2004 Cayenne New Car Test Drive
Barely 10 years ago, the idea would have been dismissed as absurd. A Porsche sport-utility vehicle? What've you been smoking?
Not that Porsche lacks experience with off-road vehicles. Its engineering wing has developed several all-wheel-drive military vehicles, and specially prepared Porsche racecars ruled the grueling Paris-Dakar raid through the North African desert in the 1980s. Yet compared to automotive giants like General Motors, Toyota or Daimler-Chrysler, Porsche is a cottage manufacturer, with a tiny fraction of the production volume. For 50 years the company carved its niche with quick, nimble, relatively small sports cars, cars built on values almost diametrically opposed to those represented by a big SUV. It speaks to our changing automotive tastes, if not the times, that Porsche felt the need to invest in an SUV and a new factory to build it.
Ready or not, the most anticipated new Porsche in decades, the Cayenne, is here. The company's SUV is what many expected it would be: technically slick and remarkably fast, with on-road handling that belies its bulk. The Cayenne also delivers what most SUV buyers demand, including decent cargo space, more than enough capability for casual off-road use and impressive towing capacity. For style, pure performance and a balance of sport-utility virtues, the Porsche Cayenne is very tough to be beat.
Like many Porsches, the Porsche of SUVs is also very expensive. With tax and license, a loaded Cayenne Turbo can crack the $100,000 barrier, and that alone will knock it off most shopping lists. But even the well heeled can be value conscious. Many who can afford a Cayenne will find much of the performance and all the satisfaction of use and ownership for half that $100,000 price. Cayenne will be truly appreciated by a relative handful of SUV buyers with exacting demands. We'll call them connoisseurs.
In that respect, the Cayenne isn't much different than most Porsches before it.
Officially, the Cayenne was launched as a 2003 model and early models are called 2003s, but think of it as a 2004 model. The 2003 and 2004 models are identical.
There are two versions of the Cayenne, both built around Porsche's new 4.5-liter dohc V8 engine with automatic transmission and full-time, variable-torque all-wheel drive. The less expensive Cayenne S retails at $55,900. For that money, you might also buy any of these luxury-class SUVs and leave anywhere from $14,000 to $2,000 in the bank: an Acura MDX, a BMW X5, a Cadillac Escalade, a Hummer H2, an Infiniti FX45, a Lexus GX470, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes ML500 or Volvo XC90 T6.
The normally aspirated Cayenne S delivers 340 horsepower (more than most of the SUVs noted above). Standard features include luxury-class requisites such as leather seating with 12-way power adjustment, automatic climate control with dual front-passenger settings, heated retractable exterior mirrors, multi-function trip computer and a 350-watt, 14-speaker Bose stereo with CD. The Cayenne S also comes with insulated laminated glass and sophisticated anti-skid electronics.
Beyond the electronic skid management and the latest-generation antilock brakes, all Cayennes get luxury-grade passive safety features, starting with six airbags: 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.
From the Cayenne S, Porsche raises the ante considerably for the Cayenne Turbo. At $88,900, the Turbo costs more than just about any SUV on any planet, including Land Rover's Range Rover. Yet with a twin-turbocharged version of the V8 and a whopping 450 horsepower, the Cayenne Turbo also delivers more power than any other SUV.
The Turbo also adds adjustable air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), a variable dampening 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, Tucker-style, with the steering wheel.
Most everything on the Turbo is offered on the Cayenne S as an option (except the turbocharged engine). We drove both models, but the primary test vehicle was a Cayenne S with these extras: air suspension ($3,200), PCM ($2,700), all-seat and steering wheel electric heaters ($960); power glass sunroof ($1,100), a dark Burr walnut wood package ($990), front and rear parking assist ($990), tire-pressure monitor ($590), a trailer hitch and ball ($590), a roof carrying system ($450) and Lapis Blue metallic paint ($495). So equipped, this S model retails at a substantial $68,760 with destination charge.
Other popular options include a six-disc CD changer ($715) and huge, 20-inch sport wheels ($2,110). There are seat upgrades and a full Smooth Leather package that covers everything from grab handles to the center console in hide ($3,200). There's also a light Olive wood package, two different wood-trimmed steering wheels ($240) and Porsche Entry and Drive ($1,960), which allows a driver to unlock and start the Cayenne by pulling the door handle and touching the shift lever. Owners can customize their SUV with Porsche's Tequipment line of dealer-installed accessories, from stowage systems to running boards to stainless steel brush guards. Finally, there is Porsche's Exclusive factory customization program. This is where sheiks go to have.