Why would a company with such an impressive heritage in racing and high-performance street machines turn its focus to the SUV market? There are many answers to that question, most of which are also rooted in Porsche's history. In addition, after spending some time behind the wheel of both Cayenne variants, we had no doubts about the quality and capability of the new vehicle Porsche is producing.

Porsche is known for high- and ultra-high-performance cars, and has spent the last 50 years or so entering stock, modified, and custom-bodied cars into numerous races, thoroughly establishing Porsche as a company that strives for maximum horsepower and excellent handling. Porsche's history also includes a long lineage of vehicles equipped with all-wheel-drive, many of which were raced off-road. That, combined with a desire to enter the white-hot SUV market, made building a sport utility the next logical step for this manufacturer.

The Cayenne is available in two models: the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo. Both are equipped with a 4.5L V-8, with the addition of an intercooled twin-turbo setup for the Turbo. The normally aspirated Cayenne engine puts out 340 hp at 6,000 rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque at 2,500-5,500 rpm, while the turbocharged version offers an impressive 450 hp at 6,000 rpm and 457 lb-ft of torque at 2,250-4,750 rpm. The last time we checked, those numbers put Porsche in the lead for most horsepower available in an SUV.

The V-8 powerplant comes with four valves per cylinder and four overhead camshafts with VarioCam, a system that ensures the ideal cam and intake valve settings as the driving conditions demand. VarioCam receives its data from the Cayenne's Motronic ME 7.1.1 engine management system, which compares driver input to system data to determine any adjustments VarioCam should make. Motronic bases its system on factors that include engine speed, throttle position, the gear the vehicle is in, and oil and coolant temperatures.

Both versions of the Cayenne receive a six-speed automatic transmission, the Tiptronic S. This transmission gives the driver the option of manually selecting gears and adjusts to the owner's driving style. Thanks to the efficient exhaust system and the use of dual oxygen sensors, the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo meet LEV (Low Emission Vehicle) standards.

The Cayenne comes with a choice of two suspension setups. Both are sold with fully independent front and rear suspensions, but the Cayenne S has a steel spring/control arm front suspension, and a steel spring strut and coil spring/multi-arm rear suspension, while the Cayenne Turbo comes with control arms and air spring struts in front, with a multi-arm configuration and air spring struts in the rear. The air suspension is self-leveling and has six adjustable ride height positions. The air suspension allows for 4.56 inches of adjustability, with a maximum ground clearance of 10.75 inches.

At high speeds, the air suspension will bring the Cayenne closer to the ground, giving the vehicle the feel and handling characteristics of a vehicle equipped with a firm sport suspension. The Cayenne Turbo's suspension also uses Porsche's Active Suspension Management damping system, which controls the suspension's response to changes in road conditions.

When it comes to the off-road arena, the Cayenne is ready for almost anything, shy of a vertical cliff wall. This sport utility uses Porsche Traction Management (PTM), a full-time four-wheel-drive system that can direct all of the vehicle's traction to the front or rear wheels, depending on the conditions. It also works to provide the right amount of torque to the proper wheels when driving at high speeds. While PTM is a full-time system, the Cayenne can be switched to low-range with the flick of a switch in the cabin. Porsche Stability Management (PSM) helps keep the vehicle going in the direction the driver intended, even if the SUV is oversteering, understeering, or has lost traction.

The Cayenne also comes with six-piston aluminum monoblock calipers with 13.78-inch disc brakes in the front and four-piston calipers with 13-inch discs in the rear, with standard ABS. The Cayenne comes stock with 18-inch wheels and tires, with 19- and 20-inch packages offered as options. Both Cayenne models can tow 7,716 pounds.

As would be expected in a Porsche, the interior was given luxurious textures and materials, and offers the finest appointments. The interior was done in leather, with aluminum accents throughout. While both vehicles come standard with power windows, power-adjustable steering wheel, power front seats, and a 14-speaker 350-watt Bose stereo system, the Turbo also comes with bi-xenon headlights, a heated multi-function steering wheel, front seats with memory, Porsche Communication Management, and ParkAssist as standard equipment.

The Turbo's lights have sensors that adjust the headlight direction left or right, to provide the best possible visibility at night and on winding roads. The Cayenne's cargo area can be accessed by opening the tailgate or by just opening the rear window, and the rear of the vehicle can hold as much as 62.51 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down.

After driving both models on wide open highways and curving canyon roads, taking them off-road through mud and dirt, and getting to know the Cayenne's interior amenities while stuck in Southern California traffic, we have come to the conclusion that Porsche has done its homework with this vehicle. Feeling the high-performance nature of this sport utility was not a surprise; this sport utility, like most Porsches, leaves its competition in the dust.

What was truly impressive was that even though most owners wouldn't even consider taking a Cayenne through the muck and mire we subjected it to, the Porsche performed very well off-road. It handled ruts and off-camber situations with ease, and kept driver and passenger alike comfortable over nasty, unforgiving ground. It handled like a dream on paved roads, clinging to the asphalt through sharp curves like... a Porsche.

The two biggest strikes against it are its polarizing love-it-or-hate-it styling, which will take some people a long time to get used to, and its pricetag, which starts at $55,900 for the S and a stunning $88,900 for the Turbo. However, this vehicle raises the bar for other luxury SUVs that are on the market, and raises it by quite a lot.