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2006 Porsche Cayenne review

November 16, 2005 12:03 PM EST | Luxury Brands , Porsche , SUV's | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageAwkward-looking but thrilling behind the wheel, the Cayenne is a thoroughly capable vehicle that makes good on its Porsche nameplate.

Exemplary performance on the street, packed with the latest hardware and luxury features, opulent cabin, solid towing capacity.

Sacrifices some off-road ability in its quest for maximum performance, you have to pay a little extra for the name.

What's New for 2006
A new option for the 2006 Porsche Cayenne is an electronic logbook for recording of mileage, trip length, date and time, starting point and destination address. Another new option is an independent interior preheating and pre-ventilation system with a 24-hour timer. Some features have also been improved this year. The navigation system now has a trace back feature (convenient when you've lost your way in the middle of Namibia, for instance), the 20-inch Sport Techno wheel set has a slightly wider rear wheel measurement and the front airbags have been upgraded.

Long a builder of world-class sports cars, Porsche was an unlikely entrant into the SUV race. It seemed illogical for Porsche to go after a piece of this lucrative pie at the expense of watering down its illustrious reputation. But who can blame the company for wanting to cash in on the bounty? Previous to the Cayenne's introduction in 2003, Porsche bigwigs worried that continuing to build only two products, the 911 and the Boxster, left the company in a narrow market niche vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy.

The gamble has paid off so far as the Cayenne has sold well. Going up against vehicles like the BMW X5, Infiniti FX45, Land Rover Range Rover Sport and Lexus GX 470, the Cayenne is the first Porsche since the 928 to offer a V8 engine. There are three versions: the Cayenne, Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo. A 250-horsepower V6 powers the base model Cayenne, while a 4.5-liter V8 rests under the hood of the Cayenne S and Turbo models. With its 340-hp normally aspirated V8, the Cayenne S can scamper to 60 mph from a stop in 6.8 seconds. The Turbo version makes 450 hp and 457 pound-feet of torque. Porsche says this is good enough to propel the SUV to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds.

As this is a luxury SUV, Porsche has equipped all models with a full complement of features. Indeed, the furnishings are opulent even for this class, with plush carpeting, a suede headliner and rich leather; although, as in other Porsches, additional leather and wood inlays will cost you. There's room for five, or you can fold the rear seats down to reveal a decent amount of cargo space. The four-wheel-drive system is electronically controlled, and the division of power between the front and rear wheels is not determined by the lack of traction alone, but by sensors measuring road speed and driver inputs. Should the owner actually want to take his Cayenne off pavement, the transmission offers low-range gearing for improved performance on steep ascents and descents, and a 100-percent front-to-rear differential lock for maximum traction. Turbo models also come with an air suspension that can raise and lower the ride height for better low- and high-speed performance; it's optional on other Cayennes.

As for safety, all three versions come with a full complement of airbags and standard Porsche Stability Management. The base Cayenne with a manual transmission includes a hill-holder feature, called Porsche Drive-Off Assistant (PDOA) System. This enables the driver to easily set the vehicle in motion on steep inclines. The system "holds" the brakes automatically, allowing the driver to remove his foot from the brake pedal without the vehicle rolling backward. In addition, the Turbo comes with a bi-HID headlight system that can aim its light into a bend, thereby improving illumination when cornering. All this comes at a price, however, as the Turbo stickers over a breathtaking $90,000. Meanwhile, the S model starts in the upper $50Ks, while the base V6 model starts in the $40Ks. Regardless of which Cayenne you choose, this is serious money for an SUV, but for those who have been cramming kids and briefcases into the back of a 911 for years, it might well be a price worth paying.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
Three versions of the four-door, five-passenger Cayenne are offered: base, S and Turbo. Base models come with features such as 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, 12-way power seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 12-speaker CD stereo. The S adds 18-inch wheels and a 350-watt, 14-speaker Bose audio system. The top-line Turbo provides an air suspension with automatic ride height and damping adjustment (Porsche Active Suspension Management), bi-HID headlights, a navigation system, heated seats front and rear, seat memory and front/rear parking assist; most of these items are optional on other Cayennes. Other extras include four-zone climate control, bolstered sport seats, a six-CD changer, various wheel/tire upgrades, an off-road package, a moonroof and trailering preparation.

Powertrains and Performance:
The base Cayenne uses a 3.2-liter V6 that makes 247 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. The midgrade Cayenne S is upgraded with a 4.5-liter V8 rated at 340 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Top-of-the-line Turbos boast 450 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbocharged version of the S model's V8. Power flows to all four wheels via a permanent dual-range four-wheel-drive system that's fully integrated with the stability control system. Although the base model takes about 9 seconds to reach 60 mph, acceleration is sports-carlike on other Cayennes: the S hits 60 mph in 6.8 seconds while the Turbo dispatches that sprint in 5.2 seconds. Maximum towing capacity for all three models is a substantial 7,700 pounds. The base Cayenne is available with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional on that model and standard on S and Turbo models.

Standard safety features on all models include seat-mounted side airbags in the front, full-length side curtain airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and stability control. The Cayenne has not been crash tested.

Interior Design and Special Features:
In a nod to its Porsche heritage, the Cayenne's ignition switch is on the dash's left side, and the instrument cluster would look equally at home in a 911. For those unfamiliar with the legendary sports car, this means that the gauge cluster is nearly perfect, but the climate and radio controls are an indecipherable cluster of buttons and knobs. Cabin furnishings are truly opulent, even by luxury SUV standards. The Cayenne has a maximum cargo capacity of 63 cubic feet, a low number for this class.

Driving Impressions:
Strange as it seems, the Cayenne does live up to the Porsche name in terms of acceleration and handling. The transmission shifts with precision and the engine growls reassuringly under full throttle. Turbo lag is annoying on the top-line model, but otherwise the drivetrain offers little to complain about. It may sound like a cliche, but out on the road the Cayenne is truly the Porsche of SUVs, exhibiting tight body control in the corners. The Cayenne is also a capable SUV when it comes to off-highway work, but only if you specify the optional off-road package.

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