversely, at 4785 pounds in its lightest specification, Cayenne weighs 550 pounds less than a Lincoln Navigator, which is two feet longer. An inspection underneath this SUV suggests that it's perhaps over-engineered compared to many mass-market sport-utilities, but Porsche engineers preferred not to take chances with their first SUV in the event that some owners actually drive it aggressively off road.
In size, Cayenne most closely matches Volkswagen's Touareg, which is no surprise given the two vehicles were developed jointly by Porsche and VW. Engines and other Cayenne components are built by Porsche in Zuffenhausen, Germany, and mated to the Cayenne at an assembly plant in Leipzig. Both Cayenne and Touareg were created from the same basic blueprint. The standard Cayenne even shares its V6 engine with the Touareg. Engine and suspension tuning, styling and all the finish work were the separate responsibility of each manufacturer.
This auto-industry backgrounder is relevant to any consumer preparing to part with a substantial amount of money for a high-end SUV, because if two vehicles share a foundation, they're likely to share a basic quality, or lack thereof. Porsche insists that Cayenne is uniquely Porsche, and as reviewers we can vouch for that. We can also tell you a loaded VW Touareg sells for about 40 percent of the price of a high-end Cayenne, and the choice is worth considering. Meanwhile, Audi has launched its version of this vehicle, called the Q7.
Porsche's SUV has near optimal front/rear weight distribution of 52/48 percent, for outstanding handling balance in all circumstances (the weight in most unladen SUVs is more heavily biased toward the front). At least as important, in Porsche's view, is the Cayenne's optimal aerodynamic balance. Aerodynamic downforce on the rear wheels increases with speed, delivering the high-speed stability that has become a Porsche trademark.
We prefer the monster (though expensive) 20-inch wheels, too. And if money were no object we'd choose both of the appearance packages: The SportDesign Package adds more prominent, aero-tweaked side sills and a larger rear spoiler, and it gives the Cayenne a more powerful, aggressive appearance. The Black Monochrome Exterior Package finishes the roof pillars, window trim and molding in black, giving the windows a dark, monolithic look.
Anyone who has spent time in one of Porsche's sports cars will get a familiar feeling in the Cayenne driver's seat. The cues are pure Porsche: the shape and feel of the gear selector or the thick, grippy, steering wheel; the three-spoke hub design, with a brand crest and multiple controls for audio, trip computer and climate adjustments; the ignition switch to the left of the steering column or the contour of the seats.
Cayenne's instrument cluster is tucked under a single, prominent arch, with two big gauges on either side of a central multifunction display, tachometer on the left, speedometer on the right. This display presents information on audio and trip functions, mechanical operations and ambient conditions. Automatic speed and wiper controls are located on stalks on either side of the steering column. The bulk of the switches, including audio and climate controls, are racked in the center of the dash above the center console. These are replaced with a CRT monitor on Cayennes equipped with Porsche Communications Management. A dozen vents throughout the cabin distribute warm or cool air evenly.
The Cayenne is not as richly appointed as a similarly priced Range Rover, but it's not supposed to be. The emphasis here is sporting flair rather than traditional luxury. With the exception of a cheesy looking headliner and oddly designed armrests in the doors, the materials and finish are acceptable for a vehicle of this ilk. One of our test vehicles was equipped with the Light Wood package. It's polished to a gloss and expensive looking, but almost blond. Some of us at newcartestdrive.com love light woods, some of us lean toward the dark burr.
The standard leather upholstery is high grade, while the standard metal trim has a brushed finish. The front seats stand out for their balance of support, comfort and adjustment range, and the navigation display screen is one of the largest we've encountered.
The navigation system calculates routes and makes adjustments very quickly. It uses DVDs rather than CDs, allowing for maps for the entire United States on a single disk, rather than several that must be changed from region to region. There's also an optional electronic logbook, which automatically records the mileage, journey length, date and time, starting point and destination address for every trip made. In addition, buyers can opt for a module that will help you find your way back to your starting point, even if the roads or trails aren't on the system's map.
Cayenne transports five adults in reasonable comfort. The rear seat is well contoured, with excellent headroom and decent legroom, even when the front seats are well back in their travel range. Seating for five is something we haven't seen previously in a Porsche, but don't expect the interior volume of a Lincoln Navigator, and don't look for a third-row seat.
The rear seatback folds forward in a 60/40 split, and it includes a pass-though slot with a ski sack, allowing Cayenne to haul longer, narrow items inside without flattening (or messing up) the rear seat. A cargo net keeps grocery bags and other items from sliding around during travel and a retractable shade-type cover opens and closes over the cargo hold.
The Cayenne boasts 19 cubic feet of stowage space with the rear seat in place and 62.5 cubic feet with the seat folded. That gives the Porsche more cargo space than the BMW X5 but about 10 cubic feet less than the 2006 Mercedes-Benz ML. The tailgate is two-stage, so either the glass or entire gate can be opened upward, and the electronic latch lets you simply lower the gate to the latch while the electric mechanism pulls it shut.
The dimensions of the tailgate opening and load floor allow Cayenne to haul small appliances such as a bar-size refrigerator or a large TV set. Moreover, with an impressive payload of 1600 pounds, a Cayenne owner should be able to haul just about anything that can be cra.
The Porsche of SUVs is what those familiar with the brand probably expect from the Cayenne. If you pay close attention, you can feel most of the mechanical components working, each doing its own job, yet it all blends together in a smooth, synchronous whole. The Cayenne is fast, satisfying and, even in the things it does least efficiently, utterly competent. It stops with more energy and precision that any SUV we can name. The V6 runs well, but it's the V8 engines that separate Cayenne from others in the SUV pack.
Want Porsche? Sit still in the Cayenne's driver seat and gently blip the accelerator pedal (just like the guy in the commercial). These are not the sounds emanating from the typical SUV. The Cayenne's exhaust rumbles a bit louder, maybe, but mostly deeper. Even at idle, the burble of low-restriction mufflers, the cams and the suck of intake air remind us of the late, great Porsche 928, a V8-powered GT that swallowed chunks of pavement at an alarming rate. Yet this is an SUV, and the thought can be difficult for longtime Porsche enthusiasts to get their arms around. Perhaps Cayenne more appropriately invokes images of the Porsche 959s that won the grueling Paris-Dakar Rally through North Africa, skimming over giant dunes in the Sahara at 140 mph.
The Sahara we couldn't arrange, but we have mucked a Cayenne through a muddy off-road course in the south of Spain. This was not a boulder-laden wilderness trail like the Rubicon, but it included axle-deep mud and steep, low-grip 50-yard grades. Up, down and across, the Cayenne performed flawlessly with little sweat for the driver. In most cases the onboard electronics did the heavy lifting, and the driver had to simply, lightly, modulate the throttle or brake in low range. When introduced, Cayenne's back country performance impressed even the jaded, and it supported Porsche's assertion that it has more off-road capability than the BMW X5 or Mercedes M-Class, which we've driven in similar conditions. Cayenne has a maximum ground clearance of 8.5 inches, or 10.7 inches with the optional air suspension, and a water fording depth of nearly 22 inches. The Advanced Offroad Package adds skid plates to protect the underbody and a locking rear differential. We drove a Turbo S with these options on the desert sands of Dubai and were astounded by the vehicle's prowess in such difficult conditions.
We also got some lessons off road in the operation of Cayenne's permanent all-wheel-drive system, and how it might affect performance on pavement, where most owners are more likely to drive. This system, with its variable-rate center differential managed by multiple clutch plates, is similar to that used on all-wheel-drive versions of the Porsche 911, with two Cayenne enhancements: a low range for off-roading and a locking center differential. It's managed by Porsche's latest stability- and traction-control electronics, modified to handle the special needs of off-road driving.
Cayenne's AWD can vary the amount of engine power distributed to the front and rear wheels, sending more or less power in one direction depending on available traction and other conditions. In many luxury SUVs, the default torque distribution is as much as 70 percent front wheels, 30 percent rear and this can make them drive like a front-drive minivan. The Cayenne has a default power split of 38 percent front, 62 percent rear, so the rear wheels clearly rule. This more closely replicates the rear-drive characteristics of a sports car.
On the road, the Cayenne handles crisply, but it isn't a Porsche 911. Its 4800-pound curb weight, which ballons to 5192 pounds in the Turbo S (and over 5800 pounds when fully optioned), rears its head in transient maneuvers. It performs these maneuvers better than an SUV, but there's no getting around the physics of all that mass when pushed hard in tight cornering situations. That said, it offers excellent grip in ste.
Impossible to imagine 10 years ago, but true: The Porsche Cayenne is a 150-mph-plus high-performance machine that will fit a family of five, haul a small washing machine, tow a large boat and get you carefully through the woods when there's no road. It's a 5000-pound speed-sled that can handle rugged trails. Do rapid acceleration, excellent brakes and the right sounds add up to a Porsche? If you can get beyond the idea that the company should build only sports cars, the answer is a resounding yes.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Greg Brown reported from Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula; J.P. Vettraino reported from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.
Porsche Cayenne ($42,300); Cayenne Tiptronic ($44,100); Cayenne S ($57,200); Cayenne Turbo ($90,200); Cayenne Turbo S ($111,600).
Options As Tested
Preferred Package ($3,790) includes moonroof, trailer hitch w/o hitch ball, wheel hub covers colored crest, 6-disc CD changer, roof rails, PCM off-road navigation, tire pressure monitoring system; 4-zone climate control ($1,690); 20-inch Cayenne Design wheels (no cost); satellite radio ($990); Advanced Off-Road Technology package ($4,290) includes hydraulically disconnectable front and rear stabilizer bars, electronically controlled rear axle differential lock, rocker panel protection with integrated skid plates, reinforced engine skid plate, headlamp washer system, second tow lug, additional protection for fuel tank and rear axle.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo S ($111,600).
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