2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Michael La Fave

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Dubai, United Arab Emirates – There couldn’t have been a more fitting place to drive the new Cayenne Turbo S than Dubai. The Cayenne is ideally, perhaps uniquely, suited to sybaritic sheiks and their tendencies toward high-speed hooliganism and off-road excursions. In this environment – sand dunes and superhighways – the Cayenne has a blank canvas to paint its divergent attributes and stake its claim as the most capable vehicle in the world.

There’s also oil in Dubai, and as you would expect of a three tonne, 520-hp SUV, the Cayenne Turbo S can be induced to imbibe gratuitously at the pump. Of course, such indulgence in ‘Go’ juice won’t last forever. The Sierra Club concedes that there’s probably at least another 100 years of oil left in the whole planet, but Dubai is on track to be sucked dry by 2010.

Dubai offers an odd combination of untamed desert and 21st century mod cons – it’s very much like a Las Vegas, a place that should never have come into existence but thrives in the face of geographic adversity.

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Click image to enlarge

Within this peculiar land you can ski indoors, scarf down a slice from Papa John’s, sip a mocha-latte-fattychino, or die from exposure in the desert. Coincidentally, the Cayenne Turbo S has multiple, seemingly polar opposite, personalities.

On the one hand this is obviously not a sports car – but neither is it a truck. Porsche-like styling cues in the front fenders, headlights and taillights maintain its lineage, yet no one is going to mistake it for the curvaceously feminine 911. You won’t mistake one for the other when driving them either. This isn’t a criticism but a characterization – the Cayenne is a Porsche but a Porsche SUV.

There are elements of the Cayenne’s driving dynamics, however, that do recall the 911; the firm ride, the light, precise and lively steering, the astonishing brakes and, especially in the case of the Cayenne Turbo S, scorched-earth acceleration.

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Click image to enlarge

The difference is that in the Cayenne there’s a layer of isolation from its responses – which you would want in a family vehicle – and yet it is far more engaging to drive than any other SUV on the road.

In order to drive this point home, Porsche set us loose in the dunes of a Dubai natural preserve. Yes, you read that right. Power is everything in dune driving – at times you need lots, yet most of the time finesse will win the day. Gentle steering and throttle inputs will keep you gliding along the surface like a hippo walking on water – no need to worry too much about the fact that you aren’t going exactly where you want – there’s really nothing to hit although the soft sand turns crushingly hard if you crest a dune at wrong angle. Don’t use the brakes to stop – you will burry the car up to its axles – just lift off the throttle and the sand will drag you to a stop right quick and in a hurry. Quick sand I suppose.

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Click image to enlarge

Our images are deceiving – don’t let them fool you, there really weren’t many camels wandering about the desert. The shots are of a camel farm, which didn’t seem to have any human minders or even a fence so I’m not exactly sure why they stayed. I guess because Camel meat isn’t the delicacy we were lead to believe. The distinct lack of living things in the desert means that you are more likely to hit a migrant worker than a camel. Large camps in the desert house tens of thousands of labourers who are bussed into Dubai early in the morning and set to work on the massive construction projects that will define this city in the future.

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Click image to enlarge

It was a stark contrast to the land of lawlessness I expected. Speed limit signs, speed cameras, police cars and, obviously, zero tolerance for drinking and driving. The ruling sheik, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, having just recently succeeded his brother Sheik Maktoum, will have only to continue his brother’s seemingly effective strategy to eliminate the dependence of Dubai’s economy on oil. With only 6% of Dubai’s GDP coming from oil, Dubai’s real goal is to serve as a gateway to the middle and Far East for Europe. Think about it – if you are a western corporation and you want to expand, you probably have to enter India real soon. Where better to base your operations than in a western-culture tolerant tax haven?

Of course, not all is roses and sunshine. Dubai’s infrastructure is a complete disaster – it took us 2 hours to cover 10 kilometres in the middle of the day. Ten lane highways divide massive rows of high-rises – how did the journalist cross the road? He didn’t. The newer developments are grouped into self-contained ‘cities’ – probably ensuring you never have to venture far from home/work.

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Click image to enlarge

The only part of the city that even approaches being ‘cultural’ in any way is the third-world-inspired ‘old town’ the highlight of which is a souk (market) of incredibly tacky gold. Oh, there’s also the fish market, which actually had some pretty good-looking stuff, but it was too cold to poach anything on the pavement and we didn’t have a hibachi. We didn’t go into the chicken market.

Much of what Dubai offers to prospective expats is based on size. The biggest mall (when it gets built), biggest airport (when its done), the tallest building in the world (the 800-metre Burj Tower) someday. It’s the promise of the biggest this and the tallest that – an attractive proposition to 12-year olds and millions of non-patriated workers alike – but really, come on.

Critics could, of course, accuse the Cayenne Turbo S of the same sort of one-upmanship but in the case of the Porsche at least, they would be missing the point. The Turbo S is about refining a product to its maximum potential and squeezing the engineering maximum from its metal, rubber and plastic.

Back out in the sticks, speed cameras lined the roads but we had it on good authority that they weren’t wired-up to anything yet so we had a chance to stretch the Cayenne’s legs a bit. Top speed is 270 km/h and we saw 250 at one point on a deserted two-lane road. My co-driver and I were awestruck by how effortlessly the Turbo S can accelerate past 200 km/h – initial acceleration from a stop sees 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds! Not long ago this quickness and these speeds were reserved for the likes of supercars, not five-passenger off-road battle-wagons. The Cayenne is stable, tracks straight, and has braking capability to spare. I’m reluctant to suggest it, but the damn thing can probably handle even more power. And then there’s the sound: unlike any V8 I’ve ever heard. The Cayenne Turbo S sounds more like a Fokker bearing down on you with its wing canons firing free. Brrrrrrrrrrrrappppppp!!!!!!

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Click image to enlarge

Where the Porsche breeding really comes through is when you eclipse whatever traction might be available – virtually none in the sand and incredible amounts on asphalt. In either case the Cayenne prefers to understeer, however 520 hp has a way of correcting that as we found out on one of Dubai’s highway-punctuating 400-foot-diameter roundabouts. Our videographer looks good with a grey streak.

In one very important way, however, the Cayenne turbo S is drastically different from Dubai: it’s finished. Unlike this land of construction cranes, broken roads, sales centres and dreams, the Cayenne Turbo S is a thoroughly resolved product. The little changes and rather significant price increase round out what was already the most capable vehicle in the world. What else is there that can hang with a Carrera on a racetrack and a camel in the desert? The Cayenne Turbo S delivers the auditory and sensory pleasure of a Porsche sports car while retaining true five-passenger comfort and peerless off-road capability.

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Click image to enlarge

Don’t let the $157,000 base price fool you into thinking Porsche is cutting some kind of fully-loaded deal. Porsche’s are about custom tailoring and the Cayenne turbo S has an option list that can clean and jerk $200K. On top of the mesmerizing list of standard features are neat options like the all-glass roof with its massive opening panel and a SIM-card slot that turns the Nav system into the world’s first and only three-tonne, 520-hp cell phone.

The best bit is that if there is something you want that’s not on the arm-length option list they will quote you a price and custom fabricate it as long as it complies with the laws of the market you live in. Not much of an obstacle if you are the sheik and make the laws I’d say.


Manufacturer’s web site

Connect with Autos.ca