By on November 26, 2002

 I have never driven a Porsche so slowly in my life. Of course, it was broken. Please note: it wasn't the company's fault. When the nice man from Porsche handed me the key to the Cayenne S, the box fresh SUV looked more than ready to show the world that the Sultans of Stuttgart can build a damn fast, fine-handling truck.

At first, the aesthetically challenged Cayenne S motored down the Spanish pavement with reasonable aplomb. That said, the coil spring suspension reminded me of a tightly sprung trampoline. But hey, not even the Germans can tie down an SUV to the point where it can blast around corners, without falling over or ploughing straight ahead, while providing Jaguar ride quality. The best thing that can be said about the Cayenne S' on-road comfort is that the BMW X5 4.6 Sport is a lot worse.

 Cornering in the Cayenne is also a distinctly non-car experience. Guiding her through a series of roundabouts, I could feel the advanced suspension, drive train and electro-mechanical brain struggling to do the impossible. And yes, the Cayenne can go 'round bends at a fair old whack. But it's a Pyrrhic victory. You'd never, ever fling Porsche's truck around for the sheer Hell of it. It's not one tenth as much fun to drive as a bog-standard Boxster.

Joining the highway, I floored it. The engine kicked down, the tach needle soared towards the redline and… nothing. As the 4.5 litre V8 searched for power, it didn't roar like a beast unleashed. It emitted something more akin to a well-choreographed cheer. When the charisma-free 340bhp power plant finally changed up a gear, the Cayenne found the missing oomph and we were off. Ta-da! Porsche's newborn behemoth can cruise at 140mph! German autobahners will be impressed. The Cayenne's target market, the Americans, will be more concerned about the stereo, which is excellent, and the plastics, which are dire.

 When I tired of listening to wind roar, I stabbed the brakes. My mint shot out of my mouth and ricocheted off the windshield. It may take the Cayenne S a while to get going, but it takes no time whatsoever for it to stop. So far, so what? Anyone with a basic knowledge of physics knows that the only real fun an SUV can deliver is found off-road. Unfortunately, Porsche had closed its off-road course. BUT there was this gravel track running parallel to the highway. AND we were driving on the wrong highway, in the wrong direction. SO, when we turned around, why not have a quick go on the dirt? What harm could it do?

Sweet Mother of Porsche Traction Management, the Cayenne loves a loose surface! I was accelerating, cornering and stopping at fantastic speeds, without a hint of wheel spin or tail wagging. The formerly annoying spring suspension made the mixed gravel as comfortable as a feather mattress. A lake masquerading as a puddle couldn't impede our progress, or mute braking power. And the engine- Hell, we were waving at motorway traffic as we passed. Emboldened by my discovery of the Cayenne's raison d'etre, I drove straight into what looked like a hard-packed dirt field. The Cayenne slid thirty feet before sinking up to its axles in mud. Oh, so that's why they closed the off-road course!

 Not good. We were miles from anywhere. No mobile phone, farmer's tractor or credible explanation for the 'deviation' from Porsche's designated test route. There was nothing to do but engage the locking differential and try to extricate the Cayenne from my stupidity. Cue wheel spin, flying mud and a sinking sensation both figurative and literal. And yet, with a bit of rocking, we got out. This, with on-road tyres. As a veteran mud-plugger, I was deeply impressed. Unfortunately, my release from the Spanish quagmire had embedded fist-sized rocks in the tyres' treads. As we wobbled back to base at the Porsche equivalent of a walking pace, I hoped my German hosts would view our off-road adventure as an acceptable attempt to test their SUV's mettle.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I handed the S' key to some Slovenian journalists and took off in a Cayenne Turbo. And all I have to say about the Turbo is this: it adds massive horsepower to the equation, rides on vastly superior air suspension, costs a crib and guzzles gas like ten lager louts at Last Orders.

Does the Cayenne signal Last Orders for the Porsche brand? Yes and no. On one hand, their SUV is a betrayal of the company's core values. It makes a mockery of their hard-earned sports car street cred. On the other hand, I reckon the Cayenne is the fastest and most capable off-roader- off-road- that money can buy. I want one, but not for the right reasons.

[Fair disclosure: Porsche paid for the airfare, transfers, accomodation and meals for this trip.]

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