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2003 Porsche Cayenne Road Test Review

by Bob Plunkett

2003 Porsche Cayenne Scene One: We're racking up triple-digit speeds in the latest vehicle from Porsche of Germany while running lickety-split on the 2.3-mile curlicue track tucked into rolling hills at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Enormous speed-rated tires for all four wheels claw the asphalt to render uncanny stick-it-down traction as we steer the car down the right-left-right cha-cha-cha of Barber's tricky corkscrew chicane.

Scene Two: This same Porsche hugs a narrow strip of pavement strung like thread along the rim of an escarpment high in the Appalachian Mountains of northeastern Alabama.

It tackles the twisted trace at a swift pace yet exhibits surprising agility in the process.

With its independent suspension system under constant computer control for electronically variable shock valve damping, the big wheels prance in step with every contour of the washboard road surface yet the ultra-stiff monocoque structure floats smoothly through all of the rough stuff.

Scene Three: The 'Brazilian Highway' -- a deep sluice of red Alabama clay mixed with a river of run-off rain water -- forms a gumbo-thick mire through a tortuous four-wheel-drive (4WD) training course back at the Barber race complex.

The same Porsche we push so quickly around the test track or so deftly across knotted mountain roads also plunges into axle-deep goo on the Brazilian Highway and, drawing on the computerized Porsche Traction Management (PTM) 4WD system which includes a low-gear range and locking center differential, grinds through so much tire-sucking muck without deviating from the straightaway line.

It also climbs an ultra-steep embankment and romps over a stair-step pile of riprap granite, proving it can venture confidently across rugged terrain far away from pavement.

But what kind of vehicle, you may wonder, can run around a race track in lightning-fast time like a race-ready sports car but also slog through a mud pit or scramble over walls of boulders like a tough and rugged off-road wagon?

There's only one answer for a vehicle with the seemingly incongruent traits of an agile sports car and go-anywhere 4WD wagon: Porsche calls it the spicy Cayenne.

Mark it as the first sport-utility wagon for a brand recognized heretofore strictly for producing incomparable two-seat sports cars capable of capturing the checkered flag at fabled endurance races like LeMans, Sebring and Daytona.

2003 Porsche CayenneFor that matter, it's also the first four-door vehicle for Porsche, the first to carry a bench-style back seat, the only Porsche that can accommodate up to five passengers in the cabin and the only one with a cargo bay and hatchback lid at the tail.

Despite the rather conventional format as a four-door SUV, Cayenne poses Porsche-engineered mechanical systems on a tightly tuned platform geared for high performance and sporty maneuvers.

But view it head-on and you will see that Cayenne's face resembles Porsche's primary sports car, the 911 Carrera Coupe, only hiked up higher due to the 4WD suspension and huge tires that run optionally up to 20 inches.

There's the hood swooping down between corner flanks marked by uniquely shaped headlamp clusters and underscored by a narrow linear grille, stacked air ports and square-corner foglamps.

Fenders flare around the wheelwells like muscles bulging on an athlete's broad shoulders, while the flat roofline gives way near the tail with a sharp descent to taillamps to forge a silhouette that appears tilted forward in a suggestion of speed.

Porsche outfits Cayenne with new V8 engines that cap the sport-utility power chart.

There are two versions.

The Cayenne S base model draws from a naturally-aspirated 90-degree V8 that displaces 4.5 liters and develops up to 340 hp at 6000 rpm plus 310 lb-ft of torque peaking between 2500-5500 rpm.

The ultimate model Cayenne Turbo uses this same plant fitted with twin turbo-chargers to maximize the power punch. It achieves 450 hp at 6000 rpm and torque numbers of 457 lb-ft between 2250-4750 rpm.

Both engines tie to a new six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with manual shift action controlled through toggle switches set on the steering wheel. Both also channel all of the engine's energy through a permanent 4WD system, the PTM device with inter-axle differential lock and low-range gearing for tackling serious off-road terrain.

Tire traction for Cayenne is further enhanced by the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system that automatically corrects lateral skidding. To rein so much horsepower in Cayenne, big brakes are aboard, plus an alphabet soup in computer controls.

Brakes consist of six-piston aluminum monoblock calipers with 13.78-inch inner-vented discs up front and four-piston monoblock calipers in back for 13-inch inner-vented discs.

Standard controls include an anti-lock brake system (ABS), plus automatic brake differential (ABD), anti-slip regulation (ASR) and the PSM device that coordinates with all other controls plus the PTM 4WD system.

Wheel and tire packages for both Cayenne S and Turbo range in size from 18 to 20 inches.The standard kit brings 18-inch light-alloy wheels and 255/55R18 tires. Optional are 19-inch wheels with 275/45R19 tires or the ultimate set of 20-inch rollers capped by 275/40R20 rubber.

How quick can a sport-ute be? Porsche's own tests reveal that the Cayenne Turbo scores as the fastest SUV on the planet.

It can zip from a stoplight start to 62 mph (100 kph) in only 5.2 seconds and run to a top speed of 165 mph. The Cayenne S covers the zero-to-62 mph distance in 7.2 seconds and hits its limit at 150 mph.

2003 Porsche Cayenne InteriorCabin contents for both versions amount to first-class accommodations with premium fixtures and multiple air bags including curtain-style side air bags stretching above doors for front and back seats.

Optional gear ranges from leather and walnut wood trim packages for Cayenne S to bi-xenon headlamps and a CD changer for six discs.

Porsche sets price points at $55,900 for Cayenne S and $88,900 for Cayenne Turbo.

Click here for more information on the Porsche Cayenne.