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First Look: 2003 Porsche Cayenne S

It has the heritage; can it become a classic?

Sherri Collins
Feb 25, 2003
Photographer: Courtesy of Porsche AG
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Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain--You have to wonder if Porsche's planners picked the Cayenne's launch location for its mild winter weather or for more subtle reasons. Andalucia has a reputation for radical independence and a brilliant artistic heritage--so does Porsche. Jerez is synonymous with the making of fine sherries and ports, two wines that require precise blending and timing to make a perfect, classic vintage. Porsche has attempted to do much the same with the introduction of the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo, but in this case Stuttgart is blending the finest elements of sports car and sport ute in the attempt to create an entirely new kind of vehicle.

(Editor's note: Time and scheduling constraints prevented us driving the 450-bhp Turbo. Look for our report on it in an upcoming issue.)

My first taste of the Cayenne S's dual capabilities involved mud, lots of mud, on a rather diabolical off-road course. The hills above the Circuito de Jerez are comprised of very slippery clay (the same stuff grapes grow so well in), made even more slick by several days of rain. Off-road instructors--actually, the engineers who had developed the Cayenne's systems--gave a once-around here's-how-you-should-do-it run before letting journalists behind the wheel. I admitted to the instructor that I was nervous. On the rare occasion when I play in the mud there are no vehicles involved and I'm usually barefooted. These hills were steep; the potholes could have hidden casks of amontillado, and there were lots of big rocks in the most inconvenient places. "No problem. Take it slow and it'll be fine."

I did and it was. The Cayenne S crawled and inched its way over obstacles I could have sworn were impassable, and not once did I feel out of control. The hill-holder and hill-descent controls kept the SUV at a steady, even pace; the Porsche Traction Management system (PTM; more on it later) kept the wheels from spinning; and the 8.54-in. mid-axle ground clearance provided ample room to go over rocks, no matter what size.

After the up and down excursions, there was a brief drifting exercise, designed to illustrate the dynamic stability of the SUV, in any condition. At the bottom of one hill was a wide-open clay and mud field. Per instructions, I turned the PSM (Porsche Stability Management) off, accelerated out into the field, turned quickly to the right and drifted sideways. The Cayenne practically caught itself before heading back out. This was easy, but then again, there was nothing to hit, either. My co-driver was impressed and stated that Porsche's new SUV could hold its own among the competitors. And this was the stock Cayenne S. The possibilities seem endless when you consider what the S could do with the optional air-suspension system and/or the yet-to-be-released Advanced Offroad Technology Package.

At the heart of the S's mud-bog ability is PTM (Porsche Traction Management). Porsche's new permanent all-wheel-drive system, featuring a longitudinal differential lock, distributes torque at a ratio of 38:62, front to rear, under normal driving. A multiple-plate clutch can change the torque ratio to 100:0 or 0:100, or anywhere in between the two, depending on surface conditions. In the process of detecting (and correcting for) a lack of traction at the wheels, PTM also uses sensors to measure the vehicle's speed, lateral acceleration, steering angle and gas-pedal operation. At the flip of a toggle-like switch, an integral low-range ratio of 2.7:1 can be engaged for off-pavement adventures. A locking rear axle differential is optional. When the terrain becomes rough, PTM interacts with PSM (Porsche Stability Management, also standard) to adjust the ABS, ASR (automatic slip reduction), ABD (automatic brake differential) and differential control settings to the appropriate calibrations.

For really rough terrain, a second flip of the aforementioned switch causes 100% front-to-rear wheel lock for optimum traction. If the Cayenne encounters a critical under- or oversteer situation, PSM will intervene with the engine management system and automatically adjust the engine's ignition and throttle to further stabilize the vehicle. Combined, all the above acronyms make it nearly impossible to get into serious trouble with the Cayenne.

Equally important at stabilizing the SUV's hold on terra firma is the suspension setup. At the front is a double-track control arm (aluminum at the top, spheroidal cast steel at the bottom) attached by way of extra-large elastic rubber mounts to its own high-strength steel subframe, steel springs and lateral-force compensating struts. The rear is comprised of an independent multi-arm (aluminum at the top, steel plate at the bottom) configuration, also mounted on a high-strength steel subframe, steel springs and lateral-force compensating struts. The tie-rods are also made of steel plate. Extra-long spring travel at all four corners--4.09 in. compression, 4.57 in. rebound, at the front; 5.31 in. compression, 3.86 in. rebound at the rear--was incorporated into the setup for off-pavement purposes.

That extra spring travel also made itself felt on paved surfaces. The result was a slight floaty feeling when traversing undulating pavement, but it wasn't nausea inducing and a sense of control remained. (Porsche's optional air-suspension system with PASM--Porsche Active Suspension Management--reportedly eliminates any and all float.) That sense of control makes itself felt through Porsche's hydraulic, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. Turn-in is precise; there is remarkably little understeer for a vehicle this size. With a turning circle of 39 ft and lock to lock taking only 2.65 turns, the Cayenne S has the handling sensibilities of a sports car.

Once the mudfest was over, we headed east on highways and byways into the heart of Andalucian Spain. (Alas, the Jerez racetrack was unavailable; the national Superbike championship practice was in session.) An open, uncrowded stretch of the autopista gave us a chance to stretch the Cayenne S's legs and see what the all-new naturally aspirated V8 engine was made of.

The 32-valve 4.5-liter powerplant uses a two-piece aluminum/silicon alloy cylinder head, cast aluminum pistons and Porsche's much-praised VarioCam technology. For those who like to drive on the side of mountains, the new engine is capable of running smoothly up to a 45-degree angle off horizontal. The oil circuit was separated from the vent ducts, enabling engine oil to flow quickly and directly back to the oil sump. Separate exhaust pipes exit gases for each cylinder bank. The pipes cross over and then pass through the pre- and main catalysts before ending at the dual tailpipes. The exhaust has a V8 rumbly note, without being abrasive to the ears. It's not quite a Porsche sound but nevertheless is delightful to hear.

The Cayenne S achieves 340 bhp at 6000 rpm; 310 lb-ft of torque appears at 2500 rpm and is maintained until 5500 rpm, where it begins to fall off. Acceleration is rather quick for a 4,949-lb vehicle; 0 to 62 mph is reported to be reached in 7.2 sec. We didn't have a stopwatch with us, but I'm sure we came close to matching the stated time. We even broached the SUV's top speed of 150 mph, but only for a few brief seconds. While at the upper speed limits, the Cayenne remained stable and the ride smooth, no doubt due in part to a Cd of 0.39. And during our foot-stomping escapades, the Cayenne's newly developed six-speed Tiptronic S transmission didn't hesitate once.

Standard on both models for 2003 (the Cayenne S gets a six-speed manual in 2004), the Tiptronic S offers the best of both automatic and manual transmissions. In drive mode, the transmission shifts seamlessly between gears. In Tiptronic mode, you can shift at your preferred shift points via the paddles on the steering wheel or--a first for Porsche--by flicking the gearshift lever. The new transmission also features a hill-holder function that keeps the SUV from rolling backwards down a hill, even on ones with a 100% gradient. The transmission doesn't balk at extra weight, either. Towing capacity is an impressive 7,716 lb.

Equally impressive are the Cayenne's brakes. Both models are clad with 13.78-in. internally vented front discs with six-piston aluminum monobloc calipers and 13-in. inner-vented rear discs with four-piston aluminum monobloc calipers with pad-wear sensors. The rotors are 1.34-in. thick at the front and 1.10-in. thick at the rear. ABS is, of course, standard.

The oversized brakes and Porsche red calipers are visible through the 8x18-in. light alloy wheels. Built with a process called flow-forming, they (depending on size) weigh 2.2 to 3.3 lb per wheel less than other comparably sized wheels. The Pirelli tires are sized 255/55R18 at all four corners and were specially developed for the Cayenne. If looks matter more than off-pavement fun, 19- and 20-in. wheels are optional, as are a variety of high-performance and winter-weather tires.

Porsche knew if it built an SUV, it had to be a safe one. As expected, its engineers have covered all the bases with a high-strength body, protective deformation zones, multiple airbags--front, side and curtain--and three-point seatbelts with pretensioners.

The first giveaway that you're inside a Porsche is the Cayenne's ignition-lock position. It's where it should be--on the left side of the leather-wrapped, three-spoke multi-function steering wheel. The instrument cluster features five interlinked rings. In the center are windows displaying driver data, including gas and water temperature gauges; to the left, the tach and then the oil gauge; to the right, the speedometer and then the battery charge gauge. The information you need most is right in front of you.

Leather and aluminum-look trim are prevalent. The center console's design echoes that of the 911; new to the Cayenne, however, are the leather-wrapped grab handles on either side and the missing handbrake. Porsche changed the parking brake to a foot-activated one in order to free up space in the center console.

Standard equipment on the S model includes a 350-watt Bose Cabin Surround System with CD player and 14 speakers, an on-board computer, cruise control, electrically adjustable front seats and automatic air conditioning. If you get lost easily, you can opt for PCM (Porsche Communication Management; it comes standard on the Turbo). It includes a 6.5-in. color screen with 12-digit keyboard and integrates the trip computer and audio and nav systems.

Does it feel and look like a Porsche inside? (I'm pleading the 5th on the Cayenne's exterior looks.) Yes and no. The accents and styling are so closely patterned after the 911 and Boxster that it feels familiar, as though it's your house but the furniture has been moved a bit. The one major difference is there's so much room. It's an odd experience to actually have room to move in the back seat of a Porsche, having squished myself into the rear of a Carrera on several occasions. The seats are Porsche: comfortable, supportive and leather. As with previous Porsche models, whichever stereo system you opt for, you're going to have to either read the manual thoroughly or play hours of "I wonder what this button does?"

There are more things you can opt for on the Cayenne S that come standard on the Turbo version. The Bi-xenon headlight system features dynamic headlamp leveling, integrated headlamp cleaning and a dynamic cornering function The system uses a series of sensors that measure the steering angle and speed of the car. Based on this data, the system then calculates the optimum illumination for the corner. ParkAssistant is a series of yellow and red LEDs that give visual indication of how close the car is to an obstacle. The system also uses an intermittent warning tone which increases in frequency as the vehicle get closer to an obstacle.

What else does the Turbo get as standard? How about an electrically adjustable heated steering wheel, front seats with memory function, aluminum trim and metallic paint. The only two options the Cayenne S and Turbo model share (aside from the myriad products offered through Porsche Tequipment, Exclusive and Selection programs) are the sunroof and the Entry & Drive system--Porsche's version of Mercedes-Benz' KeylessGo.

There's a very good reason why the Turbo has so much more than the S: price. Fully loaded, the Cayenne Turbo has an MSRP of $88,900. The Cayenne S, even with fewer options, seems like a bargain with a starting price of $55,900. Is it worth it? Ask the guy who could never rationalize having a Porsche and a family of four. It's a pricey SUV, but one that is easily the winner in the category that includes the M-B ML55 and BMW X5 4.6.

Why introduce an SUV now, when nearly every carmaker already has one--or more--on the market? The short answer is, "Why not." The longer answer involves a segment that is still booming and Porsche's need for a large influx of money in order to remain "the world's most profitable independent car company."

The Cayenne, in the short term at least, should help Porsche stay that way. Whether this new vintage holds on to become a classic, only time, and the continually changing tastes of consumers, will tell.

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By Sherri Collins
39 Articles

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