LOS ANGELES, CA – Unless you were one of the dozen lucky “big-named” journalists to be invited by Porsche to attend the official Cayenne driving session in Spain earlier this year, you haven’t had a chance to view the eagerly anticipated Porsche Cayenne, firsthand.
Well, all of that changed on January 3, 2003 at 12:35pm PST, when Porsche Cars North America CEO Fred Schwab presented the 2003 Porsche Cayenne to a packed house at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. The Porsche “show room” was literally packed to the rafters with journalists from around the world, all hoping to catch a first glimpse of the Cayenne.
We arrived early – doors to the Cayenne room were supposed to open at around noon, so we made sure to stake our place in line early. Promptness paid off, as we scored a pair of front row seats, just a few feet away from the silver-cover clad vehicles. The room was dark, with contemporary music playing at a moderate level, and high-tech lighting was highlighting various displays from around the room in various hues and colors. The pre-show environment was not unlike that of a rock concert – it was obvious that everyone was excited to be a guest of Porsche’s and they could hardly wait to see the Cayenne in person.
Within ten minutes of the doors opening, the room was filled with hundreds of people. There were camera “risers” in the back of the room, and they were completely filled with videographers, gear and crew. A lone podium at the front of the room, adorned with a Porsche logo stood next to two cloaked vehicles, while two more cloaked vehicles flanked the left side and rear of the room, respectively.
I noticed that many of the journalists around me were speaking in foreign languages, many with heavy European accents – this really was the world premiere for the Porsche Cayenne. Jackie Stewart (of Formula One fame) walked past us while we were waiting for the show to start.
At about 12:35pm PST, the lighting dimmed and the background music swelled. A large projector screen that was positioned just behind the pair of covered vehicles flickered to life with images of a Porsche Cayenne making its way through belt-deep water. The show had started.
The video played for about two minutes – it was packed with footage of the Cayenne traversing very diverse environments from around the world, including snow, ice, desert water and racetrack terrain. The video was so captivating that I didn’t notice Porsche North America CEO Fred Schwab making his way to the podium; as the video ended, Mr. Schwab proclaimed, “The obvious question asked by so many since we announced we would build the Cayenne was… why?”
He proceeded to answer the question by stating there was little question that the concept of the Sport Utility Vehicle is here to stay and that it represents the fastest growing segment of the automotive market. He called the Cayenne a “conquest vehicle” that was undoubtedly the most technologically advanced vehicle while remaining driver friendly and fun. He touted the Cayenne’s safety features, and made mention that most Porsche owners own SUV’s (or are in the market for a SUV). He resolved the ‘why’ question with perhaps the most telling fact – the SUV market delivers a steady and predictable demand curve, which translates to increased stability for Porsche and Porsche dealers alike. Perhaps even more curious was that he made mention that the Cayenne would allow Porsche to remain “independent” – we can only speculate as to what that may have meant.
Schwab spoke for about 10 minutes, covering topics like dealer involvement (voluntary facility upgrades, improvements and their dedicated commitment to building the Porsche brand) and technical specs. Part of his presentation included “before and after” photos of select Porsche dealerships – the “transformed dealership” drew a round of laughter from the audience…the before picture of this particular Porsche dealership bore a strange resemblance to the old A-framed IHOP’s. Without looking at the screen, Schwab commented, “I know what you’re looking at,” and chuckled out loud.
The music began to crescendo and Mr. Schwab paused for just a moment as a second Porsche representative approached one of the covered vehicles. And with one swoop, we were presented with the Cayenne S.
The Porsche Cayenne S appeared from the cover – it was Lapis Blue with brushed aluminum accents – an interesting color combination. It was also sitting quite high; Porsche had obviously raised the suspension to demonstrate the possible ride heights between the different suspension “modes”.
Next to be uncovered was a stunning Turbo model, which according to Schwab will reach 62 miles per hour in just over 5 seconds. It was clad in a pearl white, and looked great – the large air scoops in the nose coupled with the gorgeous turbo wheels were quite impressive. I also admired the overall appearance of the vehicle – while it’s true that the Cayenne is not what purists would consider a “typical Porsche,” it is quite pleasing to look at in person.
Mr. Schwab continued to share the impressive performance and technical specifications about both models, and concluded his speech with this powerful statement. “Suffice to say, the Cayenne is pure Porsche. It looks like a Porsche, it accelerates like a Porsche, it brakes like a Porsche, it drives like a Porsche, it feels like a Porsche and it even sounds like a Porsche.”
The press was then invited to ask questions before heading off to enjoy a spectacular luncheon, compliments of Porsche Cars North America.
Pictures do not do the Cayenne justice. Once you have the chance to see it, touch it and sit in it, you quickly find yourself admiring the Cayenne. The fit and finish was typical Porsche – very precise, and of very high quality. While sitting in the Cayenne, you quickly forget you’re sitting in a SUV; it feels very much like a sports car. Control placement was spot on, and there were so many nice “touches” that we could never begin to mention even a small portion of them.
The seats felt very supportive and comfortable, and the leather was supple without being “grabby” or “too soft”. Compared to other SUV’s, front leg room was adequate – I’m 6’4″ and felt very comfortable in the front seats. Rear seating was adequate by adult standards (more room than an H2), but might get a little tight on long trips. The models that we sat in featured rear seat heaters and rear climate controls, as well as a two-piece armrest and ski pass through bag.
We crawled under the Cayenne and were immediately impressed by the “guts” – skid plates were strategically placed, and everything that wasn’t protected by a shield was tucked safely up near the body. One thing that became immediately evident was the exhaust system – the dual twin-tipped exhausts on the turbo model are substantial! They are very large and have an almost “cast” appearance to them.
Fit and finish was top notch – panel gaps and alignment were exact, and the interior pieces had a good feel to them, despite being a bit more “plastic” than some other Porsche models. Make no mistake – the Cayenne isn’t like any other Porsche, but it is a Porsche in every sense of the word.
We spent several hours fiddling with the various models that were on display; moving seats around, flipping compartments open and closed, twisting and pushing knobs and buttons – nothing seemed to be “out of place” or “insufficient.” We were incredibly impressed with the Cayenne, and by the end of the day, we were talking about how great it would be to own one.
Porsche appears to have thought of everything while designing and refining the Cayenne, and has put the “sport into sport-utility” with absolute authority. We can’t wait to get one out on the road – from what we’ve now seen, we’re certain Porsche is going to enjoy watching a lot of the early critics choke on the words that they initially penned – the Cayenne is innovative, impressive and represents the mark that future SUV’s will aspire to reach.