Porsche Cayenne: Hot Pepper

Prominent Porsche advertisements tout the new Porsche Cayenne as “The next Porsche.” With our record as long time Porsche enthusiasts we were more than anxious to get our hands on the new Cayenne – we wanted to put some miles under its tires, live the spirit that is Porsche and spend some quality time with the freshly engineered sport ute.

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Until just a few days ago, the Roadfly staff hadn’t had a chance to drive the Cayenne, and since we don’t like to take advantage of our friends at the local Porsche dealership for press loaners we were content to keep waiting on Porsche to deliver a test vehicle.

But as luck would have it, the timing was right for us to finally take one for a brief test drive. A close company friend happened to buy one, and knowing that our publisher is in the market for a new SUV, he graciously shared his new Porsche Cayenne S with us for a few days. We had the opportunity to test it for the Magazine, albeit for only a brief period of time – any seat-time is better than no seat-time.

Our test beast was the “milder Pepper,” as it featured the less spicy 340-horsepower version of the Porsche 4.5L V8 power plant. It rode on 18″ wheels and was nicely optioned with items like a CD changer, sunroof, keyless entry, heated seats and a few extra goodies that sent the sticker price just north of $70,000. For comparison, you could take your pick of a nicely optioned Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG, a Lexus LX470, a BMW X5 4.6is, an Infiniti FX45, or even a lightly optioned Land Rover Range Rover.

Driving the Cayenne is definitely an experience – everyone should take a test drive, just to experience firsthand how perverse it feels to push around nearly 3 tons of sheet metal on a short-wheel-based, unit-body platform. Make no mistakes – it rides really well, but you’re constantly aware of the Cayenne’s heft, especially when braking hard or trying to pitch it into a corner. Visions of the cartoonishly large, big-wheeled bikes from the early 1900s come to mind – the Cayenne gave the feeling of being a bit top heavy.

We know, we know. Just like everyone else who tries to justify the Cayenne’s existence, you’re saying “It’s not a sports car just because it wears a Porsche crest.” We realize Porsche is trying to sell extreme off-road capabilities with the Cayenne and not extreme track capabilities, but nevertheless it just feels too darn heavy. It’s also hard to dismiss the perception of “sporty” when you’re staring at the Porsche crest on the steering wheel.

Power from the mild-sauce version of the hot Pepper is “sufficient,” but we have a feeling that were we to have driven the vehicle for more than a few days we’d have been itching for more power. The engine feels strong, but that little voice in the back of our heads kept saying, “more power, more power.”

Perhaps the most shocking result of our test drive was that the 5,600 pounds of metal appeared to overwhelm the struts. When we tossed the Cayenne into a tight, slalom-like, stretch of road, the right front wheel hit a ripple in the pavement. Upon rebound, it began to bounce as though we had over heated the front strut. We’re not exactly sure what happened, but scheduling prevented us from trying to recreate the event. Our gracious owner has since noted that he hasn’t been able to reproduce the scenario while driving his Cayenne.

Slowing the Cayenne is relatively uneventful, but we’d be afraid of the brakes fading if asked to stop hard more than a few times in a row. We didn’t have a chance to attach our performance test gear but the Cayenne S felt like it was lacking in stopping power as well. Was what we felt accurate? Brakes are a pretty important factor to both Porsche enthusiasts and soccer moms alike. A quick search through the Roadfly archives reveals that the Lexus LX470 appears to stop 10 feet quicker from 60 MPH. Regardless of the stats and figures, our mantra quickly became, “Don’t try to stop and turn this puppy at the same time.”

Inside, we found the Cayenne to be fairly quiet, with just a hint of road noise finding its way into the cabin. Controls for everything from the turn signals to the climate control were positioned within easy reach, and after becoming familiar with the dash board’s geography, everything felt normal and “in place.” The leather seats were nicely upholstered, as was the steering wheel. The Cayenne doesn’t have much cargo room but none of the smaller sport utes do so we can’t fault it there.

The view through the Pepper’s windshield is decent, but Editor-In-Chief Steve Litscher and Publisher Charlie Romero both commented that they felt a little “boxed in.” Both are over 6’2″ so the rake of the windshield meant that they were often looking through the tinted portion of the Cayenne’s windshield – again, it wasn’t a severe inconvenience, but it was becoming more and more obvious that the ergonomics of the Cayenne were designed with the female sex in mind.

Litscher’s log book notes, “This would be a great fit for my wife,” while Romero notes, “I found myself with my head leaning to the right. Body position is as uncomfortable as a Grand Cherokee.”

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Now for the final taste test – would any of our staff buy one of these? Both Romero and Litscher say “maybe.” Excerpts from Romero’s test log include, “I’m leaning towards the Lexus LX470. The Lexus V8 doesn’t have as much power as the Cayenne but then again I won’t have people pulling up next to me asking to race. That said, if I were to buy the Cayenne I would be more likely buy the Turbo because my Porsche SUV would have to have power and the Cayenne S just doesn’t have enough. One final note is the safety factor. It will be a while before we know how the Cayenne fares in accident and crash test reports, but the German manufacturers usually fare pretty well. I look forward to the test reports.” Romero then goes on to say “As someone who receives dozens of emails a week from folks looking for purchasing advice I still can’t recommend the Cayenne. For now at least, I’ll continue to recommend the Lexus and Mercedes.”

Cayenne seems to be confused. It doesn’t really excel at any one thing, and it seems to flounder-about when asked to do a little more than it’s capable of. I said it before, and I’ll say it again – this thing was designed from the ground up to sustain Porsche’s independence. Not that that’s a bad thing, but trying to be all things to all people results in an identity crisis. If I’m shelling out 70-large, I want something that’s going to keep my interest for more than a few weeks.”

Executive Editor Alan Riley writes, “I liked the Cayenne, but prefer the aggressive look and feel of BMW’s X5 4.6is. The jury is still out on whether Porsche will better BMW’s reliability record with the X5. In the Cayenne’s favor, dealers appear to be willing in most parts of the country to aggressively discount Porsche’s new SUV. Part of that willingness may be due to their large inventory – a dealer local to me appears to have at least 50 new Cayennes on hand.”

Ultimately, we need more time with the Cayenne to really get a good feel for it and perhaps the Turbo would have left us with a better feeling. Regardless of the powertrain, manufacturers learned a long time ago that a performance name alone will not sell SUVs, just ask Lamborghini. In the overcrowded sport utility market it takes more than a namesake to establish credibility. Unlike the luxury sports car market, sport utility vehicles are sold on features and price first and the badge second.

Porsche, Road Tests

Written by Roadfly Charlie

Charlie is Roadfly’s founder and publisher, and was taught to drive by his father in a 1974 Porsche 914. That made poor Charlie a Porsche fanboy for life, and after driving a 911SC at 16, he bought and campaigned a variety of 944s at racetracks up and down the East Coast, earning awards and track records in his twenties. Charlie never really got over the car bug, and after a career in real estate development he founded the Internet media firm that became Roadfly. Charlie lives in McLean, VA with his wife and two daughters, and between the demands of family and business doesn’t have much time to play with cars anymore, excluding the machinery we review.

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