Well, this feels kind of like kicking a dog, doesn’t it? It’s not exactly opening up a new journalistic frontier to say “OMG THE CAYENNE SUX”. Rarely has a vehicle been as reviled as Porsche’s platform-promiscuous porky-pig of an SUV seems to universally be. Still, as Pope once said,
Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,
This painted child of dirt that stinks and stings;
Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,
Yet wit ne’er tastes, and beauty ne’r enjoys…
And of all the vile variations on the Cayenne (at least two of which, it must be disclosed, your humble author operated as occasional-use vehicles) this “V6” is the worst, the lowest, the most base, the most loathsome.
What is a Cayenne? Once again, as with the 914, it is the offspring of a contested project shared between Porsche and Volkswagen. The official line is that the vehicles were developed together to a point and then the Porsche and VW teams were separated to complete their variants. At the very least, the Cayenne and Touareg share the same chassis, transmission, AWD system, suspension, windshield, and doors. Floormats from a Cayenne fit a Touareg. The “hard points” under the dashboards seem to be the same. The driving experience is similar, at least in the first-generation vehicles. The primary differences were the interior panels and the powertrain: the VW made do with the corporate 4.2V8 while the Cayenne had first the characterful 4.5 Porsche V8 followed by a 4.8 direct-injection evolution. I used to drive a six-speed Cayenne GTS with the 4.8 and it had some nontrivial scoot to it. You could make serious time in traffic. It was even vaguely useful as a road-course tour bus:
At the base end of the lineup, however, both trucks shared Volkswagen’s VR6. Any sporting pretensions the Cayenne had were utterly undone by using the 247-horsepower mill. Sure, when inserted into a Golf or Jetta, the VR6 was a rapid enough conveyance, but matched against two and a half tons of Leipzig iron, it wasn’t nearly enough. A manual transmission was available, but the vast majority of owners burdened the already overwhelmed “six” further with a torque converter.
Oh, look! Another penalty-box Porsche interior! The scary part is that, to the experienced Cayenne driver, a lot of big-money options are evident in that dreary center stack. We’ve got the PCM nav screen, air suspension, heated seats… The V6 Cayenne based at $42,900, but most went out the door at well over fifty grand. You had to put some options in them or the cockpit ambiance wouldn’t match that of a first-generation Hyundai Santa Fe.
No matter how many options you selected, the interior never matched that of the much cheaper, but substantially similar, VW Touareg. Of the two, it was the Volkswagen that had metal interior appointments, sexy blue lighting, and sturdy-feeling door cards. Did I mention that the 2004 Touareg V8 started at $42,640 and had a much longer standard-feature list? Now you know. To put things a little further in perspective, buyers who weren’t so choosy about build quality could also pick the Mercedes ML500 at $46400, and buyers who had never been to Africa and seen a “Land Cruiser Colorado” could enjoy some nouveau-friendly prestige from the Lexus GX460 at $45375.
Assuming that you skipped all the obvious better choices and forged ahead with the purchase of a fifty-thousand-dollar six-cylinder truck, the adventure was just beginning. Not the off-road adventure, but the electrical-problems adventure. Early Cayennes had absolutely abysmal service records. Radios, PCM systems, headlights, mirrors… the list went on and on. As is usual, the Zuffenhausen crew blamed the problems on the owners, many of whom were experiencing Porsche dealer “service” for the first time. The Touraegs weren’t much better, but they had the advantage of being priced in line with the rest of the market. Did I mention the air suspension’s tendency to simply pack up and drop the truck to the bump stops? If you’d owned one, I wouldn’t need to mention it.
Like abused spouses, we Porschephiles continued to alternately cower before and flirt with our corporate overlords. They told us that the massive profits from the Cayenne would go towards solving the problems with the 911 and Boxster that they swore no longer existed. We all know now that the profits actually went into a complicated system of currency hedging and speculative stock purchase.
If you’re interested in purchasing a Cayenne of this era, prices range from $15K for the loaded V6 models ($55K new) to $35K for Turbos (which often rang the register for $120K or more). Don’t do it. As with the 928, the purchase price is really more of a transfer tax. If you want a V-8 Porsche, go ahead and buy a 928. It will make you utterly miserable, but when it runs there’s incandescent brilliance in the big coupe. The Cayenne, on the other hand, was never anything special, and for a Porsche, that’s unforgivable.