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Story and photos by Haney Louka
The price of independence
The Porsche SUV is here. And we have to accept that. Given the choice between an independent sports car company that produces SUVs to survive and a company that is swallowed up by a multinational melting pot of corporate bureaucracy, I’ll take the former.
Many people can, and will, chastise Porsche for staining the brand’s image by producing a 5,000-plus-pound vehicle simply to respond to market demands. That’s out of Porsche’s hands. But one thing the Zuffenhausen company could not let happen was open itself up to criticism for producing a bad SUV. And in that, they succeeded admirably.
The Cayenne was designed alongside VW’s new SUV, the Touareg. Sporting a unique style and more power and gadgets than the VW, the Cayenne has its own personality. And price tag.
Cayenne S pricing starts at $78,250, but with a smorgasbord of a la carte options, that price can quickly reach six figures. The 450 horsepower Cayenne Turbo can be had with a base price of $125,100, and is better equipped so the options list is not quite as intimidating. Armed with a slew of options including navigation system, park assist, and adjustable suspension, my test vehicle weighed in at $96,000 and change.
I’ll attempt to scratch the surface of what is the most technologically advanced SUV I’ve ever driven. Let’s start with the engine: a Porsche-designed 90-degree V8 with 32 valves resides under the hood. With VarioCam technology, which can vary intake cam timing as much as 25 degrees, peak power of 320 horsepower is achieved at 6,000 rpm and a 310 lb-ft plateau of torque occurs between 2,500 and 5,500 rpm.
Power is routed to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shift mode. In high-traction conditions, torque is normally split in a 38% front, 62% rear ratio. This torque split is managed by “Porsche Traction Management,” or PTM, which uses an electric multi-plate clutch to send up to 100 per cent of the engine’s power to either axle.
Porsche Stability Management, or PSM, can be considered PTM’s sidekick. It takes information from PTM sensors that measure vehicle speed, lateral acceleration, steering angle, and what the driver ate for breakfast that morning. It can then determine when the vehicle is being driven to its limits and will intervene if necessary. Depending on the severity of the situation, intervention can come in the form of differential control through PTM, activation of ABS, adjusting ignition and throttle, or any combination thereof.
Hauling a 2,500 kilogram vehicle to a stop quickly is no easy feat. That’s why Porsche equipped the Cayenne with massive six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers on internally vented rotors.
Suspension duties are performed by a fully independent setup, and in the case of my tester, a pneumatic air-spring system that can vary ground clearance from 157 to 273 mm. Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) incorporates variable damping that can be controlled via “sport,” “normal,” or “comfort” settings. The system can also be activated automatically if the vehicle’s computer determines from one of its five accelerometers that body motions are too severe given the driving conditions.
There, I think I covered the basics.
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Deciding what a Porsche SUV should look like must have been a daunting task. No Porsche in the past has had the same proportions as the Cayenne. Designers incorporated the familiar headlight styling of Porsche cars – also duplicated on the key fob – with a sleek-for-an-SUV shape. But here’s the rub: I think they could have done a lot better. While the look of the Cayenne grew on me as my time with it went on, I can’t help but think about all of the SUVs that are better looking out there – VW’s less expensive Touareg for one.
The Cayenne’s nose is too tall to have Porsche-like headlights – the rest of the height is used up with bulky looking air intake grilles. The profile is nicely executed – subtle but aggressive shoulders separate the greenhouse from the rest of the car and a tastefully sloped rear profile puts the emphasis more on sport than utility. I especially like the bold use of brushed aluminum trim on the B- and C-pillars. The Cayenne’s rear? A little too generic for $100 large. The oversized dual exhaust pipes do help matters a little, though.
And here’s a first for Porsche: I’m completely smitten with the interior. While Porsche’s other offerings emphasize function over form, the Cayenne challenges the world’s best interiors, at least in terms of appearance and quality. Ergonomics are another matter.
Let’s start with the good stuff: Porsche’s PR folks insist that the Cayenne’s designers went to great lengths to ensure that the interior includes all the styling and characteristics typical of a Porsche. I’m happy to report that not only is the Cayenne’s interior nicer looking than any Porsche I’ve driven, it’s also constructed of higher grade materials with better fit and finish. True to form, though, the ignition lock is located on the left side of the wheel.
The seats are near perfect, as my 800-kilometre highway stint left me feeling like I could go another 800. Primary controls are easily located and shift buttons for the six-speed Tiptronic are ideally positioned on the 9-and-3 spokes of the steering wheel. The use of real metallic trim combined with subtle wood accents and unique texturing of interior plastics exudes class more than any other vehicle bearing the famed Porsche crest.
My beef with the Cayenne’s interior is limited to operation of the vehicle’s secondary controls such as audio, navigation, and trip functions. Beneath the colour display, included as part of the navigation package, resides a row of small buttons. Pushing one of the buttons usually leads to an on-screen menu that one navigates through by rotating the knob on the right side of the display and “clicking” to select. Suffice it to say that one should not learn this system while driving: a good couple of hours sitting in the driveway with the owner’s manual are warranted here.
The Driving Experience
During my drive from Saskatoon to Winnipeg on the scenic Yellowhead Highway, the Cayenne proved to be a comfortable, long-legged cruiser with excellent highway manners and performance worthy of the Porsche name. The Cayenne’s V8 allows it to laugh in the face of such annoyances as rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag.
Flooring the throttle at highway speeds induces a three-gear kickdown in one fluid motion, and the resulting acceleration is completely unexpected for a two-and-a-half ton brute.
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While cruising on the highway, I was able to take in the more subtle attributes that make this family-friendly Porsche unique. Sixth gear allows the engine to loaf along at 2,600 rpm while maintaining a 130 km/h road speed. The Tiptronic mode gives the driver control over gear selection, and executes the desired shifts quickly and crisply – just don’t inadvertently leave it in manual because automatic downshifts just won’t happen.
My preference was to leave it in automatic mode, because it incorporates a neat feature that establishes the best balance between full manual control and intervening when the car’s computer knows better. Need to downshift for a corner or a pass but don’t want to shift the rest of the time? Just operate the wheel-mounted shift buttons while still in automatic mode and the transmission will listen as long as you want it to. When the computer decides you’re no longer interested in being involved with the shiftwork, fully automatic mode takes over again. It’s a great system that works very intuitively. The central information display always shows the current gear, whether the driver selects manual or automatic mode.
When left to its own devices with no driver intervention, the transmission acts as if it is tuned more for fuel economy than performance – upshifts are early and downshifts are leisurely.
Ah yes, fuel economy. During my brisk highway jaunt I experienced an average fuel consumption in the low 13 litres per 100 kilometre range. That’s about right considering the published figures of 17.1 city and 11.7 highway from Transport Canada.
The huge brakes had no problem with repeated stops from highway speed and pedal effort and feel are pretty much exactly what they should be. Body motions, while good for an SUV, are the biggest symptom of driving an SUV and not a sports car.
My only other beef while driving is that the climate control display, right near the bottom of the centre stack, has a reflective finish on it that is frequently unreadable due to glare.
To Sum It Up
The Cayenne is destined to generate strong reactions, especially from the Porsche faithful. For those willing to give the Cayenne a chance, rest assured that its designers did a commendable job of making a Porsche out of an SUV.
The high-end SUV market is very competitive, even in the upper five-figure realm. Here are the Cayenne’s chief competitors:
- BMW X5 4.6is
- Hummer H2
- Infiniti FX45
- Land Rover Range Rover
- Lexus LX 470
- Mercedes-Benz G500
- VW Touareg V8
Technical Data: 2004 Porsche Cayenne S
|Price as tested||$96,000|
|Type||4-door, mid-size SUV|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||4.5 litre V8, DOHC (2), 32 valves, Variocam|
|Horsepower||340 @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque||310 lb-ft @ 2500-5500 rpm|
|Curb weight||2245 kg (4950 lb.)|
|Ground clearance||217 mm (8.5 in.)|
|Towing capacity||3500 kg (7716 lb.)|
|Max. load capacity||3060 kg (6746 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2855 mm (112.4 in.)|
|Length||4782 mm (188.2 in.)|
|Width||1928 mm (75.9 in.)|
|Height||1699 mm (66.9 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||540 litres (19.0 cu. ft.) seat up|
|Fuel consumption||20.9 l/100 km (14 mpg)|
|11.2 l/100 km (25 mpg)|
|Fuel type||Premium unleaded|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|