2004 Porsche Cayenne Review - Autoblog (2023)

Not your father's Porsche.


Barely 10 years ago, the idea would have been dismissed as absurd.A Porsche sport-utility vehicle? What've you been smoking?

Not that Porsche lacks experience with off-road vehicles.Its engineering wing has developed several all-wheel-drive military vehicles, and specially prepared Porsche racecars ruled the grueling Paris-Dakar raid through the North African desert in the 1980s.Yet compared to automotive giants like General Motors, Toyota or Daimler-Chrysler, Porsche is a cottage manufacturer, with a tiny fraction of the production volume.For 50 years the company carved its niche with quick, nimble, relatively small sports cars, cars built on values almost diametrically opposed to those represented by a big SUV.It speaks to our changing automotive tastes, if not the times, that Porsche felt the need to invest in an SUV and a new factory to build it.

Ready or not, the most anticipated new Porsche in decades, the Cayenne, is here.The company's SUV is what many expected it would be: technically slick and remarkably fast, with on-road handling that belies its bulk.The Cayenne also delivers what most SUV buyers demand, including decent cargo space, more than enough capability for casual off-road use and impressive towing capacity.For style, pure performance and a balance of sport-utility virtues, the Porsche Cayenne is very tough to be beat.

Like many Porsches, the Porsche of SUVs is also very expensive.With tax and license, a loaded Cayenne Turbo can crack the $100,000 barrier, and that alone will knock it off most shopping lists.But even the well heeled can be value conscious.Many who can afford a Cayenne will find much of the performance and all the satisfaction of use and ownership for half that $100,000 price.Cayenne will be truly appreciated by a relative handful of SUV buyers with exacting demands.We'll call them connoisseurs.

In that respect, the Cayenne isn't much different than most Porsches before it.


Officially, the Cayenne was launched as a 2003 model and early models are called 2003s, but think of it as a 2004 model.The 2003 and 2004 models are identical.

There are two versions of the Cayenne, both built around Porsche's new 4.5-liter dohc V8 engine with automatic transmission and full-time, variable-torque all-wheel drive.The less expensive Cayenne S retails at $55,900.For that money, you might also buy any of these luxury-class SUVs and leave anywhere from $14,000 to $2,000 in the bank: an Acura MDX, a BMW X5, a Cadillac Escalade, a Hummer H2, an Infiniti FX45, a Lexus GX470, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes ML500 or Volvo XC90 T6.

The normally aspirated Cayenne S delivers 340 horsepower (more than most of the SUVs noted above).Standard features include luxury-class requisites such as leather seating with 12-way power adjustment, automatic climate control with dual front-passenger settings, heated retractable exterior mirrors, multi-function trip computer and a 350-watt, 14-speaker Bose stereo with CD.The Cayenne S also comes with insulated laminated glass and sophisticated anti-skid electronics.

Beyond the electronic skid management and the latest-generation antilock brakes, all Cayennes get luxury-grade passive safety features, starting with six airbags: dual-stage front and side-impact airbags for front passengers, and curtain-style head protection airbags on both sides of the cabin.All five seating positions have three-point belts with pretensioners to instantly tighten them and limit stretching on impact.The front belts also have automatic force limiters, reducing potential for belt-related injuries.

From the Cayenne S, Porsche raises the ante considerably for the Cayenne Turbo.At $88,900, the Turbo costs more than just about any SUV on any planet, including Land Rover's Range Rover.Yet with a twin-turbocharged version of the V8 and a whopping 450 horsepower, the Cayenne Turbo also delivers more power than any other SUV.

The Turbo also adds adjustable air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), a variable dampening system that uses five accelerometers and electronically controlled adjustable shocks to manage body weight transfer both on and off road.The Turbo includes upgrades such as heated front and rear seats, electric steering wheel adjustment and park-assist radar warning front and rear.It's equipped with Porsche Communications Management (PCM), a GPS navigation system with integrated telephone and audio controls.Finally, the Cayenne Turbo has bi-xenon headlights that turn, Tucker-style, with the steering wheel.

Most everything on the Turbo is offered on the Cayenne S as an option (except the turbocharged engine).We drove both models, but the primary test vehicle was a Cayenne S with these extras: air suspension ($3,200), PCM ($2,700), all-seat and steering wheel electric heaters ($960); power glass sunroof ($1,100), a dark Burr walnut wood package ($990), front and rear parking assist ($990), tire-pressure monitor ($590), a trailer hitch and ball ($590), a roof carrying system ($450) and Lapis Blue metallic paint ($495).So equipped, this S model retails at a substantial $68,760 with destination charge.

Other popular options include a six-disc CD changer ($715) and huge, 20-inch sport wheels ($2,110).There are seat upgrades and a full Smooth Leather package that covers everything from grab handles to the center console in hide ($3,200).There's also a light Olive wood package, two different wood-trimmed steering wheels ($240) and Porsche Entry and Drive ($1,960), which allows a driver to unlock and start the Cayenne by pulling the door handle and touching the shift lever.Owners can customize their SUV with Porsche's Tequipment line of dealer-installed accessories, from stowage systems to running boards to stainless steel brush guards.Finally, there is Porsche's Exclusive factory customization program.This is where sheiks go to have.


Porsche maintains that styling is a crucial element of 'Porscheness,' and it's easy so see Porsche in the company's new SUV.The family resemblance is most obvious in the Cayenne's headlights and grille work, which closely resemble those on the 911 and Boxster.As it is with the 911 Turbo, the Cayenne Turbo is easy to distinguish from its lesser sibling, thanks to larger grilles that increase the amount of air flowing through the engine bay.

The designers believe they've transferred all the emotion of a Porsche sports car to the Cayenne, but we'll leave that call to you.Tastes in styling are truly subjective.Many who examined the Cayenne during our test drive loved it.More than one interested observer said it resembles a frog.Either way, the stylist's handiwork has produced a 0.39 coefficient of drag, impressive for a big, boxy SUV, and good for limiting wind noise at high speed.

Cayenne is not a small vehicle.Measuring 188.3 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 112.4 inches, it's longer than the BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class and a few hundred pounds heavier than both.Conversely, at 4949 pounds in its lightest specification, Cayenne weighs 550 pounds less than a Lincoln Navigator, which is two feet longer.An inspection underneath this SUV suggests that it's well engineered, perhaps over-engineered, compared to many mass-market sport-utilities.Apparently Porsche engineers preferred not to take chances with their first SUV, in the event that some owners actually drive it aggressively off road.

In size, Cayenne most closely matches Volkswagen's new Touareg; indeed, in some respects the Cayenne is a Touareg.That's because both were created from the same basic blueprint.These days ground-up vehicle development runs in the $1 billion range, and that puts a small company like Porsche (which sells 55,000 cars in a great year) at a distinct disadvantage, especially if it's venturing into new territory.Porsche had little choice but to find a partner, and it chose the Volkswagen-Audi Group, a company that has previously worked with Porsche on cars such as the 914 and 924.

Porsche was the project leader in the Cayenne/Touareg joint venture, and much of the work done on Volkswagen's dime was conducted by Porsche's contract engineering division, which accounts for a third of the company's business.Joint development was limited to the basic floor pan and some drivetrain components.Engines, suspension tuning, styling and all the finish work were the separate responsibility of each manufacturer.

As a result of this cooperation, Cayenne and Touareg bodies are built at a new plant in Bratislava, Slovakia.Engines and other Cayenne components are built by Porsche in Zuffenhausen, Germany, and mated to the Cayenne shells at a new assembly plant in Leipzig, constructed exclusively for Cayenne with its own pavement and off-road test tracks.

This auto-industry backgrounder is relevant to any consumer preparing to part with a substantial amount of money for a high-end SUV because if two vehicles share a foundation, they're likely to share a basic quality, or lack thereof.A well-equipped VW Touareg will sell for about 40 percent of the price of a high-end Cayenne.

To Porsche's view, the Touareg is more utilitarian than Cayenne, and built for comfort.Cayenne has Porsche emotion, and it's built for speed.Porsche executives express confidence that, with the SUV's unique Porsche characteristics, consumers will easily recognize Cayenne as a special vehicle.We'd agree that some undetermined percentage of consumers would do exactly that.

Those 'unique Porsche characteristics' include the engine.The Cayenne's 4.5-liter V8 has all the latest high-tech goodies, including Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing, which allows an impressive combination of smooth idling, good low-end torque and free-revving high-end horsepower.The 4.5.


Inside the Cayenne are familiar Porsche cues: the shape and feel of the gear selector and the thick, grippy, three-spoke steering wheel (heated in our test vehicles), with multiple controls on the hub for audio, trip computer and climate adjustments.

The instrument pod is tucked under a single, prominent arch, with two big gauges (tachometer left, speedo right) on either side of a central multifunction display.This offers information on audio and trip functions, mechanical operations and ambient conditions.Automatic speed and wiper controls are located on stalks on either side of the steering column.The bulk of the switches, including audio and climate controls, are racked in the center of the dash above the center console.These are replaced with a CRT monitor on Cayennes equipped with Porsche Communications Management.A dozen vents throughout the cabin distribute warm or cool air evenly.

The Cayenne is not as richly appointed as a similarly priced Range Rover, but it's not supposed to be.The emphasis here is sporting flair, rather than traditional luxury.With the exception of a cheesy looking headliner and oddly designed armrests in the doors, the materials and finish are acceptable for a vehicle of this ilk.The standard leather upholstery is high grade.The standard metal trim has a brushed finish.The front seats stand out for their balance of support, comfort and adjustment range, and the navigation display screen is one of the largest we've encountered.Moreover, the nav system calculates routes and makes adjustments more quickly than just about any we've used.

Cayenne transports five adults in reasonable comfort.The rear seat is well countered, with excellent headroom and decent legroom, even when the front seats are well back in their travel range.Seating for five is something we haven't seen previously in a Porsche.But don't expect the interior volume of a Lincoln Navigator, and don't look for a third-row seat.

A few other things we've never seen in Porsche until now: The rear seatback folds forward in a 60/40 split, and it also includes a pass-though slot with a ski sack, allowing Cayenne to haul longer, narrow items inside without flattening the rear seat.There's a standard cargo net to keep grocery bags and other items from sliding around during travel and a retractable shade-type cover that opens and closes over the cargo hold.

The Cayenne boasts 19 cubic feet of stowage space with the rear seat in place and 62.5 cubic feet with the seat folded.That gives the Porsche more cargo space than the BMW X5, slightly less than the Mercedes M-Class.The tailgate is two-stage, the glass opens up, as does the entire gate.The dimensions of the tailgate opening and load floor allow Cayenne to haul small appliances such as a bar-size refrigerator or a large TV set.Moreover, with an impressive payload of 1600 pounds, a Cayenne owner should be able to haul just about anything that can be crammed inside without worrying about exceeding recommended weights.

Cayenne has maximum ground clearance of 10.75 inches and a fording depth 21.9 inches, and when it comes to towing capacity, this hot-rod SUV is no pretender.Both the Cayenne S and Turbo can pull 7700 pounds; you can't get a similar tow rating short of a heavy-duty pickup or pickup-based SUV.This Porsche should easily tow a horse trailer, or just about any tow boat on the market.

Driving Impression

Want Porsche? Sit still in the Cayenne's driver seat and gently blip the accelerator pedal.These are not the sounds emanating from the typical SUV.The Cayenne's exhaust rumbles a bit louder, maybe, and certainly deeper.Even at idle, the burble of low-restriction mufflers, the cams and the suck of intake air remind us of the late, great Porsche 928, a V8-powered GT that swallowed chunks of pavement at an alarming rate.Yet this is the Porsche SUV, and the thought can be difficult for longtime Porsche enthusiasts to get their arms around.Perhaps Cayenne more appropriately invokes images of the Paris-Dakar 959s skimming over giant dunes in the Sahara at 140 mph.

The Sahara we couldn't arrange, but we did muck the Cayenne through a muddy off-road course in the south of Spain.It should be noted that Porsche development engineers laid out this course, no doubt to highlight the Cayenne's off-road strengths.This was not a bolder-laden wilderness trail like the Rubicon, but it included axle-deep mud and steep, low-grip 50-yard grades.Up, down and across, the Cayenne performed flawlessly with little sweat for the driver.In most cases the electronics did the heavy lifting, and the driver had to simply, lightly modulate the throttle or brake in low range.Cayenne's performance impressed even the jaded, and supported Porsche's assertion that it has more off-road capability than the X5 or ML, which we've tested in similar circumstances.

At one point we crept the Cayenne through a succession of holes a couple of feet in diameter and 10 inches deep, dropping a wheel on one side into one of the holes and then another wheel on the opposite side into another hole, so that the vehicle repeatedly bobbed left-right like a pack camel dipping its legs to be loaded.Impressive or not, Cayenne's off?road capability may not amount to much of a sales point.This is what SUVs are supposed to do, but Porsche salesmen like to joke that few 911 owners will even take their cars out in the rain.It that's true, then there's not much reason to think Cayenne owners will allow their SUV to be blasted with gravel or painted with mud.

Still, the hole-crabbing was instructive as to the overall stiffness of the Cayenne's body/frame, and to its rattle-free operation on pavement.It flexed just in bit in situations that might bend lesser SUVs in half.And remembering the joint Cayenne/VW Touareg platform development, we presume that the less expensive Touareg will share the same, solid rigidity.

On a muddy flat in the off-road course, we tried to evaluate Cayenne's anti-skid electronics, and we discovered something we don't expect to find in the Touareg.The electronics are programmed relatively loosely, allowing either the front or rear of the Cayenne to slide a bit before the brakes apply themselves or the engine throttles back.In the mud the Cayenne's standard 32/68-torque bias showed itself in easy dirt-tracking power slides, with the steering wheel turned slightly in opposite lock and the rear-end hung out in a fishtail-type skid with a bit of accelerator modulation.

There's more than rumbling exhaust to suggest that Cayenne's V8 isn't the typical SUV engine.There's a ton of power here.Even in the Cayenne S, the reserve of torque is better than ample.At any speed, the six-speed automatic kicks down quickly with a jab at the gas pedal and the S accelerates like a jumbo jet approaching rotation speed.We're not sure why anyone (sanely) needs more get-up in a big SUV than the Cayenne S, but those who do might try the Turbo.

The Cayenne Turbo is easily the quickest SUV we have ever tested.If Porsche's 0-62 mph time of 5.6 seconds bears up, and we'd estimate that it's a bit conservative, then the Cayenne Turbo has more than a half second on its closest competitor, the Mercedes ML55 AMG.And at about seven seconds from 0-60, the Cayenne S is no slo.


The Porsche Cayenne is a 165-mph high-performance machine that will fit a family of five, haul a small washing machine, tow a large boat and get you carefully through the woods when there's no road.It's a 5000-pound speed-sled that can handle rugged trails.

Do rapid acceleration, excellent brakes and the right sounds add up to a Porsche, or just a nice SUV that goes faster than the rest? Maybe the Cayenne is immensely practical.Maybe it's excess.Most SUVs buyers will be able to fill their needs for a lot less than the price of a Cayenne.We can't imagine that many buyers need the extreme mix of attributes offered by Porsche's SUV.But then, how many buyers actually need an SUV? How many actually need a sports car? Often, need isn't the issue or even the primary motivation in purchasing an automobile.Porsche is banking on that.

Model Lineup

Cayenne S ($55,990); Cayenne Turbo ($88,900).

Assembled In

Leipzig, Germany.

Options As Tested

air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management ($3,200); Porsche Communications Management system with GPS navigation and integrated telephone/audio controls ($2,700); all-seat and steering wheel electric heaters ($960); power glass sunroof ($1,100); dark Burr wood package ($990); front and rear parking assist ($990); tire-pressure monitor ($590); trailer hitch and ball ($590); roof carrying system ($450); Lapis Blue metallic paint ($495).

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