What initials spring to mind when you think Porsche? MPH? RPM? Sure. SUV? Not so much. But the German sports car maker rolled out the Cayenne in 2002, and we're sure it had these initials in mind: USA, as in the land of SUV sales. Maybe the Cayenne's success is what prompted Porsche to recently introduce a sedan, the Panamera.
Appearance: In profile, the Cayenne is all clean lines, with big wheel wells. In the front is where it gets interesting. The Cayenne has a love-it-or-leave-it snout with a gaping grille opening flanked by vents and topped by large, arched headlights. From the rear, the Cayenne has a squat stance that recalls some of its siblings.
Performance: The S version I tested is in the mid range (!) of Cayenne performance. Still, the 4.8-liter V-8 pumps out 385 horsepower. The acceleration is instantaneous, but doesn't throw you back in the seat. Still, for a vehicle that weighs almost 5,000 pounds, that's impressive for a non-turbo. For an SUV with decent ground clearance (and let's face it, who is going to take this off-road? I didn't), it has little body lean, handles like a sedan and has a smooth highway ride. It must be the weight — and the all-wheel drive — that keep the Cayenne planted. The six-speed Tiptronic S transmission shifts smoothly, as one would expect from its sports-car lineage. The steering is responsive, yet I found it on the light side. The brakes are up to the challenge of stopping a large performance vehicle.
Interior: The leather cockpit is typical Porsche, meaning fit and finish are first-rate. The five-gauge dash is attractive. The seats are comfortable and well-bolstered. The center console and nav screen are attractive, if not a little heavy on the buttons and toggles. On either side of the transmission console are handles — a sign that Porsche thinks drivers will need something to grab? The automatic rear lift gate is nice, but shorter drivers might find the button a reach. The folding rear seat is comfortable, if not roomy.
Performance: If you can afford a sports car, but your spouse won't let you buy one, then . . .
Cockpit: Leather interiors never get old, and Porsche does it as well as anyone this side of Mercedes.
Handling: It's not a sports car, but it outperforms most SUVs. And it can do some light off-roading — let's see the 911 do that!
Note: Sorry, folks, Lyra was out with the flu and couldn't review this car.
The bottom line: The Cayenne is more about the Sport in SUV than the Utility. If you want performance, room for five, the Porsche cachet (along with its high price tag and not-so-miserly mpg), then the Cayenne is worth considering.