2003 Porsche Cayenne

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2003 Porsche Cayenne

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

First Porsche sport-utility vehicle a fast, posh runner both on and off road.
Pros:
  • Roomy
  • Luxurious
  • Off-road abilities
Cons:
  • Turbo version power delivery hiccups
  • Not a style leader
  • No standard spare tire

Porsche has spent its life making sports cars and winning race cars, and never had produced a four-door vehicle or one that comfortably holds up to five adults. So what's it doing building a four-door, five-passenger sport-utility vehicle?

It doesn't want to lose the opportunity to make lots of money. That's what was happening when its sports car owners were buying costly upscale sport-utilities from other automakers and parking them alongside Porsche 911 and Boxster models in home garages.

So why not a Porsche sport-utility. If revered automakers such as BMW and Cadillac can make an upscale sport-ute, why not Porsche?

Keeping Independence
Germany's Porsche always has been a producer of small sports cars. Upscale sport-utilities can generate lots of profits to give Porsche vehicle development money to help it keep its cherished independent status. Besides the sports car market is fickle, while the sport-ute market hasn't proven to be that way—and looks as if it'll be hot for quite some time.

The beautifully crafted all-wheel-drive Cayenne is named for a spicy red pepper said to be known throughout the world. Although the name still is curious, it's less awkward than that of giant Volkswagen's new Touareg sport-ute.

Jointly Developed with Volkswagen
In fact, the Cayenne was jointly developed with the Touareg to hold costs down—at least up to a point. The Cayenne is sportier, costlier and faster than the above-average Touareg—especially in turbocharged form.

Oddly though, the Touareg has slicker styling than the Cayenne; you might expect the opposite because Porsche is a builder of low-slung sports cars and Volkswagen primarily is a family car producer.

However, the Cayenne does look better in person than in photographs. It has a muscular stance and aerodynamic contours.

Posh Interior
Many Cayenne owners who aren't crazy about its styling likely will forget its appearance when they enter this new Porsche's luxurious, leather-covered interior, which is filled with comfort and convenience features. High quality materials are used, and there isn't a stick out of place.

The front bucket seats are very supportive during sporty driving, but the traditional Porsche ignition switch location to the left of the steering wheel is annoying for right-handed persons.

Awkward Retro Touch
That location is a throwback to the left-hand ignition switch in old competition Porsche sports cars; it let a driver rush to his car during a running "Le Mans" start, fire up its engine with his left hand and simultaneously shift into first gear with his right hand to try to get an early race lead.

Credit Porsche for believing in tradition, but the left-side location forces a right-handed person to reach across the steering wheel with a right hand and then twist a wrist to insert the ignition key.

On the plus side, the outside power mirrors are large and fold flat against front side glass for driving in tight off-road situations—or for protecting the mirrors in crowded parking lots. Replacing one of those banged-up mirrors is no cheap fix.

Desirable Obstacle Detection System
The Cayenne should have the front-rear obstacle detection system because high front fenders obstruct visibility, as does a narrow back window. The system is standard on the $88,900 Turbo version and costs $990 for the base $55,900 S.

Two thick, nicely styled grab handles flank the shift lever and help getting in and out of the moderately high Cayenne, which has easily grasped large outside door handles.

However, all controls aren't easy to figure out at a glance, so Cayenne buyers should spend some time with the owner's manual.

Roomy
There's good room for four tall adults. Five such persons can fit for short trips, but the center of the rear seat is too stiff for longer journeys.

A large tailgate with a low opening allows easy access to the spacious cargo area, which can be made roomier by flipping the rear seat forward. However, as with the Touareg, moving the back seat bottom forward calls for pulling a strap—and then yanking up the front of the seat bottom—an awkward maneuver—before pulling it forward.

With most other sport-utes with a flip-forward reat seat, you just pull a release lever or strap and immediately move the seat bottom forward. Why this complication for the Cayenne (and Touareg)?

Another annoyance: Slipping objects through the open tailgate window into the cargo area can be trying because it calls for an awkward reach.

No Standard Spare Tire
Yet another gripe: There's no standard spare tire, as if the Cayenne were a cheap car (like the Allstate auto) from the early 1950s Sears catalog. Instead, a tire sealant and inflation pump is standard, and an outside mounted spare is optional for $1,800 to $2,300, depending on the tire size.

The Cayenne comes with standard, plenty large 18-inch tires, but 19- and 20-inch tires are optional for sharper handling. I'd go for the 20-inchers on the Turbo to better help put all its power on the road. I'd also definitely opt for the outside spare. On the other hand, the 18-inchers absorb bumps better because of their higher sidewalls.

Porsche buyers generally are affluent, but the automaker predicts that most Cayenne buyers will choose the well-equipped base S version, which has a 340-horsepower V8.

Planet's Fastest Sport-Ute
The Turbo version has a twin-turbocharged 450-horsepower version of the 4.5-liter V8, and that makes it the fastest sport-utility vehicle on the planet. It can hit 60 mph in about 5 seconds.

However, the Cayenne S certainly isn't slow. It can reach 60 mph in about 7 seconds. The S tops out at 150 mph, while the Turbo can do 165 mph.

Linear Acceleration Needed
However, the Turbo needs acceleration that is more linear. For instance, my test Cayenne Turbo moved more quickly than expected during acceleration from a standing start. And, once moving, it sometimes called for more-than-expected throttle application to really take off.

Both versions of the V8 are hooked to a responsive 6-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually with the console shifter or steering-wheel thumb switches. Just don't expect Lexus-style shifting because the transmission is designed more for ultimate performance than smoothness.

Fuel economy is about what one might expect from a powerful sport-utility that weighs from 4,949 to 5,192 pounds: an estimated 14 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway for the 340-horsepower version, and 13 mpg and 18 for the turbocharged version.

Good Off-Road Abilities
The Cayenne has formidable off-road abilities, which may be surprising because it's doubtful that many Cayenne owners will engage in rough off-road driving with their shiny, expensive vehicle. Porsche figures that "less than 5 percent" will do such driving.

On the other hand, Porsche said it didn't want to make a sport-utility vehicle that performed admirably on the road but was outdone by competitors during off-road use.

Consequently, the Cayenne has such features as low-range gearing, locking center differential and a self-leveling air suspension with six driver-adjustable heights—and nearly 11 inches of ground clearance for tackling rough terrain. That suspension is standard on the Turbo and a $3,200 option for the S.

Sophisticated anti-skid and traction-control systems help give the Cayenne excellent on-road abilities. Steering is quick, with decent road feel, and the turning circle is fairly tight.

Different Suspension Settings
The supple suspension provides a ride that's firm but generally comfortable in the "Comfort" and "Normal" settings. However, the "Sports" setting firms things up a lot and is more for aggressive driving than comfort.

The brake pedal is rather soft, but has a linear action and controls large anti-lock brakes that deliver short stops.

Safety Items
Among safety features are front side air bags and curtain air bags for head protection of front and rear occupants.

Some Cayenne drivers have gotten carried away and proclaimed that it's "just like a sports car." No way. Not something this big, high and heavy. However, the Cayenne does set some new standards for high-performance sport-utility vehicles.

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BB05 - 4/18/2014 8:56:24 AM