It was a very funny thing, but a lot of people (some of whom I know) actually took personal offense to the news, however many years ago, that Porsche intended to initiate a departure from its traditional modus operandi-that is, building sports cars-and build a fully off-road-capable SUV. The most vociferous naysayers declared the project a work of blasphemy that would mark the company's ultimate demise.
Of course, the Cayenne went to production anyway. And it absolutely crushed all expectations, becoming an instant hit with consumers and contributing to the company's current status as the world's most profitable car manufacturer. So much for doomsday prophecies.For the past 12 months we have been tooling around in our own Cayenne, an S model with the big V8, and we're not ashamed to say that we've enjoyed our time with it. There's a definite benefit to having a vehicle of this stature in the long-term fleet. Even magazine editors occasionally need a big support vehicle to haul stuff around, and as these vehicles go, the Cayenne is one of the nicest. After all, it's still a Porsche.
Two years ago I drove the Cayenne range in the middle of winter in the frozen wilderness of northern Finland, where its competence in various, fairly extreme off-road situations was demonstrated. I'm not sure how many Cayennes sold to date have actually been out in the rough, but it's cool to know they could if they wanted to. We drove ours in dirt a couple times, though never in any extreme sort of situation.
Equipped as ours was with air suspension and Porsche Traction Management (PTM), the Cayenne is intentionally set up for fairly intense off-road high jinks. It offers six different ride levels, the lowest being 1.06 inches beneath its default ride height for high-speed touring. The highest setting raises the chassis 2.2 inches above the default height for 10.75 inches of total ground clearance. Additionally, Cayenne owners who are really serious about going into the dirt can purchase an Advanced Offroad Technology Package that adds special side-sill protection, a front skidplate and a 100% lockable rear differential, in addition to self-detaching anti-roll bars which allow for improved articulation over extreme terrain.
One area that has been criticized are the factory-equipped tires. At its introduction, Porsche pointed out that the Cayenne was the "world's first SUV to run on Y tires homologated for a top speed of 186 mph." While this speaks well for the Cayenne's high-speed capabilities, it doesn't necessarily say the same for off-road durability. And though we only did a small amount of off-roading, we found rapid tire wear a fact of life when you're living with a Cayenne. In the space of about 20,000 miles we nearly ran through two sets of tires. As I mentioned, ours didn't see a whole lot of time off pavement; if it had, I can't help but imagine that wear would have accelerated exponentially. Conversely, adding dedicated off-road tires would doubtlessly take a toll on any kind of precision handling.
Putting aside the "off-road, on-road" debate, the Cayenne, along with vehicles like the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport, has helped define a new segment of high-performance SUVs. These are vehicles that combine inherent off-road capabilities and the utilitarian nature of traditional trucks and SUVs with carefully balanced handling characteristics and powerful, sports-car-derived engines.
In light of this, on-road the Cayenne does indeed feel more like a sports car than a truck. This is due in large part to its variable power-assisted steering, which features a transmission ratio of 16.7:1 to put it nearly on par with that of a 911. Combined with summer tires and the sport suspension setting, it makes for a reasonably precise machine. Our Cayenne was further outfitted with Porsche's Active Suspension Management (PASM, standard on the Cayenne Turbo and optional on the S), which works to offset any sort of sway or dive initiated by aggressive driving. Purists have consistently criticized stability management in Porsche's sports cars, particularly the 911, and I'll remain neutral on that argument. In a vehicle the Cayenne's size, however, we always regarded PASM as more a blessing than a curse. So if tossing this vehicle up a twisted mountain road strikes your fancy, keep in mind it's no Carrera-higher center of gravity, engine in the front, and about 1,800 pounds of extra bulk. Most will need all the help they can get.
OK, enough with the analysis-anyway, we've probably said it all before. The long and short of it is we enjoyed our time in our Cayenne S. The problems we did encounter were relatively minor. Cost of fueling the beast was first and foremost on our list. Its annual estimated fuel cost, according to the window sticker in our filing cabinet, is $1,828. I'm sure that number was calculated when gasoline was still well under 3 bucks a gallon-and in any case, we probably put a bit more mileage on the vehicle than an "average" driver might. Our Cayenne developed a fuel system malady late in its stay with us, which caused hard starts immediately after fueling the vehicle. In the time remaining on our lease, Porsche's dealer network was unable to obtain the parts to fix the problem. Not a big deal; the only time the glitch became evident was when we were ready to drive away after using the gas pump.
The key fob is a little goofy. First of all, it's shaped like the Cayenne itself, complete with little headlights, which I guess could be cool if you're into those dorky little sort of details. This aside, occasionally we took issue with the process of locking or unlocking the doors. Sometimes, inexplicably, the central locking/alarm system became confused, doing the opposite of what you expected or tripping the alarm when you went to open a (presumably) disarmed door. The problem was perplexing to the point that it cannot be fully quantified; after a few dozen clicks on the key fob it would eventually fix itself. Again, not a big deal, but it might be rather disconcerting for some in, say, an unlit parking lot on a dark and stormy night.
All things considered, though, we're going to miss the big guy and we'll be looking far ahead to the day another piece of Porsche machinery graces our garage.
Here's what a few actual Cayenne owners had to say about their experiences. Thanks to everyone who responded to our query in the February 2006 issue.
I have had similar situations with my vehicle as you had. The Tiptronic steering wheel shift buttons were problematic when I first starting driving the SUV. I was thoroughly embarrassed when driving my sister-in-law and nephew back from the airport, when making my way on to an on-ramp I hit the shift button in error and the transmission went into D1, revving the engine way up to its redline. My nephew was impressed by all the torque.
I have gone through two sets of tires due to wear and tear and some sort of front-end camber problem that Porsche doesn't know much about but admits exists. I also had to get a separate set of snow tires since the "all-weather" tires were a joke. The SUV then does a respectable job of going through our Midwest winters.
In addition to the above problems, my wife has been joking with me about the remote central locking system and the key fob. I still have strange interactions trying to unlock all the doors remotely at times. She threatened that I had to get rid of the car unless I figured it out. Luckily, she has been having mechanical problems with her BMW X3 lately, so the issue has been quiet.
I have been pleased overall with the vehicle and will probably buy another one in two years' time. I think the Turbo has too much power to handle. The S power is more linear and civilized. I do appreciate the extra oomph getting on the entrance ramps on the Interstates. I can also attest to all the extra room with the rear seats put down. My wife likes to use it for projects that her X3 can't carry. Gas mileage averages 15 mpg on premium fuel, but it still turns heads and I get lots of questions about it in the parking lots.
via the Internet
I have been extremely impressed with Porsche's first attempt at a mainstream SUV. I purchased the vehicle primarily because of its towing capacity, as I have an E30 M3 that I tow to driving events. The Cayenne has performed in an exemplary fashion in this regard. But I also knew I didn't want to drive a truck as my daily driver and, again, the Cayenne makes my short daily commute a real pleasure. Its high level of refinement, its excellent handling, more than adequate power and awesome all-weather capability make it a unique vehicle in the class and quite a nice addition to the Porsche family.
Ho Ho Kus, N.J.
I've read your article updates and share your love for the Porsche Cayenne. I own a 2006 Cayenne Turbo S and I love it, that and the panorama roof. I also own a 1988.5 Ferrari Testarossa, and I find myself not taking it out because the Cayenne is such a blast. And talk about blast; I must say it has been fun blowing away sports cars and laugh at folks that cannot believe they just got dusted by a 5,000-pound SUV. Too funny. It screams.
I had a 2003 BMW X5 with a Dinan supercharger package, but there is no comparison. As for the looks, I do think the Cayenne needs to be put on a few steroids, but some of the factory options help. As for the extra money for the Turbo S package that puts it well above the standard 450-horse Cayenne Turbo, I think spending the extra money was ultimately worth it. It pleases my lead foot-thank goodness for radar detectors.
Maybe Porsche can fit the Carrera GT's 600-bhp 10-cylinder engine into it next? If so, I will buy it. But it would be a must that the sound of the GT comes with it! I've already told my 11-year-old-son that driving this beast will deplete plenty of natural resources, and that he better hope for alternative sources of fuel. I have about 6,500 miles on the car now, and average 7 to 10 miles per gallon. Suck it up baby!
Fair Oaks, CA