Porsche raised the public's collective eyebrow when it decided to enter the sport-utility vehicle business in 2003 with its bulbous Cayenne. However, despite the grumblings of purists, this midsize luxury SUV has proven itself worthy of the vaunted Porsche name over the course of two generations.
With a lineup that stretches from the $40Ks to six-digit territory and engines that range from a hybrid V6 to a twin-turbo V8, the Porsche Cayenne isn't your typical midsize SUV. Nor is it the most practical or family-friendly. Indeed, the Cayenne's relatively small cargo area, high load floor and lack of a third-row seat option limit its real-world functionality.
But in terms of spirited driving, there are few better. Thanks to its all-wheel-drive system, razor-sharp steering and superb brakes, the Porsche Cayenne demonstrates surprising dexterity around corners. The current car isn't quite as adept off-road as the original Cayenne, but we can't imagine many people will care. Be it new or used, the Cayenne is one of the best luxury SUVs you can get.
Current Porsche Cayenne
The Porsche Cayenne is a five-seat midsize luxury SUV with a number of different trims that correspond to its engine. The base Cayenne features a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 300 horsepower. All-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission are standard. An eight-speed automatic is optional with the V6 and standard on everything else. Stepping up to the Cayenne S gets you a 4.8-liter V8 that gets the party really started with 400 horses. Porsche apparently likes working in 100-hp increments since the Cayenne Turbo produces 500 hp and consequently delivers incredible performance (the Power Kit ups it to 540 hp). Should you care less about performance and more about fuel economy, the Cayenne S Hybrid produces 380 hp, but returns better fuel economy than the base, gas-only V6.
You'd never describe the Cayenne as sporting in the traditional Porsche sports car sense, but it's impressive by SUV standards. The steering deserves praise for its linearity, making it easy to place this 4,500-pound vehicle on the road. Body roll is well contained and the Cayenne can be hustled along with something approaching gusto, helped by an all-wheel-drive system that delivers 60 percent of its thrust to the rear wheels under normal conditions. The optional active suspension system provides a supple ride even with the dampers in their most aggressive setting. As a result, the Cayenne is an excellent candidate for long-distance driving.
The cabin features an aggressive, cockpit-style layout reminiscent of the Porsche Panamera. The center console, adorned in upwards of 50 buttons, rises sharply to meet the dash and large touchscreen display, creating an enveloping driver's environment. Like other Porsches, the Cayenne features the finest interior materials, put together with excellent craftsmanship. The front seats are available in three different designs, ranging from simple eight-way power adjustment to 18-way sport seats, which feature adjustable bolsters, lumbar and seat cushion length. The sculpted rear seats not only recline but slide fore and aft as well, which is a feature not typically found in five-passenger luxury SUVs.
As always, the Cayenne is quite pricey -- especially when you start sampling from Porsche's extensive options list. It also doesn't offer much in the way of cargo capacity. However, if you're looking for a luxury SUV, a performance-tuned SUV or a combination of both, it's tough to beat the Cayenne.
Used Porsche Cayenne Models
The current Porsche Cayenne was introduced for 2011. It may look smaller than the SUV it replaced, but this is actually an optical illusion inspired by the Cayenne's lower nose and raked D-pillar. In reality, this Cayenne is fractionally longer, wider and taller. Pleasingly, though, it's about 400 pounds lighter thanks to the deletion of its former dual-range transfer case (meant to permit serious off-roading) and the use of lightweight body panels. Besides this trip to Jenny Craig, the second-generation Cayenne benefits from sharper driving reflexes, invigorated engines and a new interior with better materials and more luxury features.
The original Porsche Cayenne was produced from 2003-'10. Even though this Cayenne looks bigger than the current car, it's actually a hair smaller. It is heavier, however, largely thanks to its sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, set up (somewhat ironically) for off-road use and including high- and low-range gearing. As with today, though, this Cayenne was all about on-road performance and was considered one of the best-handling SUVs of its time -- not to mention one of the fastest in S and Turbo guises.
Inside, the driver sat high above traffic in comfortable bucket seats and faced a three-spoke steering wheel and a center-mounted tachometer that paid homage to Porsche's sports cars. The ignition was even mounted on the left side of the dash. Materials quality was superb throughout the cabin, but its many electronics controls could be difficult to use. It wasn't the most spacious midsize SUV either, lacking the cargo and rear seat space of some similarly priced competitors.
Originally, there were only Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo styles. The S model's 4.5-liter V8 produced 340 hp, while the turbocharged version of the same engine pumped out 450 horses. A six-speed automatic transmission was standard. The 247-hp 3.2-liter V6 base model arrived in 2004, while its standard transmission became a six-speed manual for 2005 (the rest of the Cayenne line stuck with the auto). That year also saw the addition of a few options, such as a panoramic sunroof and a special Turbo Power Kit that boosted output to 500 hp and upgraded the brakes. For 2006, the range-topping Cayenne Turbo S debuted, producing a monstrous 520 hp that was said to bring the Cayenne to 60 mph as quickly as the contemporary 911.
The Cayenne was not produced for model year 2007. The following year saw major changes made to Porsche's SUV. The styling was given a welcome face-lift, the suspension was revised for sharper handling and every engine gained more power. The base V6 now produced 290 hp, the Cayenne S 385 hp and the Turbo a standard 500 hp. The Turbo S was put on hiatus. The Cayenne GTS model also arrived for '08, featuring a 405-hp version of the S model's V8 along with a six-speed manual transmission, 21-inch wheels, an active air suspension and a lower ride height. The Turbo S made its return for 2009 packing 550 hp.
Read the most recent 2014 Porsche Cayenne review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Porsche Cayenne page.