Porsche raised eyebrows when it introduced its first, and probably only, sport utility vehicle for the 2003 model year at the height of the SUV craze. Many thought that Porsche was selling out by introducing an automobile that was heavy-5,190lbs for the Turbo S-and visually uninspiring. Let's face it, the Cayenne is not a sports car. However, it is an SUV that is fun to drive and offers the urban-cowboy-equivalent of muscular, if rarely used, utility.
It is more fun at 500 hp for the Turbo S than the comparatively wallowy 403hp 5,665lb Cadillac Escalade. But then again, if you slap a supercharger on the Caddy... Anyway, it's not all about horsepower or speed, it's about handling-a European obsession brought on by their swirly mountain roads, rally racing, that sort of thing. Good-ol' red-blooded Americans tend to prefer the brute force of straight-ahead performance popularized by the halcyon days of hot-rod suburbia. The closest thing to rally racing around here happened as a result of revenuers chasing after moonshine cars, which ultimately led to stock-car racing that took out all the hair-raising turns in favor of long, sweeping ovals, but we digress.
The Cayenne now comes in three models: Cayenne, Cayenne S, and Cayenne Turbo, dropping the Turbo S from its line up. To avoid confusion, we'll refer to all models as Cayenne unless we need to be more specific. Porsche's redesign of its SUV is more of a refinement than anything else, except in the case of its entirely new Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC). This system was built into the mechanics of the suspension and uses active anti-roll bars to offset body roll, thereby keeping the Cayenne as level as possible during hard cornering, or otherwise violent maneuvers, and giving the driver greater control. This is different from the usual stability or rollover control solution of braking each wheel to maintain proper traction and prevent a spill-which is a technology that Porsche offers along with most other automakers.
Porsche Active Suspension Management is available on the Cayenne and uses air suspension that can be switched into three modes: comfort, normal, and sport. Porsche Traction Management distributes torque to each wheel in order to provide the best handling, and the Porsche Stability Management electronic stability control kicks in during potentially unsafe maneuvers. Porsche Stability Management also offers off-road ABS and a trailer stability program. You forgot that this SUV tows, didn't you? Try a surprising 7,716 pounds-although the thought of hitching a trailer to a Porsche feels wrong somehow. And a flip of a switch puts traction management into an off-road mode that allows the SUV to handle off-highway conditions that are reasonable for a street vehicle.
Three engines-3.6L V-6, 4.8L V-8 and 4.8L twin turbo-do offer more power over the last-generation model. In fact, the previous Cayenne V-6 and V-8 engines were smaller, and were displacing 3.2L and 4.5L. By that standard, the new powerplants generate almost 50 more horses. One difference is that '06 offered two turbo models, a 450hp Turbo and a 520hp Turbo S, while the new Cayenne offers only the Turbo model at 500 hp.
As for the Cayenne's looks, check them out. Porsche did tweak the exterior, giving it a wider, more athletic body, broader wheel arches, and more assertive headlights. These changes do infuse more energy into the vehicle's somewhat bland, utilitarian shape that is swollen by such necessities as seating capacity of more than two. That said, the Cayenne hardly inspires enthusiasts to pull over and blubber over its beauty like they would for a Caymen or, say, a Carrera GT. Other improvements abound in the '08 Cayenne, but we've opted to focus on the fun stuff: power and handling. Because when it comes to Porsche, what else is there really worth talking about anyway?