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AT THE WHEEL REVIEWS: PERFORMANCE

When is a Porsche still a Porsche?

The Cayenne Alpha-to-Omega Test Drive

By Frederick Staab  Cruise Control Radio.Com

 

Remember when the Porsche Cayenne was introduced to the driving public? You could have heard the Porsche fans’ screams of anguish from the streets of the United States clear over to the desks of the designers and engineers based in Germany.

How could the maker of such fine sports car commit the unthinkable act of building an SUV? Well, time has tempered most of those concerns, making doubters into converts, safe in the knowledge that the hallmarks of the Porsche brand – namely razor-sharp handling, eye-ball popping braking ability and aggressive acceleration – were all in the mix when our German friends launched the Cayenne a short while ago

With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to perform an alpha-to-omega Cayenne test drive, comparing the 3.2-liter V-6-powered base vehicle to the ultra-popular and best-selling muscle-bound V-8 Cayenne Turbo.

Normally this comparison would not be possible, since most manufacturers stack up their press car inventory with only highly optioned top-of the-line models. We got lucky, and the folks at Porsche provided us with both a base Cayenne and the Turbo.

Will the base model have the goods to proudly wear the Porsche brand? Hmmm… The exteriors of the two vehicles differ only slightly, with both sharing a front-end design that sports a lot of 911 sports car DNA. Other than the bold Turbo lift-gate nameplate and quad exhaust tips, the two are hard to tell apart until you start their engines.

The base Cayenne comes equipped with only the 247-hp V-6 with variable valve timing. However, it’s your choice to let the power flow through a standard six-speed manual or optional and as-tested six-speed tiptronic S transmission. The manual starts around $41,000, and auto begins at $44,100.

Is the V-6 enough to fulfill the Porsche’s performance promise? It depends; I found the base model did well around town stoplight to stoplight. A long highway trip necessitated frequent use of the tiptronic transmission’s manual-shifting capability to keep the engine in its sweet zone. At times during lane changes and merges, I felt a few more ponies would have come in handy, but the V-6 is likely more than adequate for 90 percent of the driving experience.

The Turbo Cayenne gets a mind-numbing 450 hp, all-aluminum, twin-turbocharged V-8 dropped into its engine bay during assembly at the Leipzig Germany plant. Oh man, acceleration in our Carmon red metallic tester was earth shattering. Once the turbos spool up in third gear, this SUV accelerates hard and continues clear up to its (not tested in our case) 165-mph top speed. More power than most mortals will ever require is on tap at the stretch of your right leg. But you better be performing well in the cash department too. Turbo prices start at $89,300 and climbed to $92,820 the case of our test vehicle.

Handling and road feel was excellent in both the vehicles I had a chance to evaluate. Taut but not overbearingly harsh suspension tuning made for many miles of comfortable motoring. Stopping for both the Base and Turbo models is handled by similar alloy six- piston front and four-piston rear disc brakes. The full Cayenne line-up comes equipped with Porsche stability and traction management as well as an all-wheel-drive system with two-speed transfer case.

Our monochromatic crystal silver metallic base Cayenne was jeweled up with optional 18-inch Cayenne turbo rims at a cost of $1,340. They replace the standard 17-inchers and add a bit more flash. While 18-inch rims mounted with 255/55R 18 performance tires come standard on the Turbo model, you can pop for the gold-colored Porsche crest wheel centers for the bargain price of $185.

The interior of the base Cayenne was executed in a clean, modern fashion.
While there is no availability for navigation systems or upscale stereos, there are no blank off plates or empty switch bezels to signal that this was the starting point in the Cayenne line-up. Switch gear for both models came in the form of unique push-pull levers. The air-conditioning controls hit a high point with me since they were some of the cleanest and easiest to operate that I have used. The dash, console and door panels worked in concert with high quality and fit and finish throughout. Turbo owners get a navigation system with a screen surrounded by a number of control buttons that control a wonderful 350-watt Bose sound system.

So can you buy the base-model Cayenne for less the half and the cost of the Turbo and still feel like you have a Porsche? In my opinion, you can, but we will have to see if sales numbers bear this out.

 

Cruise Control - America's truly unique automotive radio show continues to

attract more and more listeners with its engaging format. This two-hour automotive magazine program is heard live every Saturday from 10 a.m. to Noon, Eastern Time, on three national networks: the National Radio Network, Cable Radio Network (CRN), and USA Radio Network. Cruise Control is currently heard on numerous broadcast stations across the US as well as digital cable and internet affiliates. Unlike other car radio shows  Cruise Control covers all aspects of the automotive industry including new vehicles reviews, new technologies and interviews with key automotive industry leaders.

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