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Porsche Cayenne History

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:

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  • Porsche Cayenne
  • 2007 Porsche Cayenne
  • 2006 Porsche Cayenne