By on June 9, 2008

dscf1309.JPG"The Porsche Cayenne is a deeply misunderstood machine," RF told me before my test drive. "It's one of the world's fastest off-roaders, not a house-broken truck." Huh? Why would a world famous sports car maker (if not THE world famous sports car maker) tempt infamy by making a kick-ass mud plugger instead of a FX-style sports-car-on-stilts? The answer, I'm told, lies deep in Porsche's DNA. In the late eighties, Porsche jacked-up their 959 supercar and entered it in the grueling Paris – Dakar rally. In their second attempt, the German automaker scooped first, second and sixth places. "Take the entry level V6 off road," RF commanded. "Thrash it without mercy. THEN tell me what you think." Sounded like a plan.

So, as the concierge squealed around the corner, he gunned the Cayenne's engine. An attractive V6 rasp echoed off the concrete parking garage walls at the Wynn Las Vegas. Crisply creased with unnaturally angry Porsche eyes, the Midnight Black Metallic model created a strong initial impression. And then, it turned towards the side, and I shuddered. The Cayenne's rear is displeasingly plump and oddly rounded. The new blacked-out glass at the bottom of the rear window is a rare example of Porsche de-evolution; its angularity makes a bad design worse. 

normal.jpgOur tester's interior was overwhelmingly beige. Only a black center stack– with a stereo face from 1986– relieved the Saharan color scheme. Sisters VW Touareg and Audi Q7 both have the Cayenne licked in terms of switchgear, material choices and general cabin appeal. That Porsche can still offer a vehicle at this price point without Bluetooth or iPod connectivity is testimony to the brand's snob appeal, rather than Porsche's ability to compete head-on with its upmarket peers.

Once you get used to the Cayenne's monotone color scheme and lack of toys, you begin to appreciate Stuttgartian subtleties. The Cayenne's buttons, knobs, and dials may be annoyingly small and fiddly, but they're all ideally situated for performance-oriented pilots. Better yet, there's nothing overly-complicated to distract you the business at hand– although saddling-up on expensive options might solve that "problem."

dscf1311.JPGOn the road, the base Cayenne proved stable and agile, just like the much cheaper VW Touareg. The Porsche's 3.6-liter direct injection 290bhp V6 motivated the 4949 lbs. truck adequately; the zero to 60 sprint takes only 7.5 seconds. Porsche tuned the exhaust to mimic their flat sixes, but they only receive a participation ribbon in that regard.  

The Cayenne's long pedal travel and delayed throttle response added to the building suspicion I was driving an expensive VW, not a [relatively] cheap Porsche. The Cayenne's mileage-seeking tranny always started in second gear, guaranteeing a take-off reminiscent of a Wagoneer (or an over-loaded 727). You can select first gear from the Tiptronic. In traffic, that gets old real quick.

In general, on road, the Cayenne feels like it was designed with only a vague memory of the 911, as if the icon were a faded poster in the closet of the Porsche SUV department.

Leaving Las Vegas, I headed to Tikaboo Valley. Rumbling over the guard rail entrance to the 22.5 mile trail, I doubted Porsche's lumbering lummox could redeem itself. By the end of the first mile, I was looking in the glove box for a Papal dispensation.

dscf1302.JPGThe Cayenne's delayed throttle response made power modulation on bumps and sand a doddle; I could feed the six the perfect amount of gas at the perfect pace. Porsche Traction Management and the Cayenne's steel spring multi-link suspension made short work of washboard surfaces, deep sand, scree and dead jackrabbits. Flying down dirt roads, the Cayenne's six-speed transmission was always in the right gear. I was no longer a prat with a Bluetooth earpiece; I was Stig Blomqvist in the Dakar.

The harder and faster you pushed the Cayenne on the fast dirt sections, the more sure-footed it became. The Cayenne is as unflappable in the dirt as a Cayman is on the track. In the really rough sections, the Cayenne's low-range with the lockable differentials allowed absurd bouldering shenanigans. Climbing to the top of Tikaboo Peak, the Cayenne could do no wrong.

dscf1310.JPGMission accomplished. Point taken. The Porsche Cayenne, even in its simplest form, embodies all the passion and engineering skill of a 911. But it's a fervor rooted in the deserts, plains and mountains of Africa, not the middle of the Nürburgring. The Cayenne's fast and fun on dirt roads, and poised and capable scrambling over river washes and steep climbs. It's a damn shame the vast majority of Cayenne owners will never discover this vehicle's true essence. Because otherwise, cash cow or not, the Cayenne makes no sense.

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41 Comments on “2008 Porsche Cayenne Review...”

  • avatar

    I wonder if they could make any money with a true “base model” version that would appeal to people as a low-maintenance utility vehicle. Shave $10-$15k off the price, give me a woven cloth interior, stock rubber floor mats, and everything geared toward usability and easy cleaning. I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the Touareg and Cayenne (and to a less degree, the Merc ML-series before them) in that the combination of capable off-roading and luxury interior don’t quite jive to me.

  • avatar

    It always seems to me that those providing opinions about the Cayenne fall into two groups: the haters and the excuse makers. The haters just spit in its general direction since it’s a Porsche truck and that’s an oxymoron. The others keep saying “sure it’s the worst Porsche on the road, but off road it’s a great truck!” So, I usually have one question: Is this very expensive truck better at being a truck than the many less expensive trucks? You can’t deny there are many fine trucks on the market now (without many takers as of late) and some don’t even have an underwhelming interior with fiddly buttons (but placed well!) So, is there a compelling case to get less for more with the Cayenne?

  • avatar

    Though understandable, it’s somehow even worse that its creator hasn’t promoted the Cayenne for what it is, rather than what buyers want it to be.

    I disagree with that last statement. When the Cayenne first came to market a few years ago it was advertised as being “a Porsche for the dirt” and ran commercials featuring a Cayenne Turbo scrambling up a rock trail, suspension jacked up to its highest setting, 20″ wheels an all. I think the only reason it’s advertised differently now is that Porsche finally realizes that no matter how they advertised the Cayenne for what it is, their buyers will always look at this SUV as a jacked-up sports car.

    Great review though Mike. The Cayenne is the extreme opposite of what a 911 is and was demonstrated faithfully here. Now how about we see what the Turbo version can do with some mud tires thrown on for good measure.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Why do some automotive pundits love to disparage the Cayenne? Though I have never appreciated its styling, and bashing it over rocks is appropriate only for those with more money than brains, it has exceeded its performance and profit goals. Two out of three ain’t bad!

  • avatar

    I just want to know why the Touareg is such a piece of crap compared to this. I mean c’mon, they didn’t have to beat it with the VW stick that much…

  • avatar

    On what grounds is the Touareg a piece of crap and the Cayenne isn’t? This isn’t rhetorical, I’m really curious…when both vehicles were new back in the early 2000s, almost every reviewer said Touareg was the better of the two in every respect. Did they not both face the same maintenance issues early on?

  • avatar

    so if the cayenne’s heart is in the dirt, so to speak, what of the Cayenne GT? clearly it’s a recognition that the vehicle is driven 99.9% of the time on paved roads. i test drove one and it’s a very nice handling ute, but imagine what porsche could have done if they had jettisoned the off road nonsense from the get go and created a lighter vehicle designed primarily for the road. seems to me that they couldn’t decide if they wanted to compete with jeep or BMW/Infiniti, maybe they thought they could build one vehicle that was better than either!

  • avatar


    …seems to me that they couldn’t decide if they wanted to compete with jeep or BMW/Infiniti, maybe they thought they could build one vehicle that was better than either!

    Agreed. They tried to do everything at once, and, ultimately, went for the wrong market. While I admire the Cayenne’s engineering profoundly, who wants a Porsche that’s a Land Rover alternative?

    As you know, I recently reviewed the Cayenne GTS. With all that cash sloshing around, why didn’t Porsche jettison the off-road gubbins and make a “proper” lighter, light-speed soft-roader?

  • avatar


    I might have given it higher performance stars. Obviously it’s a performer, but in a different arena than most of the vehicles we see on this site. Remember what Enzo said about the Jeep…

  • avatar

    I am waiting for A Porsche car that can compete with the Japanese and Korean Econoboxes. German Car Manufacturing should be concentrating more on the consumer behavior than their VP behavior.

    Look at Volvo they made a smaller car.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Funny thing is that despite the failings, you see quite a number of these things running around the SF Bay Area. I seriously wonder how many would be swapped out for a Panamera when it comes down the line. I see the twisted logic: I want a Porsche and I want to carry more than two people. This crowd for some reason wanted something a bit more unique than the very common X5 and ML runabouts. Is this Porsche’s people carrier?

  • avatar

    Ok, so the way I see it is Porsche has made a vehicle that performs very well on the road in dry condictions, performs very well on the road in wet and snowy conditions in AWD mode, and ALSO is a 100% real 4×4 off-road vehicle capable of handling some serious trails.

    Viewed in another light the Cayenne is the true Swiss army knife of vehicles on the road today. One can run with a AWD 535xi Touring on the highway during the trip to the countryside and than simply raise the suspension and proceed cross country right behind your friend in a 4×4 Wrangler. Like it or not this is some amazing sh*t! and unlike the sissified LR RR the Cayenne does not look stupid covered in mud and dirt.

    I for one do get the Cayenne, it is a REAL sports activity vehicle for those that can afford one and do choose to use it as intended. Just because socceer moms happen to like them too does not deminish what the Cayenne is truly capable of. I see many automatic equiped Porsches and Corvettes, does the fact that these cars also appeal to folks that are not true performance car enthusaist make there primary mission false?

    Saying that Porsche should have made the Cayenne more of a “cute ute” to appeal to the POSER crowd is a big mistake. A Cayenne merely as capable as an x5 would provided Porsche with no real creed like the really off-road capable Cayenne does.

    One can pose in a Cayenne but the Cayenne is not JUST for posers.

  • avatar

    While its all well and good that the Cayenne is a mudder, its a mother’s mudder. I would wager that this review takes the total off road trips in a non-test Cayenne to 4. And what type of tires did said Cayenne come equipped with?

    Porsche built the Cayenne to cash in on the SUV craze and raise money to build better sports cars (they said). Instead they brought a whole new demographic to Porsche that doesn’t give a damn about hates Porsche DNA and blew the profits on buying VW. Now they’re coming out with a big bloated sedan whose potential owners will want it to drive like a Porsche as much as Isreal wants to host Ahmadinejad (Im-a-dinner-jacket, credit: Moreen Dowd AFAIK) as an honored guest.

    In the annuls of how Porsche fell from the “most profitable company in the world” to just another automaker, Cayenne will be the star.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Is 6:11-13 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And He said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate …”

  • avatar

    Ah yes, TTAC’s monthly Cayenne review.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    With the SUV fad over, I predict the Panamera will severely canabalize Cayenne sales.

  • avatar

    So is it better or worse than the BMW X6 (or whatever that 5,000 lb monstrosity is called)? If I remember right, the Cayenne certainly isn’t cheaper.

  • avatar

    Hello there, RF!

    Your instructions to Mike Solowiow prior to his test drive were spot-on, and reminds me that one doesn’t often get the sort of independence and (more important) INSIGHT that TTAC provides, from other motoring journals.

    More power!

  • avatar


    If only we could tell between the poseurs and the enthusiasts… oh wait, you can by the mud on the SUV’s, and the sticks in the Corvettes. Nice to know others share my perspective…

  • avatar

    Wasn’t there a report that Porsche is planning something based on the Golf? More brand dilution to come.

    VW/Audi both have prettier interiors for less money. And the VW comes in that V10 diesel! Drool…

  • avatar

    What were the exact options this Cayenne was equipped with?

    I heard that it became an amazing offroader with the $3,000 “off-road technology package,” but I am curious as to what a stripper Cayenne can do without ticking any of Porsche’s famously painful option boxes.

    Something about this (and the X5) appeals to me massively. Aside from the pain at gas stations, these sound like the ultimate road trip vehicles. Comfortable, competent on pavement and ready to take almost anything that might be thrown at them.

  • avatar

    Now I will be fair and admit that the majority of Cayenne will spend their entire life on paved roads and streets but I have seen quite a few being used for “sport utility”. I have seen Cayenne towing trailers, I have seen Cayennes on beaches, I have seen Cayennes in camp grounds, and I have seen a few venture places were all of us other drivers (including Tahoes and Subi Outbacks) could NOT!

    For the well-to-do Porsche fans that do enjoy a active lifestyle the Cayenne makes for a very useful vehicle. Sometimes you do need more than a Boxster or 911 but you have absolutely zero need OR DESIRE for a limited use full sized S-class or 7 series. Who wants to put a roof rack on an s550? Exactly who many E-class benzs or 5 series BMWs do you see with trailers attached to them headed for the country?

    So we have a choice here. 5000+lbs, poor milage, limited useful room, and about 2″ of ground clearance in an uber sedan or 5000+lbs, poor mileage, a hatchback, folding rear seats, REAL 4WD, damn near a 12″ of ground clearance, a trailer hitch, and a roof rack. Somehow the Cayenne makes a whole lot more sense than a lot of other glorified chariots on the road today.

  • avatar

    Oink! No wonder they call ’em Porkers.

  • avatar

    4949 pounds?!?

    A few “engineers” ought to be shot.

  • avatar

    Fat and ugly. Sounds like a perfect date!

  • avatar


    but the minivans can’t go offroad like the Cayenne, and the Cayenne is the ONLY luxury SUV to offer a manual transmission, which is way beyond cool.

  • avatar

    Funny: there’s a porshe ad on the side – but for a cayman…

  • avatar

    colored me surprised…looking at them I would have no idea they could even go in a gravel parking lot.

  • avatar

    As someone who thinks motor vehicles do not belong off road, I’m just as happy most Cayenne owners are poseurs. Humans have appropriated enough of creation without this.

    The Cayenne is one plug-ugly vehicle. Not as bad as the Caliber, but the fact that it can even be compared is a blot on this otherwise noble marque.

  • avatar

    Well, I think most of us agree that the Cayenne sucks. The good news is that with SUVs going out of fashion, it’s days are likely numbered.

  • avatar

    never like the Cayenne design/look…..feelings havn’t change towards it….

  • avatar

    I guess I’m not understanding some of the hatred for the Cayenne. Sure it looks fugly by Porsche standards but it’s still one of the most attractive SUVs on the road. As far as design goes, it is the off-road 911.

    Whether SUVs are in fashion or not, it is a well-executed vehicle that excels at what it was engineered to do.

  • avatar


    saying its one of the most attractive SUVs on the road is like saying the snickers is one of the most nutritious candy bars.

    And actually it’s not. The old CRV is much more attractive (I don’t like the new one though). The Cayenne is C grade styling. If I’m going to buy a Porsche, I expect A grade.

  • avatar

    So they made a dirt racing car on stilts? Then the appropriate competition should be rally cars like the Evo and STI.

    As for those that complain about the styling, speaking as a Porsche owner, they aren’t all that attractive to begin with. They are like jelly-beans. But their overall balance is what makes them superior cars (and is why the Cayman is superior to the 911).

  • avatar

    With a ground clearance of only 8.5 inches you’re still going to get stuck in places where pickup trucks pave the way.
    So you’ll need the adjustable air suspension.

  • avatar

    While I myself am not the biggest SUV 4×4 fan in the world I do understand them and actually envy the folks that have a real use for them.
    Anyone that is going to take their Cayenne off-road will get a big thumbs up from me!

    The only folks I have ever heard call the Cayenne ugly were in capable of seeing it for what it is; an SPORT UTILITY/ACTIVITY VEHICLE. Sexy and beautiful dont relly cut it on the trail. Is a Wrangler beautiful to look at?

    Now if Prosche would make friends with VW/ Audi again and get the TDI V10 for the Cayenne………

  • avatar

    Because otherwise, cash cow or not, the Cayenne makes no sense.

    Ah… once again, the anti SUV bias rises to the surface.

    It DOESN’T MATTER that it EXCELS at what it was designed for…

    It DOESN’T MATTER that it is better ON THE ROAD than 90% of all cars…

    It DOESN’T MATTER that it makes Porsche a shit load of money…

    It’s an SUV and therefore the green weenies HATE IT… What ignorant communist dweebs.

  • avatar

    Beetlebug makes a very good point… I have to confess I was a hater until I was driven in one of the more powerful versions – it changed my view – an incredible piece of automotive engineering.

  • avatar

    looks like every tom dick and harry wants every car company to build ecno-boxes who’s entire fame to existance is some questionable fuel ratings.

    Cars like This one, Land Rover, Explorer will always have a segment, may just not be 52% of the total car & Truck sales

  • avatar

    I’m not sure I understand the Cayenne criticism. It is an SUV … and a pretty dang good one at that. No, it’s not a sports car. But all of you who complain that Cayenne owners will never take it off road, how many of you have taken your 911s or Caymans on the track? How many of you have actually driven your Porsche faster than 100 mph … for extended periods of time? I owned a C4 and had the pleasure of regularly “cruising” the autobahn at 150 mph. Now, I have a family and live in the snowbelt. A C4 isn’t practical, so now I have a Cayenne. Add in the fact that Porsche has made a enough money on these to keep the company not only in the black but expand its holdings in VW, and I think Cayenne has been good for Porsche.

  • avatar

    Unless it isn’t.

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