Approximately a year after introducing its controversial sport utility vehicle to the automotive press in sunny southern Spain, Porsche unveiled its third Cayenne model, the Cayenne V6, beneath the skies of a far different clime. A group of brave journalists were flown to Rovaniemi, Finland, to have a first look at the newest SUV from Stuttgart, and to test drive the full Cayenne product line in bona fide winter conditions. For winter driving, Finland in late November is the ideal setting. Rovaniemi, the northernmost "big" Finnish city, is only about 15 miles south of the Arctic Circle. While we were there, temperatures hovered between 20- and 25* Fahrenheit during the day, which began when the sun rose at 9:30 a.m. and ended with a 2:30 p.m. sunset.
Naturally, the biggest difference between the latest Cayenne and its Cayenne S and Turbo brethren is the new six-cylinder powerplant, the first Porsche-built. While Porsche was comically tight-lipped about the 3.2-liter, 24-valve powerplant's origins, the answer is pretty obvious if you think about it for a minute. Go ahead, we'll wait. While the basic engine is supplied from an outside source, the company claims it was modified and revised extensively before being ingested into the Cayenne chassis. The intake system, for example, was completely redesigned by Porsche engineers to maximize engine output. Power and torque have been measured at 250 bhp at 6000 rpm and 221 lb-ft at 5500 rpm, respectively. This accelerates the Cayenne V6 to 100 km/h in just a fraction over 9 sec. and to a top speed of 214 km/h--or about 133 mph.
In addition to the new motor, Porsche also introduced a new six-speed manual gearbox that will be offered on both the V8- and V6-powered models. Unfortunately, this six-speed manual will not make it to the North American market for the 2004 model year. Maybe we'll get it next year, maybe the year after that, or maybe never--Porsche really wasn't saying.
After a seminar highlighting the new engine, new transmission and various standard and optional technical features built into the Cayenne, our group was transported to Porsche's "Arctic Driving Center" located thirty miles north of Rovaniemi and well within the Arctic Circle. Here, we had the chance to drive a fleet of Cayennes equipped with both eight and six cylinder engines. Ironically, all of them were also equipped with six-speed manuals.
The Driving Center was divided into different sections, each intended to highlight a different technical feature. There was an offroad course to demonstrate the capability of the Cayenne's optional Advanced Offroad Technology Package, featuring detachable anti-roll bars and reinforced underpinnings intended for serious offroad use, and a hill-climbing section to demonstrate Porsche's Drive-Off Assistant (PDOA), which assists the driver when starting off on a gradient. The huge snow-covered skidpad, intended to showcase Porsche Traction Management and Porsche Stability Management, was undoubtedly the most fun. Though both systems are engineered to help the driver maintain vehicle control in slippery conditions, I had a lot more fun losing control and going end-around-end at 40 mph--or was it 40 km/h?
At the end of the day, the courses at the Arctic Driving Center showed the Porsche Cayenne to be an extremely capable offroad vehicle. The question still remains, however: Will people use it as such, like your average 4x4 Jeep or Chevy? Or will it just become another shiny, luxurious status symbol relegated to everyday, menial tasks on paved streets? Considering the fact that it is a Porsche, with the price tag to go with it, instinct tells us the latter scenario will more often be the case. Still, it's good to know that a high-end company has designed an offroad vehicle to do just what it's billed to do. We suppose it all comes down to the classic street-driven SUV mantra: Not that you ever would, but it's good to know you could.