Porsche Cayenne History


2003 Porsche Cayenne front view
The Porsche Cayenne debuted in the U.S. for 2003 as Porsche's first SUV.
See more pictures of the Porsche Cayenne.

The Porsche Cayenne was the last thing expected from a celebrated sports-car maker, yet there it was: a sport-utility vehicle. The Porsche Cayenne was introduced to Europe in late 2001 and went on sale in North America for model-year 2003.

In effect, this was the first four-door Porsche, and it puzzled some journalists and outraged many enthusiasts. And the Porsche Cayenne was a truck no less. What was Porsche thinking?

The answer, in a word, was survival. Sports-car sales fall first and farthest when economic conditions sour, but Porsche didn't much suffer that until the early 1990s, when it almost died.

Shaken to its core, the company installed a new CEO, the no-nonsense Wendelin Wiedeking, who understood that the world had changed and Porsche had to branch out. As he told reporters in late 2002: "For Porsche to remain independent, it can't be dependent on the most fickle segment in the market...We don't want to become just a marketing department of some giant [automaker]...We have to make sure we're profitable enough to pay for future development ourselves."

In other words, Porsche needed a third model line, something with much broader sales appeal than the Porsche Boxster and Porsche 911, if it hoped to keep standing on its own and have the wherewithal to build more great sports cars.

But why a sport-utility vehicle instead of, say, a sports-luxury sedan? Because America was crazy for SUVs, and America was still Porsche's biggest market. Besides, two prestigious German rivals had lately added sport-utes: Mercedes-Benz in 1998 with the M-Class, BMW in 2000 with the X5. Significantly, both were built in the U.S. -- and doing a wonderful job drawing new buyers to their marques, which was another factor in Wiedeking's calculations.

It turned out that some two-thirds of Porsche buyers owned at least two other vehicles, one of which was likely an SUV. That meant Porsche had been losing easy sales, and thus easy profits, to other brands. Still, a 4x4 wagon seemed a radical idea for Porsche, so PR types took pains to note that Zuffenhausen was no stranger to either all-wheel drive -- witness the 911 Carrera 4 -- or trucks. The legendary Herr Doktor Ferdinand worked on both.

Clearly, Porsche knew what it was doing. If the Boxster had been a "bet-the-company miracle car," the Cayenne was an astute hedge against the sports-car market's inevitable next crunch. And a popular hedge it was.

2003 Porsche Cayenne S interior
The Porsche Cayenne needed a first-rate interior to attract premium-SUV buyers.

Within a year of the U.S. launch, Business Week reported that strong Cayenne sales had helped Porsche pay down its debt to a modest $128 million and amass $2.1 billion in cash, this despite the SUV program costs. And Porsche's net profit margin stood at 10.1 percent, tops in the industry. No wonder Business Week titled its story, "This SUV can tow an entire carmaker."

Renewing an historic partnership, the Cayenne was developed in concert with the lower-priced Touareg, Volkswagen's first-ever SUV. This was a sensible way to spread costs over two fairly low-volume products. The deal was announced in 1998; Car and Driver termed it a "handshake agreement between Wiedeking and Ferdinand Piech, the VW Group's chairman-in-czar and a major shareholder of Porsche."

AutoWeek noted that Porsche execs were "sensitive" about this newest venture with Wolfsburg, perhaps recalling the brickbats hurled at the Porsche 914 and Porsche 924, which used some VW and Audi components, respectively.

Porsche, however, worked hard to get across the idea that its engineers led the way in this joint SUV undertaking. Understandably keen to protect a blue-chip brand image, it wasn't about to have its first SUV dismissed as an upmarket VW.

"Porsche acted as project leader, and much of the work done on VW AG's nickel was conducted by Porsche's contract engineering division..." AutoWeek reported. "Joint development was limited to the basic floor pan and some drivetrain parts. Engines, suspension tuning, styling and finish work were the independent domain of each manufacturer."

Driving home the point that Cayenne wasn't a gilded Touareg, Porsche spent $124 million on a new dedicated plant in Leipzig. There was no room at Porsche's main facilities in Zuffenhausen, and though VW set up for Touaregs in the nearby Slovak Republic, where labor costs were lower, Porsche refused to follow, believing "made in Germany" was crucial to Cayenne sales.

The handsome new glass-walled factory received painted Cayenne bodies from VW and various ready-to-fit modules from other suppliers. Car and Driver noted that Porsche itself contributed only about 20 percent of total content.

Porsche's 600 worldwide dealers also ponied up, investing some $600 million combined in new service facilities and staff training to handle their first SUV. Of that sum, about half was spent by the brand's 200 North American retailers.

And so the stage was set. The one remaining question was whether even a Porsche SUV could possibly deliver the performance, quality and excitement of Porsche's sports cars. You can learn the answer -- and more about Cayenne -- by going to the next page.

2003 Porsche Cayenne S rear view
The Porsche Cayenne was jointly developed with the Volkswagen Touareg SUV.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For prices, reviews, and more on Porsche from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, see:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • Porsche Cayenne
  • 2007 Porsche Cayenne
  • 2006 Porsche Cayenne

2003, 2004 Porsche Cayenne

2003 Porsche Cayenne Turbo
The 2003 and 2004 Porsche Cayenne Turbo did 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds.

The Porsche Cayenne was developed as Porsche project E1 and came to the U.S. as a 2003 model. The Cayenne premiered as a four-door five-passenger wagon with standard V-8 power, six-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission, and dual-range four-wheel drive, plus a host of unexpected SUV features.

There were two Porsche Cayenne models at first, the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo. Both used a basic 4.5-liter engine originally developed for the stillborn Porsche 989 luxury-sedan project. It was a high-tech V-8 with twin overhead camshafts operating four valves per cylinder, plus cylinder block, cylinder heads and pistons all rendered in weight-saving aluminum alloy.

As on Porsche's latest water-cooled flat-six engines, the block incorporated dry-sump lubrication, while Porsche's VarioCam system adjusted intake-valve timing and lift to bolster both low-speed torque and high-end power. Other premium features included "distributor-less" on-coil ignition, sequential port fuel injection, oiling jets to cool the pistons, and a Bosch Motronic ME 7.1.1 engine computer with "e-gas" electronic throttle control instead of an old-fashioned mechanical linkage. Bore-and-stroke dimensions were comfortably "oversquare" at 3.66 x 3.27 inches (93 x 83 mm).

The big difference in the Turbo engine, of course, was a pair of power-boosting exhaust-gas compressors with intercoolers. Running a 9.5:1 compression ratio, it mustered a mighty 450 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 457 pound-feet of torque at 2250-4750 rpm.

In 2003, only the recently launched Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG could challenge the Porsche Cayenne Turbo as the world's most potent SUV. The Cayenne S seemed tame by comparison, but proved a strong performer in its own right, delivering 340 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 310 pound-feet at 2500-5500 revs with 11.5:1 compression.

Unlike most class competitors, the Cayenne came with full-time four-wheel drive that included a separate low range (geared at 2.7:1) for off-road crawling.

2004 Porsche Cayenne Turbo engine
The V-8 in the Cayenne Turbo had twin turbochargers and 450 horsepower.

Power was apportioned between axles by a center differential with multiple clutch plates that could be locked for maximum traction. The normal power split was 38 percent front/62 percent rear, this to approximate the power delivery and handling response of a rear-drive Porsche sports car. By contrast, the related VW Touareg and other SUVs either used a normal 50/50 split or were biased toward the front wheels.

When conditions demanded, Porsche Traction Management electronic controls could direct up to 100 percent power to either axle. For serious trail-riders, an optional Advanced Off-Road Tech Package arrived for 2004 (at $3,290-$4,390 depending on model and equipment) with a locking rear differential, plus skid plates and a hydraulic disconnect for the antiroll bars to increase wheel travel.

There were two suspension setups. Both used four-wheel coil-over struts and secondary offset conical springs (the latter to control body sway), plus twin track-control arms at the front, multilink geometry at the rear, and the Porsche Stability Management antiskid/traction-control system.

Standard for the Turbo and optional for the S was Porsche Active Suspension Management. This was a windy name for air bladder "springs" that automatically varied firmness to suit speed and road conditions within driver-selectable Comfort, Normal and Sport modes.

The system also provided rear self-leveling and allowed the driver to vary ride height by 4.6 inches to a maximum 10.8 inches, useful for fording streams or climbing over obstacles. Of course, the system was programmed to prohibit nonsense settings like max elevation above a certain road speed. Microsoft's code-writers have nothing on Porsche's.

Cayenne could indeed perform remarkably well off road, summoning a symphony of sophisticated suspension and traction tricks to navigate rocky paths with aplomb. Add knobby mud tires, and soupy streambeds were no obstacle, either. The Touareg proved similarly adept when no pavement was present.

In this regard, there was an element of over-engineering about both these SUVs, given how few SUV owners actually venture into the backwoods. These Germans evidently figured an off-road vehicle actually ought to be able to go off road.

Still, Cayenne gave up nothing to any other SUV when it came to on-road handling. Indeed, a portion of Cayenne's U.S. press introduction took place on a racetrack. Reflecting Porsche's commitment to good handling was Cayenne's near-ideal weight balance of 52/48 percent front/rear, plus big four-wheel vented disc brakes of 13.78-inch diameter fore and 13.0 aft, respectively clamped by six- and four-piston calipers and employing antilock control.

Wheels and tires were equally sports-car appropriate. Both models came with 255/55 tires on 8 x 18-inch alloy rims. Optional were 275/45 covers on 9 x 19-inch wheels and 275/40s on 9 x 20 wheels.

Unfortunately, with so much technology, plus a stout structure, a raft of luxury features and safety aids like curtain and front-side airbags, the Cayenne ended up a heavy beast. The S weighed 4,949 pounds at the curb, while the Turbo crushed the scales at 5,192, several hundred pounds up on comparable BMW X5s and M-Class Mercedes.

Cayenne was also a bit larger than those midsize SUVs, with length-width-height of 188.2 x 75.9 x 66.9 inches over a 112.4-inch wheelbase. Even so, reviewers criticized cabin space that seemed a bit tight for the exterior size. Perhaps that's why Porsche omitted seating dimensions from Cayenne spec sheets, though it did claim 62.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat folded, payload capacity of 6,750-6,790 pounds, and towing capacity of over 7,700 pounds.

On paper, then, the original 2003 Porsche Cayenne and it's virtually unchanged 2004 successor were not very space-efficient, and its sheer mass seemed to preclude anything like Porsche-style driving enjoyment. But that was on paper. As often happens, the real-world experience was different. To learn how and why, go to the next page.

2003 and 2004 Porsche Cayenne Turbo interior
The 2003 and 2004 Porsche Cayenne Turbo interior befit its $90,000 price tag.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For prices, reviews, and more on Porsche from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, see:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • Porsche Cayenne
  • 2007 Porsche Cayenne
  • 2006 Porsche Cayenne

2005, 2006 Porsche Cayenne

2005 Porsche Cayenne base model
The Porsche Cayenne lineup added this V-6-powered base model for 2005.

The Porsche Cayenne's first notable change came with introduction of a V-6 base model as an early model-year 2005 offering. Under the hood was a 3.2-liter version of partner Volkswagen's "VR6" engine, a narrow-angle design with iron block and four valves per cylinder (and also offered in the Volkswagen Touareg SUV). Outputs were 247 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 229 pound-feet of torque at 2500.

The V-6 Cayenne had fewer standard luxuries and that helped reduce curb weight to around 4,800 pounds and shrink its base price to $42,900, versus $55,900 for the 2005 Porsche Cayenne S and a hefty $88,900 for the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. A six-speed manual transmission arrived within a few months as a no-charge option for the entry-level Cayenne.

Porsche then went hog wild with the limited-edition 2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. Priced at a heady $111,600 before options (and there were a few). the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S commanded a $21,400 premium over the "ordinary" Turbo. For that, the Turbo S delivered a massive 520 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 530 pound-feet of torque at just 2750 rpm. In each case, those were gains of 70 over the regular Turbo model.

The Cayenne Turbo S's main power gain came from a simple increase in turbo boost, by 4.3 pounds per square inch to 27.5. But Porsche also remapped the engine computer, installed larger intercoolers, and uprated the cooling system.

Predictably, Porsche also uprated the brakes for Cayenne Turbo S, to heroic diameters of 15 inches fore and 14.1 aft. Rolling stock was also enhanced with 20-inch SportTechno wheels and 275/40 high-performance tires. A little exclusive gilding here and there finished off the Turbo S.

The V-6 Cayenne and the Cayenne Turbo S bookend Cayenne's early years performance story, which is somewhat mixed.

The V-6 wasn't as pokey as its modest power and Porsche's 9.7-second 0-60 mph claim might suggest. Car and Driver, in fact, got 8.8 seconds in the benchmark sprint, lively enough for an SUV. Still, the base Cayenne needed a determined driver to give its best, especially on twisty hill-and-dale routes.

The Turbo S, by contrast, was a rocket, as fast as some Porsche 911s. C/D clocked 4.9 seconds 0-60, just 0.1-second off Porsche's quote. Even so, the magazine thought it "pathetic that the Turbo S can't outrun a $40,000, 420-hp Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 or an $86,275 503-hp Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG and has a back seat no more accommodating than a Honda Accord's."

2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
The 2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S had 520 horsepower and cost $111,600.

The regular Turbo was no slouch, at 5.0 seconds flat in C/D testing. But the non-turbo Cayenne S was probably the best all-around choice. C/D logged 0-60 in 6.6 seconds -- fast enough for most any soccer mom -- and predictable premium-fuel "economy" of 16 miles per gallon overall. That was versus 12 mpg for the Turbo and a disappointing 15 mpg for the V-6.

The Cayenne S was also the most popular model, suggesting consumers judged it the best dollar value too.

As for the burning question about dynamic ability, the consensus was that Cayennes did drive like Porsches -- big, tall, heavy Porsches. Air suspension or no, these were among the most athletic of SUVs, but a few hundred pounds less weight would have made them even more agile and fun to drive, something most every road-test mentioned.

Even the Turbo, with all its exploitable power, couldn't escape the "mass effect." After testing one, Car and Driver decided that "rather than digitally morph a Range Rover with a 911 Turbo, Porsche has created a vehicle that feels like a superb all-wheel-drive tourer with an elephant on its back." And while the air suspension did sharpen up handling on its firmest setting, it made for a lumpy-thumpy ride even in Normal mode.

So the Cayenne emerged as another Porsche engineering marvel that was, perhaps, more clever than it had to be. Then again, the BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class and especially the Range Rover were just as much overkill in some ways, and Porsche no doubt felt obliged to match or outdo their high-tech features just to compete. Besides, luxury-SUV buyers expected lots of gadgets for their money.

"Make no mistake," said Car and Driver. "The Cayenne Turbo is an extraordinary machine, beautifully crafted, sumptuously provisioned...It is the fastest SUV on the planet, and it has more off-road chops than Sir Edmund Hillary...It is the 'Porsche of SUVs.' [But we] had hoped for a little more Porsche and a little less SUV."

Despite the critical commentary, the Cayenne fast established itself as the best selling Porsche of all time, to the undoubted joy of Herr Wiedeking and company accountants.

Global calendar-year sales through 2006 topped 150,000, a yearly average of 25,000, with over 60,000 deliveries in North America alone. Though that volume was modest by even BMW or Mercedes standards, it was huge for Porsche.

Nonetheless, Cayenne had suffered sales reversals in 2005 and 2006, to 14,804 and 11,429, respectively, in the U.S. The losses reflected sharp spikes in global gasoline prices that crimped demand for most high-power SUVs, though new competition was also a factor. As a result, Porsche decided not to offer a 2007-model Cayenne, electing to sell out remaining stocks of 2006s.

The Cayenne team back in Germany, meanwhile, was hard at work on heavily revamped 2008 versions of its SUV, and you can read about the 2008 Porsche Cayenne on the next page.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo S interior
The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S cabin was dressed in high-grade appointments.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For prices, reviews, and more on Porsche from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, see:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • Porsche Cayenne
  • 2007 Porsche Cayenne
  • 2006 Porsche Cayenne

2008 Porsche Cayenne

2008 Porsche Cayenne lineup
The 2008 Porsche Cayenne lineup, from left: the Turbo, S model, and Base model.

The 2008 Porsche Cayenne went on sale in March 2007.

Porsche billed it as a "second-generation" Cayenne, but the 2008 Porsche Cayenne, Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo really amount to a thorough makeover of the successful original concept. More power, new features, and fresh styling make the headline news.

All models take on a wider, "meaner" look via larger front air intakes and revised headlamps, answering critics who thought the original Cayenne's nose too bulbous.

As before, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo has larger intakes than the base or S models. Also redesigned, if less noticeable, are the door mirrors, exhaust tips, the Turbo's standard rear roof spoiler and, of course, the wheels.

The undercarriage is also revised to improve high-speed aerodynamics, not a priority with most SUVs. As a result, all Cayennes now have a brilliant-for-a-big-box 0.35 drag coefficient, down from 0.39. Exterior dimensions are little changed. So is weight, sad to say.

At least there's more muscle to move it, thanks to larger engines with higher compression and direct fuel injection (fuel squirts right into the cylinders rather than up high at the ports). V-8s also adopt Porsche's more-sophisticated VarioCam Plus valve-and-camshaft timing system.

The base 3.2-liter V-6 engine gives way to a 3.6-liter V-6, again a "VR6" sourced from Volkswagen, with bore and stroke of 3.50 x 3.80 inches (89 x 96.4 mm). In U.S. tune, the V-6 churns out 290 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 3000 revs.

2008 Porsche Cayenne S and Porsche Cayenne Turbo in action
The 2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo (left) paces the 2008 Cayenne Base model.

The Porsche-designed 4.5-liter V-8 is bored out to 3.78 inches (96mm), so it's now a 4.8-liter (stroke remains at 3.27 inches/83 mm). Running on 12.5:1 compression, the naturally aspirated V-8 delivers 385 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 369 pound-feet at 3500.

The Cayenne Turbo's twin-turbo version of the 4.8-liter V-8 uses a 10.5:1 squeeze to make 500 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 516 pound-feet at 2250-4000 rpm, figures that help to explain why no Turbo S model is offered for 2008.

Suspension and brake hardware carry over with minor tweaks, but there are two new electronic wrinkles.

First, all models now include the antiskid Porsche Stability Management system, which adds programming designed to enhance stopping stability when towing. In addition, the system will now "pre-load" the brakes on sudden throttle lift-off, moving the pads closer to the rotors in anticipation of an imminent full-anchors stop. Another added program remaps the antilock brakes for better control in low-speed off-road situations.

The second new chassis gizmo is optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control. Like similar systems at BMW and Mercedes-Benz, PDCC is designed to counter body lean in hard cornering, here with hydraulic swivel motors that twist against the antiroll bars when signaled by various body and suspension sensors.

Speaking of which, the 2008 Cayennes add a rollover sensor that triggers the curtain and front-side airbags if it senses an impending tip. Other changes include a standard power liftgate (an option since 2004) and a dashboard "Sport" button that alters engine, transmission, and suspension electronics to suit high-performance driving. Among new options are 21-inch wheels, satellite radio, and a rail-type cargo-management system.

Porsche says the 2008s are not only quicker than previous Cayennes, but cleaner-running and thriftier with gas -- timely developments, what with global warming and energy dependence so much in the news.

Factory figures show highway mpg for V-8 models up by 11-15 percent, while the base Cayenne rates 3 mpg higher in city driving in U.S. EPA testing. The base and Turbo now rate LEV status (Low-Emissions Vehicle), while the Cayenne S meets the tougher ULEV (Ultra-Low) standard.

As for the ever-pertinent 0-60 mph acceleration, Porsche quotes 7.5 seconds for the Cayenne, 6.4 for Cayenne S and 4.9 for Cayenne Turbo. Road tests may well beat those numbers, as so often happens with Porsches. But it's still early days for the 2008 Cayennes, and definitive reviews have yet to appear in force, so stay tuned.

There's also good news on the pricing front, where base stickers rise by only a few thousand dollars, not bad for the Cayenne's market class. The V-6 Cayenne now starts at $43,400, the V-8 S at $57,900, and the Turbo at $93,700.

The Cayenne will doubtless keep improving, just as Porsches have from the beginning. And in that sense, it's no less a "real Porsche" than any Porsche Boxster, Porsche Cayman, or Porsche 911. It may not be perfect - no vehicle is -- but the Cayenne clearly embodies the pride and passion that have been Porsche hallmarks for nearly 60 years. And no other SUV can say that.

 2008 Porsche Cayenne S rear view in action
The 2008 Porsche Cayenne continues Porsche's commitment to SUV performance.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For prices, reviews, and more on Porsche from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, see:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • Porsche Cayenne
  • 2007 Porsche Cayenne
  • 2006 Porsche Cayenne