Ritzy Porsche Cayenne SUV is cool, but not hot
German sports-car maker Porsche drew heavy criticism from purists last year when it introduced the brand’s first-ever sport utility vehicle, a close cousin to the Volkswagen Touareg dubbed Cayenne.
But the Cayenne has boosted the Stuttgart, Germany-based company’s fortunes, especially in SUV-crazed North America, where the “off-road” Porsche competes with high-priced machinery such as the Mercedes-Benz G500 and the Range Rover.
We tested a 2004 Cayenne S with a base price of $55,900 and more than $10,000 in options, including leather upholstery and air suspension.
The bottom line: $67,970 — which puts this Porsche out of the reach of all but the most affluent consumers.
HE: I think I’m in the minority of people who not only like the Cayenne, but also think Porsche did a good job in designing an SUV that actually looks like a Porsche. On the other hand, Volkswagen, with the Touareg, did a better job of building an SUV that is not only a demon off-road, but looks and feels like a luxury product that’s also just right for everyday driving chores. For the money, I prefer the Touareg. But if you’ve gotta have a Porsche the Cayenne is not a bad choice.
SHE: Sorry, I can’t warm up to the Cayenne. And I’m even less inclined to fall for it after reading the ludicrous Porsche ads touting the 450-horsepower turbo version of the Cayenne as the perfect vehicle for people who need to get diapers in a hurry. Sounds like the fantasy of an ad writer who has neither children nor brains. The Cayenne is not a good compromise vehicle for a sports car-loving dad and a school-car pooling mom. It’s not a good SUV choice for families. It’s too nice on the interior to handle the ravages of the toddler set and it’s just not flexible enough for growing families — especially with the lack of a third row.
HE: That diaper line was totally tongue-in-cheek, Ms. Serious. The Cayenne isn’t exactly about family transportation. That’ll have to wait for the new four-seater Porsche that’s supposedly in the pipeline. And I’m surprised that you totally missed the real target female audience, what the New York Times called the “affluent oppressed” — those women “with everything and yet not nearly enough.”
SHE: My grandmother would call that particular demographic “spoiled rotten.”
HE: But you have to admit that the Cayenne provides a brawny, feature-laden package with great performance for people with a lot of money who love the Porsche brand, but don’t want to compromise on space or functionality.
SHE: I’ll admit that the cabin of the Cayenne is pretty slick, with shiny metal controls and optional stone/steel leather upholstery. The driver is outfitted with a steering wheel that has push button transmission controls that let you shift manually, in addition to audio controls. The rear-seat passengers are well cared for, with a storage console, cupholders, vents and temperature controls. In the cargo hold, you get power outlets, cargo hooks and a tonneau cover to hide packages. Oddly, the audio controls on the instrument panel have too-tiny buttons, a puzzling design, given that the Cayenne, like all others Porsches, is really aimed at men.
HE: The buff magazines have all raved about the 450-horsepower turbo engine, but the standard twin-cam 4.5-liter V-8 in the Cayenne S that we tested is no slouch. It makes 340 horsepower, and packs a pretty good wallop in a vehicle this heavy.
SHE: You can talk about power all day, but I give Porsche credit for loading up the Cayenne with an impressive list of standard safety features. You get everything from stability control, which helps to keep you from fish-tailing on slippery roads, to dual side curtain air bags that protect all the outboard occupants. Porsche has done a superior job in the Cayenne of providing enough equipment to keep o pants safe and secure.
HE: I still have a few beefs. As good as the engine is, there is still some noticeable throttle lag, and the fuel economy is dismal — 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 18 on the highway. And Porsche-philes may be disappointed by the truck-like handling. But, hey, this is an SUV, right? So what’s not to like?
SHE: They may have to coin a new buzz phrase for guys who are attracted to this vehicle — the affluent obsessed.
2004 Porsche Cayenne S
Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger sport-utility vehicle
Price: Base, $56,665; as tested, $67,970
EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city/ 18 mpg highway
Key competitors: BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti QX56, Lexus LX470, Lincoln Aviator, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes-Benz G500, Mercedes-Benz ML500, Range Rover, Volkswagen Touareg
12-month insurance cost: $2,074
Where built: Germany
1: Includes $765 destination charge; 2: Estimated by AAA Michigan. Rates may vary depending on coverage and driving record.
Rating system: 1- unacceptable; 2- subpar; 3- acceptable; 4- above average; 5- world class
Anita’s rating: 3 out of 5
Likes: Comfy ride, with adjustable suspension settings. Good rear-seat controls. Great safety features, including stability control and side-curtain air bags for front and rear occupants. Surprisingly good visibility.
Dislikes: Not crazy about the bug-eyed styling. Optional leather seat package costs $3,200. Difficult to park in a tight space. Have to remove headrests to lower rear seat. Radio control buttons are too tiny.
Paul’s rating: 4 out of 5
Likes: Looks like a Porsche, at least on the outside. Lusty V-8. Extremely capable off-road — if you really want to take your Porsche off-road. Good headroom. Steering-wheel shift controls for automatic transmission.
Dislikes: Cabin is not as ritzy as VW Touareg. Noticeable throttle lag, especially when accelerating from rest. Mediocre fuel economy. Not enough rear-seat legroom. Porsche-philes may be disappointed by the truck-like handling.