by Greg Wilson

I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be writing about a Porsche sport utility vehicle. It was painful enough when Mercedes-Benz and BMW introduced their SUV’s, a move that both companies avoided until it became obvious that they were missing out on a large, profitable market segment. As luxury automakers, perhaps they can be forgiven for diversifying their product line – but specialty sports car makers are another story. Small automakers like Porsche, Lotus, Morgan, Ferrari, and Maserati have a long history of specializing in sports cars or at least performance cars. The appeal of these cars is largely based on the companys’ dedication to sports cars – an SUV in the lineup is bound to dilute the marques’ traditional exclusivity.

It doesn’t help that the Cayenne will share its platform and some of its components with the new VW sport-utility vehicle, the Touareg (though the Cayenne will be built in an exclusive new Porsche factory in Leipzig). The last Porsche/VW vehicle, the mid-engine Porsche 914, wasn’t exactly a howling success.

Preview: 2003 Porsche Cayenne car previews
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Still, if the success of the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML is any indication, the high-performance Cayenne is going to sell well. Due to be in dealer showrooms this Fall, the 2003 Porsche Cayenne will “deliver outstanding on-pavement performance and very good off-pavement characteristics,” and “take the Porsche experience to a new level,” says Porsche.

Porsche’s extensive experience with rallying and its all-wheel-drive rally cars is one means that Porsche is using to connect the Cayenne with Porsche’s heritage.

“Porsche has been at the forefront of all-wheel-drive design,” said Frederick J. Schwab, PCNA president and CEO. “From the Lohner-Porsche in 1900 to the Porsche 959 in 1985, Porsche has been engineering four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles. The Cayenne is a natural for us, and it will put the sport in sport utility vehicles.”

To promote the Cayenne’s arrival, Porsche North America recently launched the Cayenne Crossing Initiative, a multi-year program designed to reclaim America’s paved and unpaved roads. Chaired by actor James Brolin, the program will include a variety of U.S. road restoration and maintenance projects along a route that stretches from coast to coast. Porsche partnered with Treadlightly!, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the San Bernardino National Forest Association and the Porsche Club of America, and restoration efforts will begin this summer in California’s San Bernardino National Forest and Virginia’s George Washington National Forest.

Preview: 2003 Porsche Cayenne car previews
Click image to enlarge

The Cayenne may be capable of treading lightly through the wilderness, but it will also be capable of some extremely fast autobahn driving. It will be offered as a turbocharged model and a normally-aspirated model. The former, the Cayenne Turbo, will be powered by a Porsche-designed 4.5 litre, twin turbocharged V8 engine rated at 450 horsepower and producing 460 lb-ft of torque. The latter, the Cayenne S, will have a normally aspirated, 4.5 litre V8 rated at 340 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Porsche says the Turbo will accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.6 seconds vs. 7.2 seconds for the Cayenne S. In case you’re going camping in the ‘wilderness’, the Cayenne has a surprisingly high towing capacity of 3,500 kilograms (7,716 lbs).

The Turbo model will have a standard six-speed Tiptronic S transmission and both Cayenne versions will have full-time all-wheel drive, an inter-axle differential lock and additional low-range gears for steep trails, and the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system for maintaining steering control on slippery surfaces.

The Cayenne is a fairly big vehicle: the overall length of the Turbo version is 4786 mm (188.43 inches), vs. 4782 mm (188.27 inches) for the Cayenne S. The Turbo and S are 1927 mm (75.9 inches) wide and 1699 mm (66.9 inches) tall, with a wheelbase of 2855 mm (112.4 inches). The Turbo model can be distinguished from the S by its additional front air inlets, power domes on the hood, and four exhaust tailpipes.

Preview: 2003 Porsche Cayenne car previews
Click image to enlarge

The Cayenne will be produced in a newly constructed factory in Leipzig, Germany which will be part of a production network comprising the main Porsche factory in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen (Germany) and Volkswagen plants in Bratislava (Slovakia), Braunschweig (Germany) and Hanover/Wolfsburg (Germany). Sheet metal pressings for the new sport utility vehicle will come from Hanover or Wolfsburg, axle and suspension components from Braunschweig, and the body shell will be built in Bratislava. The heart of the SUV, its engine, will be produced in Zuffenhausen, where engines are currently produced for all other Porsche models. Porsche estimates it will produce approximately 25,000 Cayennes during the first full year of production, 70 percent of which will be for export.

Whether the Cayenne will appeal to the traditional Porsche sports car buyer remains to be seen more likely, it will bring a whole new generation of SUV buyers into the Porsche stable. That will be great for Porsche’s bottom line but it will forever change the image and definition of the word “Porsche”.

If you don’t mind giving away some personal information, you can find out more about the Cayenne including some interesting background information at www.porschecayenne.com.

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Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor of CanadianDriver

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