March 10, 2008
Winnipeg, Manitoba – Like many fans of a certain famed German sports car company, I was one of the countless naysayers who couldn’t believe this was happening: back in 2003, Porsche introduced its first sport-utility vehicle, the Cayenne.
What business did they have building an overweight behemoth with a high centre of gravity? There were surely enough of those on the market at the time, and now there are even more of them. But—and this has happened before—I was wrong. I still don’t think the Cayenne is a particularly good idea on its own, but what it has done for Porsche is allow it to remain an independent car company that has more cash to invest in its sports car programs. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.
And the success of the Cayenne program was confirmed earlier this month with the announcement that the 200,000th SUV rolled "proudly" off the assembly line of Porsche’s Leipzig, Germany manufacturing plant.
The 2008 Cayenne was introduced just about a year ago sporting more aggressive styling and more bees under its bonnet. I’m quite fond of the new face, which is more than I can say about the first-gen model, because it now looks like an aggressive yet sporty truck. That first one looked as though the previous-generation 911’s snout was stretched and distorted to fit the larger Cayenne’s face. It just wasn’t pretty.
So while this truck is instantly recognizable as a Cayenne, for the first time it now has the curb appeal to make it a truly desirable vehicle, if you’re into this sort of thing.
This sort of thing is a 5,200-lb. SUV with a starting price of $115,300. Granted, that’s for the Turbo model, with the base V6 version fetching a much more palatable $55,200. But let’s not waste our time with the Cayenne for the common folk. That entry level version would get humbled by a Toyota RAV4 at the stoplight grand prix. Today we’re testing the cream of the Cayenne crop, the one with a twin turbocharged and intercooled 4.8-litre V8 that produces 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque (up from 450 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque thanks to direct fuel injection).
While the six-figure price may be a little hard to take, Porsche has recognized the strength of the Canadian dollar and dropped the price a full $9,000 as of this calendar year. While a price reduction of that magnitude is always welcome, we’re still looking at a disparity of more than $21,000 compared with the U.S. Cayenne Turbo.
Our tester was fitted with 21-inch sport wheels ($5,800), Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control ($4,890), a $1,660 moonroof (It’s optional? Are you kidding?), and a few other goodies resulting in an as-tested price of $131,700 and change including destination.
Standard equipment on the Turbo befits a vehicle in this class (except for that moonroof thing): adjustable air suspension, airbags galore, navigation system, 14-speaker surround sound audio, swivelling bi-xenon headlights, heat for four seating positions and the steering wheel, park assist, leather dashboard, power liftgate, and the list goes on.
Porsche’s designers didn’t forget that this is a utility vehicle, after all. So the Cayenne, no matter which model you choose, is capable of towing over 7,700 lb. Add to that up to 10.7 inches of available ground clearance with the adjustable suspension and a two-speed transfer case with lockable centre differential and there’s no denying that utility has been given almost as much attention as sport in the new Cayenne.
Ah, sport. In addition to the forced-induction V8, our tester sported six-piston front and four-piston rear brakes, a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, and a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Manual shifting can be accomplished via shift toggles on the wheel or by nudging the shift lever fore and aft while in the manual position. But seriously, with the kind of thrust the engine is capable of, putting the lever in ‘D’ or ‘S’ gave the transmission many gears to choose from and it almost never found itself in the wrong place.
The fuel consumption of this drivetrain in this particular installation is predictably horrendous: the official city rating is 18 L/100 km, but my lead foot in primarily city driving netted closer to 25 L/100 km. Ouch.
One of the neatest, yet disturbing (more in a moment), features of the new Cayenne is the aforementioned Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC). It’s a pricey option, but one well worth trying because it virtually eliminates body roll during hard cornering. I won’t pretend to understand exactly how it works, but Porsche says there are "active" anti-roll bars front and rear that incorporate hydraulic motors which respond to pressure induced when the vehicle enters a corner. That oil pressure caused by the bend in the road then allows the anti-roll bars to counteract the vehicle’s tendency to lean in the corner.
The resulting flat attitude the Cayenne has in the corners is something that needs to be experienced to be appreciated. I’ve never been in a vehicle that’s so high off the ground and manages to stay so flat under lateral loads.
While there’s certainly a palpable improvement in the Porsche’s handling thanks to the PDCC, it does trouble me that there is an artificial leveling going on which makes it feel like the Cayenne is cornering like a sports car. The problem is, it isn’t. It still weighs more than 5,000 lb. and yes, it’s still top-heavy. So what we end up with, then, is an artificial sense of control from the driver’s seat.
Combine that with the surprising lack of feedback I found through the steering wheel and the heated seat of my pants, and the Cayenne becomes a little too disarming for its capability. Let’s just hope those with the wherewithal to obtain a Cayenne Turbo also have the common sense that will be required to keep themselves out of trouble.
That aside, the Cayenne allows driver control of ride quality and throttle response via console-mounted switches. A word to the wise: use the ‘sport’ (firmest) setting only on exceptionally smooth roads. Using ‘sport’ on our typical city roads that have been beat-up by frost heave and movement will in turn beat up the Porsche’s occupants.
The Cayenne is also adept at being a relaxed cruiser. Tip the console switch to ‘comfort’ and bumps are better absorbed in stride but the ride could never be described as floaty.
The simple Germanic font on the gauges, the leather wrapping on the dash, the wonderful exhaust note, and breathtaking power. Such characteristics transcend conventional evaluation criteria. The Cayenne is a blast to be in, a blast to drive, and visually stunning.
Pricing: 2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo
|Price as tested:||$||
Manufacturer’s web site