2008 Porsche Cayenne Expert Review
Porsche makes sports cars backed by a rich tradition and race history. The thought of something wearing the badge that's also able to cart around your family and a load of their assorted junk was once laughable. Today, of course, that thought manifests itself in the form of the Porsche Cayenne. Even now, the idea of the Porsche SUV still seems wrong. Sure, the red Cayenne GTS in the Autoblog Garage has a spec sheet that looks exciting on paper. 405 V8-sourced horses and that shield on the hood makes you almost forget the five doors and 4,900 pounds that fill out the rest of the package. Read on to find out how the 2008 Porsche Cayenne GTS fared as a family hauler during a quick vacation up the coast.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Nunez / Weblogs, Inc.
The base V6 Cayenne and V8-powered Cayenne S look as if they're grinning at some inside joke, while the GTS and two Turbo models share an angrier visage (the expression is similar to one you might see on a tiki souvenir in a Hawaiian airport gift shop). Either way, the Cayenne isn't pretty, but the more agitated face of the GTS is an improvement over the base models, and it instantly communicates the muscular nature of the 4.8L V8 that sits behind it.
While the Turbo and Turbo S have metallic accents, the GTS does away with said fanfare, instead blacking out that trim on the door handles, around the windows and elsewhere on the exterior. It makes for a monochromatic presentation that's more understated than the approach taken by its glitzier cousins, the VW Touareg and Audi Q7, despite the fact that Porsche is the highest-profile brand of the three. Immense 21-inch wheels wrapped in steamroller-sized performance rubber leave no doubt as to the mission statement.
Porsche made the GTS the most street-oriented Cayenne in the range, so it sits lower than even the Turbo. Color-keyed sill extensions further enhance that visual impression. The rear liftgate is topped by a spoiler and angled to give the Cayenne a faster-looking profile. While this is in keeping with Porsche's performance image, it creates a problem when you're loading up the cargo bay with luggage, beach chairs, toys, a stroller and the other assorted bits of family life that people with young kids need to bring on vacation.
There's only 19.1 cubic feet back there. Frankly, I thought I was screwed, as did my wife who took one look at the cargo area and said, "There's no way you're fitting all this stuff. We may need to leave the stroller." There was no way we were leaving that stroller and we didn't want to block rear visibility unless it was absolutely essential. After trying a few packing-order combos, we got everything in without obstructing the rear window at all. The Cayenne wound up swallowing an impressive amount of stuff in what's really not a lot of usable space. We were impressed.
The Cayenne's main passenger compartment isn't overly spacious. Think Jeep Grand Cherokee dimensionally minus an inch or two here and there. As such, headroom, legroom and the like are all pretty average. Our tester was finished in a stone grey leather-and-Alcantara combo, with pseudo suede trimming the main seating surfaces in both the front and back seats. Comfy and grippy, yes, but we lived in fear that some unnaturally-colored beverage would find its way from the kids' hands to the light-colored Alcantara.
The front seats are a nice, well-bolstered place to be, particularly if you have to drive for hours at a time. My wife commented more than once on how comfortable the accommodations were – surprising given that the Cayenne, as mentioned earlier, has roominess that's pretty much on par with other 5-seat SUVs. I took it as a reminder of how important a quality seat is to the overall experience, be it as driver or passenger.
Porsche's instrument panel layout in the Cayenne is pretty simple and straightforward. The driver's instrumentation is easily legible, with a multifunction display positioned between the speedometer and tach. Multifunction controls adorn the steering wheel, ranging from radio tuning and volume to the Tiptronic rockers positioned a thumb's reach away when your hands are at three- and nine-o'clock. All the other critical stuff is located in the center stack and console area.
The optional Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system – Porsche's screen-based, button-happy, do-it-all info/audio interface – was the focal point of this test vehicle's center stack. Apparently a product of Zuffenhausen's psychological warfare division, PCM, which has its own separate 200-page manual in the glovebox, does nothing to diminish the sentiment that German engineers are seriously overthinking the best way to find a radio station or adjust a nav destination. In effect, they outsmart themselves and drivers in the process.
Entering our hotel into the navigation system proved to be a source of frustration. No, we didn't look at the manual beforehand – this stuff should be extremely intuitive. After five minutes of fussing with PCM, I told my wife to use our TomTom. She had never, ever used the thing before; we had a route 30 seconds later. Just saying. In fairness to Porsche, it seems they also knew that PCM was imperfect, as they've introduced a brand-new touchscreen version for 2009. Moving on, the Cayenne's climate controls are straightforward and can be hidden under a roll-back cover for a cleaner appearance.
The center console is where you'll find the shifter (Tiptronic S in this case, but you can also order a manual in the GTS) and the controls for the suspension and Sport mode. The big Sport mode button is prominently located in the middle, and you can manually choose between three different suspension modes (Comfort, Normal, and Sport) on the right. Finally, the switch that bookends the assembly allows the driver to manually adjust the air suspension's ride height. For our purposes, we focused on the suspension modes and the Sport setting -- off-roading, or anything remotely resembling it, was not in the cards. After all, we were simply using the Cayenne as a big, muscular station wagon.
Flip the switchblade key out of its Cayenne-shaped fob (seriously – look at the photo), stick it into the left-mounted (of course) ignition switch and turn to summon the 4.8-liter V8 and its 405 horsepower. Out back, a mild burble emanates from the double-barreled tips peeking through the rear bumper. Don't worry – in Sport mode the exhaust discovers its machismo and blats out a more fiendish, guttural rasp.
The Cayenne is more than happy to mosey around like any other modern-day family truckster. Just leave it in Drive and it will launch in second gear, ready to tackle whatever grocery-getter tedium is thrown its way. Oh, the power's still there – jump on the gas and the Cayenne snaps right to attention, but it'll revert back to its domesticated-animal form without any prodding. We kept the suspension setting in Comfort mode much of the time, and it seemed to dampen the effects of road imperfections better than the also-perfectly-adequate Normal mode. Considering the aggressive wheel/tire package fitted to the GTS, this winds up being a good thing either way. We expected the ride to be harsher than it actually turned out to be. Bottom line: the Cayenne GTS is perfectly happy to be perfectly boring when the situation calls for that.
Now that we all understand that the Cayenne GTS is adept at pretending to be an $88,000 minivan, it's still a Porsche and will happily behave like one when asked. Encouraging it to do so is simple: press the Sport button. Those second-gear starts become a distant memory, the muted exhaust note gives way to something far more becoming of a 405-horsepower sports truck, and the GTS becomes more responsive to the orders issued by your right foot. If it's your thing, you can manually shift using the Tiptronic, but the wheel-mounted shift buttons don't add a whole lot of fun to the process. It doesn't matter anyway. In automatic mode, it gleefully rockets forward on command – power is prodigious and omnipresent.
The Cayenne GTS is plenty fast, as well it should be. It's composed, too – body roll is remarkably controlled despite its hefty curb weight. The average, everyday driver (raises hand) wheeling a Cayenne GTS will likely never come close to the handling limits that Porsche has engineered into this SUV. Mostly, you'll just have good, clean fun while devouring long, curved on-ramps under power and tackling your favorite local driving roads on the weekends. The major difference is that with the Cayenne, you can bring Mom and the kids along to share in your weekly motoring catharsis. Maybe even Fido, too.
We also managed to get in some unplanned sloppy-weather testing thanks to a fairly wicked storm system during the drive back home from our quick vacation. Monsoon-like rain and hail pelted the GTS as we cruised toward the family HQ on the interstate. There was abundant pooling along both shoulders and it was pretty deep in spots. The Cayenne just motored through, undeterred and sure-footed. It never felt dicey, no matter how miserable the conditions – a very nice, confidence-inspiring bonus.
In all honesty, I was one of those people who never "got" the Cayenne. Sure, I understood why Porsche made it, and now it's impossible to dispute this SUV's importance to the corporate bottom line. But how good could it really be? It's expensive, it chugs gas and is not pretty. It's also damned good, despite all the reasons you think it shouldn't be. You may not like the Cayenne, but go try one and you'll get why the folks who drive them do. After several days behind the wheel, I finally understood.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Nunez / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Increased performance, enhanced active safety for 2008.
When the Porsche Cayenne was launched four years ago enthusiasts cried blasphemy. Porsche should not build sport-utilities, they said, Porsche should build sports cars. But buyers won the vote. Cayenne had what they needed in a five-passenger SUV: more cargo space than a sedan, off-highway capability, and impressive towing capacity. They found the Cayenne technologically advanced and remarkably fast, as Porsches are supposed to be. So, they wondered, why all the hand wringing?
Cayenne's balance of style, performance, and sport-utility virtues were compelling, and it quickly became a success story for the small manufacturer of legendary sports cars. When Porsche launched Cayenne as a 2003 model, executives said they hoped to sell 20,000 of the SUVs a year. Clearly, these projections were conservative. Last year, Porsche sold more than 50,000 Cayennes. More than 150,000 have been sold in the past four years. Now, redesigned for 2008, sales of the new version have taken off, and overall Porsche sales in the U.S. hit record levels the summer of 2007. The Cayenne has been a boon for Porsche's financial planning. Its ongoing success smoothes over wildly fluctuating sports car sales, which tend to follow the consumer confidence index. Cayenne's success is helping Porsche do what enthusiasts want: develop and build great sports cars. Enough hand-wringing already.
For 2008, the Porsche Cayenne has been significantly improved, and Porsche is calling it a second-generation version. We can report the driving dynamics of the 2008 Cayenne models are substantially improved over the high bar set by the previous models. This was accomplished by using the latest technology and high-quality engineering and manufacturing. Porsche Stability Management has been enhanced, Dynamic Chassis Control is available, and there's a new Sport mode available for all models and powertrains.
Each of Cayenne's three available engines is bigger and substantially more powerful for 2008. Benefiting from direct fuel injection, each engine is more fuel-efficient, as well, though on the window stickers it's a wash due to more stringent EPA test procedures instituted for all 2008 vehicles.
Grabbing headlines is the 2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo, boasting 500 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque from its new twin-turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 and capable of propelling this SUV from 0-60 mph in just 5.1 seconds. It's faster and more dynamic than the previous Cayenne Turbo.
But the bigger gain, in our view, is with the entry model, which comes with a new 3.6-liter V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 283 pound-feet of torque, capable of propelling it from 0 to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds (and in 7.5 seconds when equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission).
The popular Cayenne S gets more power, as well, serving up 385 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque from its new 4.8-liter V8.
More important than the new engines (though less useful for bragging rights) are advances in active safety: An available system called Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control nearly eliminates body roll, or lean, in turns, improving handling, comfort, and active safety, while providing enhanced off-pavement traction. A Cayenne going flat-out through a fast corner with this system looks like it's on rails. A Cayenne without this system struggles to keep up, heeled over and moving around in the turn. Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control includes active anti-roll bars, which are designed to compensate off pavement, as well. All Cayennes come with Porsche Stability Management, Trailer Stability Control, off-road ABS, and other technologies that make drivers look like heroes.
Braking has been improved for 2008. Massive new brakes were developed by Porsche to reduce fade, the tendency of brakes to lose effectiveness in repeated hard use. This is important when descending long mountain grades.
We found the 2008 Porsche Cayenne enjoyable to dri.
The 2008 Porsche Cayenne lineup features three models: Cayenne ($43,400), Cayenne S ($57,900), and Cayenne Turbo ($93,700). All models come standard with full-time all-wheel drive with a high and low range. All come with a six-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission, though the V6 is also available with a six-speed manual.
Cayenne comes with a 3.6-liter V6 (that produces 290 horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque). 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 power tailgate. Optional for 2008 is natural Chestnut Brown leather upholstery in a two-tone combination with black nappa leather.
Cayenne S gets a 4.8-liter V8 (that delivers 385 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque). Cayenne S adds automatic climate control with dual front-passenger settings and a 350-watt, 14-speaker Bose stereo.
Cayenne Turbo features a twin-turbocharged version of the V8 (rated at 500 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque). The Turbo comes standard with an adjustable air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM). The Turbo model also upgrades with heated front and rear seats, a power 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, and headlights that turn with the steering wheel.
Options include a push-button Sport mode; PASM ($2,990); wood trim packages ($1,385); front and rear park assist ($990); trailer hitch and ball ($630); and 21-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. XM Satellite Radio is available. Features on upper models are available as options on Cayenne and Cayenne S. 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 Porsche Stability Management electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes with off-road capability, and Trailer Stability Control. Six airbags come standard: dual-stage front 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. New for 2008 is a rollover sensor designed to trigger seat belt tensioners and curtain airbags.
For 2008, Porsche Cayenne was redesigned to present a more aggressive appearance. Its designers wanted to lower the car's visual center of gravity.
So for 2008, the headlights were moved farther apart and feature new bi-xenon designs. The air intake was re-shaped, the roof section is three inches longer and a rear spoiler adorns the trailing edge of the roof. The 2008 models benefit from new wheel designs;17-, 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-inch wheels are available. Aerodynamics are improved for 2008: The 2008 Cayenne slips through the air with a 0.35 coefficient of drag, compared with 0.39 for the first-generation (2003-07) models. New taillights, a redesigned rear bumper cover, a new exhaust system, and a new diffuser setup highlight changes to rear for 2008. The outside mirrors mimic the shape of the tail lights.
Cayenne is easily identifiable as a Porsche with headlights and grillework that resemble that of the 911 and Boxster. The more powerful models have functional design cues indicating higher levels of performance. The Cayenne Turbo is distinguished by larger grilles that increase the amount of air flowing through the engine bay.
The Cayenne is not small, measuring nearly 189 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 112.4 inches. That's about the same length as the current BMW X5 (191.1 inches) and Mercedes M-Class (188.5 inches). Cayenne is 75.9 inches wide, about the same as the X5 (76.1 inches) or a half-inch wider than M-Class (75.2 inches).
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. Cayenne, Touareg, and the Audi Q7 share basic structures, though the Audi is stretched for more passenger space. Engine and suspension tuning, styling and all the finish work were the separate responsibility of each manufacturer.
The Cayenne offers 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.
Anyone who has spent time in one of Porsche's sports cars will get a familiar feeling in the Cayenne driver's seat. The cabin cues are pure Porsche: the ignition switch to the left of the steering column, a tradition dating back to vintage Le Mans starts requiring drivers to run to their cars; the shape and feel of the gear selector; the thick, grippy, steering wheel with the three-spoke hub; 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. Cruise control and the switch for the wipers 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. Big, wide outside mirrors offer good rearward visibility. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes to help ensure a proper driving position.
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. (We like both vehicles for different reasons.) We liked the contrasting stitching on the Porsche seats. 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.
The navigation display screen is one of the largest we've encountered. Called Porsche Communications Management, the navigation system comes with a 6.5-inch display and 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. An optional electronic logbook 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. Voice recognition and off-road navigation are available options.
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're not used to seeing in a Porsche, so don't expect the interior volume of a Lincoln Navigator and don't look for a third-row seat because it isn't available.
The rear seatback folds forward in a 60/40 split, and 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.
Cargo capacity is nearly 62 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down, and nearly 19 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. 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. With apayload of 1600 pounds, the Cayenne can haul just about anything that'll fit inside without worrying too much about exceeding recommended weights. New for 2008 is a system designed to ease cargo loading and unloading that uses.
The Porsche Cayenne is the rally car of big, heavy SUVs. It drives like a big sports car. Measured against other SUVs, it's hot. Measured against sports cars, it's quick and it's fast. Handling and stopping are impressive given its mass, but there's no denying that mass. And therefore, the Cayenne not an alternative to a Carrera. For true sports car performance, there is no substitute for the Porsche 911. But among SUVs, the Cayenne hauls. It is a Porsche.
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 deep rumble of the exhaust is a reminder you're driving a Porsche. 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. This is not your typical SUV, though it can perform the duties of one.
Off-road capabilities are considerable. Though Porsche is best-known for Le Mans and other endurance sports car racing, Cayenne invokes images of the Paris-Dakar Porsche 959s, another area where Porsche triumphed.
We drove a 2008 Cayenne S hard on a gravel road, a 2.0-mile special stage at Continental Tire's Uvalde Proving Grounds west of San Antonio and were impressed with the predictable handling. Hurling the Cayenne deep into gravel corners well past grip limits was met by the system catching the car mid-corner, allowing us to accelerate hard out of the turn and shoot down another short straightaway before diving into the next turn. With so much technology helping us control the car we would have had to work at it to bite the ditch. In short, the Cayenne works phenomenally well on dirt and gravel roads and make its driver look like a hero.
We've also had the opportunity to drive a Cayenne through a muddy off-road course in Spain. This was not a boulder-laden wilderness trail like the Rubicon, but included axle-deep mud and long, steep, low-grip grades. Up, down and across, the Cayenne performed flawlessly. 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 10.6 inches with the optional air suspension. It can ford 19 inches of water, nearly 22 inches in the off-road mode with air suspension. The Advanced Off Road Package adds skid plates to protect the underbody and a locking rear differential. We drove a Turbo with these options on the desert sands of Dubai and were astounded by the vehicle's prowess in difficult conditions.
Cayenne's permanent all-wheel-drive 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. Cayenne enhances this setup with a low-range set of gears along with a locking center differential for creeping over rugged terrain. Porsche's latest stability and traction-control electronics have been modified for 2008 for improved off-road capability. The all-wheel-drive system 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. The Cayenne has a default power split of 38 percent front, 62 percent rear. It's biased much more.
The Porsche Cayenne is the sportiest, best-performing SUV, a high-performance machine that will fit a family of five, haul a small washing machine, tow a large boat and get you through the woods when there's no road. It's a 5000-pound speed-sled that can handle rugged trails. Significant revisions make the 2008 Porsche Cayenne models more desirable than last year's models. Of the three versions, the Cayenne S is our favorite. Cayenne S delivers Porsche performance yet while dodging the higher price of the Turbo.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough test drove the 2008 Cayenne, Cayenne S, and Cayenne Turbo in Texas. With J.P. Vettraino reporting from Detroit and Greg Brown reporting from Dubai.
Porsche Cayenne ($43,400); Cayenne S ($57,900); Cayenne Turbo ($93,700).
Options As Tested
Porsche Cayenne S ($57,900).
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