For as long as I can remember, I have loved Porsches. Not in the way I loved cotton candy as a kid,
but in the way I loved my beachscape Cindy Crawford poster as a teen. I fully admit I may have been
hard-wired to feel this way; in spite of living in the heart of the Midwest, my father (at one point or another), drove a 914, 911 S, 911SC and Targa. He taught me all about the Porsche “difference” and respect for the car. Early on I could recognize the Porsche sound to the point where I always knew one was just around the corner.
I distinctly remember the day my father asked me to come along for my first test-drive. Our mission was to assess the Porsche-ness of a 928 (what was that water-cooled V8 doing in front?). Fast forward to today, and I have had the lucky pleasure of test-driving a colossal number of cars from many marques. I have driven a version of every Porsche including 924/44, 914, 911 (including Cup cars), and even the “Prom Queen” Carrera GT. The last one left for me to try was the Cayenne; it was time to assess its Porsche-ness.
While I am definitely not a part of the group of Porschephiles who despise the Cayenne and consider it an abomination among the marque, I can honestly say I did not ever really think I would have much interest in Porsche’s über-successful SUV. If I wanted a daily driver here in Michigan (and money was no object), I would probably get a Carrera 4S or Turbo. For a track tool the choice would be a GT3 or Cayman S, and to drive to the Tennis Club on balmy summer days a Boxster. What would I use a Cayenne for – a tow vehicle? Just what are Cayennes for?
Enter the Porsche Cayenne
Last November I attended the ‘09 997 debut party hosted by Howard Cooper Porsche* and reviewed the new Carrera here. While the masses longingly eyed the 997s on display, I wandered over to a lone Cayenne GTS in the showroom. I suddenly remembered watching Patrick Long drive one at Laguna Seca on SpeedTV and recalled thinking it must be quite formidable.
The Cayenne I was looking at was loaded with options, including BiXenon headlights (and headlight washers), Tiptronic S transmission and heated front and rear seats. It had a $1,190 moonroof but if your head and wallet so desire you can get a stunning $3,880 Panoramic roof system. All together, the Cayenne GTS had a price tag of just under $90K.
What exactly do you get for nearly six figures? Well, 51 lbs shy of 5000, the Cayenne still sprints to 60 in 6 seconds thanks to 369 lb. ft. of torque at 3500 rpm. If you prefer to stir your coffee manually, you can get the 405 ponies to 60 in even less time -- about 5.7 seconds. Thankfully the fuel tank has a respectable capacity of 26.4 gallons, and we averaged about 13 mpg during our test drive (and, Porsche says, up to 18 mpg during highway use). Porsche, always known for their brakes, left me in awe with the gigantic 6-piston calipers in the front and 4-piston calipers in the rear. As if that weren’t enough, the Cayenne’s air suspension is adjustable, giving you a clearance range of over 3.5 inches (up to almost 10”). The Cayenne is Porsche’s best seller world-wide; Eric tells us 1,500-3,000 people worldwide purchase one each month, with most vehicles going to the U.S.
In the showroom, the tone was set as soon as I looked inside—it looked incredible! The interior is very stylish and luxe, combining black alcantara and leather with sporty aluminum. I did what I usually do when exploring a four-door car: I head straight for the back seat. When I am forced to ride in the back seat, I hate not seeing what is going on in front of me, but the Cayenne offers great visibility for passengers from its deluxe, bucket-like seats. There is also plenty of head room back there for a six-foot guy like me, and serious comfort. In fact, the Cayenne’s rear seats are better than most cars’ front seats!
I explored the vehicle’s interior a little further and found myself trying to justify a Cayenne purchase. I hadn’t even driven it, but … did I need a Cayenne to tow something? Run errands?
When the test-drive day came, Michigan and Mother Nature were all-to-happy to provide us with the perfect day: partly cloudy, 18-degrees and a couple of icy patches. Outside the showroom, the Cayenne GTS was idling with a gentle growl from the 4.8L V8. After having been behind the wheel of many flat-sixes, I was very excited to test a Porsche V8.
I slipped into the driver’s seat and got comfortable. As I drove on to State St. my hands began to feel warm and I realized the steering wheel was unexpectedly heated. Apparently Porsche includes a heated steering wheel for the same price of heated seats, and everyone knows you do not turn down a free option from Porsche! Conveniently, the steering wheel warmer switches off once the wheel is at a comfy temperature.
I began the drive by exploring the Cayenne’s suspension. Selecting the comfort setting, we set off in search of bumpy roads (an easy task here in Michigan). In automatic mode, I noticed the linear pull of the V8 engine, which makes 295 lb.ft. at 1500 rpm, and the transmission downshifting as I approached stop lights. The Cayenne’s Tiptronic is far smoother than previous automatic transmissions. The ride was smooth, with minimal body roll and excellent steering feel/feedback. I could see myself filling the Cayenne with 2 couples for a nice dinner and show and enjoying the spirited ride. Two kids and a dog would work just as well, although perhaps not with the Alcantara interior…
To better assess just how well the Cayenne GTS handles, I turned to my “secret handling section” of road near the dealership and put her to the test. Minivans and Toyotas were soon squirming out of the way as I pushed the Cayenne to perform.
I spent the next hour exploring the different suspension settings, ride heights and transmission configurations, testing the handling on different roads. One final pass through the “secret handling section” in sport mode (transmission on manual) was pure enjoyment: eyes up, zen mode and gentle squeezing of the throttle through the corner, then gently off the throttle to balance the car. As the Cayenne’s engine growled and the tires did more and more talking (singing, really) I got through the course even more confidently than before and over 10 mph faster. At no point did the ride remind me I was in a sport utility vehicle, and I mean that as a huge compliment.
I only have one complaint. When traveling and cornering at faster speeds—at those times when looking far, far ahead is crucial—the Cayenne’s A-pillar is in the way. But that’s it! Even with the ‘wrong’ tires for winter and seemingly wrong (21”) wheels for our pothole state, nothing got between the Cayenne GTS and me. I was completely caught off-guard by just how much I enjoyed this test drive. I kept looking for reasons not to like the Cayenne. While the $80,000+ price tag is certainly a deterrent, the looks certainly are not (would you rather have an X5 or Range Rover?).
Not many SUVs manage to be comfortable yet inspiring to drive at the same time. I know I would enjoy the Cayenne GTS every time I drove it, whether for work or pleasure. The Porsche core, plus the comfort of four awesome, heated seats and other luxurious features is magical. I admit it, I loved it. I am going to need a really big garage!
*Special thanks to Eric Gedeon of Howard Cooper Porsche
Today's post is written by Christian M. Maloof. Christian is Track Chairman and Chief Instructor for Porsche Club of America’s Rally Sport Region. He holds instructor certificates and race licenses from the MidOhio School and Skip Barber. He races a Porsche 993 3.8 RS in the German Touring Car Series (GTS) division with NASA. He may be reached at christian at christianmaloof dot com or by visiting christianmaloof.com