2003 Porsche Cayenne
This 2004 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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?
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 brake pedal is rather soft, but has a linear action and controls large anti-lock brakes that deliver short stops.
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.