Porsche Cayenne Haters: Quit Your Bitchin'

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman

Porsche recently unleashed the Cayenne Turbo S, a 521-horse update on their 'regular' Cayenne Turbo. While I haven't had the pleasure of testing Porsche's latest, greatest off-roader, Porsche purists have used the model's debut as an excuse to, once again, make snide remarks about The Sultans of Stuttgart's SUV. Even though the truck has dumped a mountain of money into Porsche's corporate coffers– funding the development of the 911, Boxster, Caymen and forthcoming Panamera– a great many US Porschephiles still think of the Cayenne as Mrs. Porsche Driver's second-rate whip. While the general population of pistonheads won't even notice this ongoing slander campaign, I do and it pisses me off.

Apparently, the Cayenne is a rolling indictment of Stuttgart's brand management, a vehicle that betrays all that's holy in Porsche World. According to this theory's addled adherents, the Cayenne represents a dangerous diversion from Porsche's one true mission: producing 911's and, if it really must, other sports cars. By this strict standard, the faster the Cayenne, the more suitable it is for non-paved surfaces, the more of an abomination it becomes– like some kind of hideous tuner project gone out of control. The fact that the Porsche factory racing team jacked-up a couple 959s and won the Dakar Rally twice doesn't come into it. A Porsche is not a truck, and a truck is not a Porsche.

Of course, even these fussy enthusiasts know that Porsche has deviated from its pure form — P. J. O'Rourke's "ass-engined Nazi slot car"– many times. Surely the brand faithful haven't forgotten the front-engined 928, 924, 944 and 968, or the mid-engined 914? When the superb Boxster appeared, the Carrerisiti also slated it for having a trunk near the exhaust pipes. The purists criticized the last generation 996 for being– ready for it– water cooled! Never mind the fact that the 996 kicked the schnitzel out of the 993 in every meaningful way.

And now, again, the Cayenne SUV gets a kicking. OK, granted, the entry level Cayenne, with its VeeDub-sourced six-cylinder engine, is about as appealing as Subaru's B9 Tribeca — which is to say not at all. And while we're at it, the normally-aspirated 340hp Cayenne S isn't exactly what you'd call exhilarating. (It's Carmella Soprano, not Paulie Walnuts.) But the 450hp Turbo and its brat-out-of-Hell sibling, the 521hp Turbo S, are two of the finest SUVs ever made. For one thing, short of military vehicles like a Hummer H1 or a Unimog, no truck can match the Cayenne Turbo's non-pavement prowess.

I've owned three Jeeps. Working as a team, they couldn't traverse the rough stuff like a Cayenne Turbo. On the most challenging off-road course I've ever encountered, the uber-truck conquered all. It mastered a 60% incline by virtue of a 32 degree approach angle and 11 inches of ground clearance. Sure, Cayenne drivers are "isolated" from rocky terrain, but that is, I believe, part of the point. Fine, the ABS makes some awful sounds as the brake-calipers stop airborne wheels from spinning. The payoff is poise on a precipice. Yes, the computer is doing most of the heavy lifting. So what? The Cayenne will take you to places other SUVs couldn't reach in their muddiest dreams. FAST, too.

While a Land Rover or Land Cruiser may nearly match the Cayenne's slow-speed mountain goat routine, nothing– not even an EVO– will catch a Cayenne Turbo on a long, dusty road. It's the Paris-Dakar rally car writ large, with all the fun that concept implies. On-road, the Cayenne Turbo defies logic. Flogging the beast around an autocross track is revelatory. How on earth can anything this fat (5500 pounds) and ugly (more correctly, "deformed") hustle round the cones not only as quickly as a WRX, but with as much control? Then you remember that the same truck just swam through two-feet of water, bashed its ass on a boulder and drove up a wall. Stunning. More like unbelievable. Bravo Porsche, bra-fucking-vo.

OK, I suppose the brand-protecting purists have something of a point. This monster looks like Bigfoot next to a Boxster on the showroom floor. From a marketing and PR point of view, Porsche would have been better advised to build their truck under an entirely different label. If the anti-Porsche SUV crowd had been given a Volkswagen or Audi Cayenne Turbo, there'd be fewer cries of Judas kiss. Porsche still would have collected the necessary ducats to fund the Cayman and the upcoming Panamera and remained independent enough to buy one fifth of VAG. Still, a rose by any other name would still kick ass both on and off-road, and bring credit to the engineers who tend the garden in which it grows.

Jonny Lieberman
Jonny Lieberman

Cleanup driver for Team Black Metal V8olvo.

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