I’ll just be honest. When the Porsche Cayenne first debuted in 2002, it hurt my soul, just a little bit. Now, I’m not a total purist who demands that Porsche builds only air-cooled 911s, but still…Porsche, building an SUV? It seemed sacrilegious to me, an angry teenager in the suburbs. And trust me, nobody does angsty entitlement like a spoiled white kid from an middle class family.
I didn’t want it, and goddamnit, me and my $6.00 an hour would just go somewhere else, thank you very much. For better or worse, Porsche is ran by some folks with a bit more foresight than me. Those kooky Germans, always planning in advance. So after some strategizing and planning that would have made Schlieffen proud, they dropped their new behemoth into the open market. It did well. Shockingly well.
Times have changed, as they tend to. I’m still not the biggest fan of the Cayenne, but that’s more because I tend to dislike SUVs in general, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the platform. If you just HAVE to buy an SUV, you could certainly do a lot worse than the Cayenne. Sure, it may not be the most traditionally attractive car, but Porsche has never made it’s money on styling. The entire focus has been about the driving experience. And after my time at the wheel of all the Cayennes I’ve been able to take out, I can tell you that it does drive well. Far better than something that tall has any right to. It’s either brilliant German engineering, or dangerous Teutonic spellcasting. I think we know which.
Porsche had always put driver involvement first, and the Cayenne carries on this tradition. It is my (heavily biased) opinion that nothing drives quite like a Porsche. Other manufacturers may build faster cars, or more comfortable ones, or more flashy ones, but the Porsche will always just…work. Due to my job, I get a bit of seat time in all manner of luxury SUVs, from Escalades, to Range Rovers. The Porsche is the one I would take home at the end of the day, every time. The directness and immediacy of every input is just mind-boggling.
My first drive in a Cayenne was summed up by a single thought, “nothing this size should corner this well.” I’ve never been tempted to try some lift-off oversteer in an SUV, but the Porsche makes that seem like an entirely reasonable proposition. I get the feeling that it would not be bothered in the slightest by it. Of course, as in all Porsches, the speed varies wildly across the wide range of engine options. The hybrid is respectable, but not impressive, and the Turbo S is hilariously, irreverantly overpowered. But regardless of the drivetrain, that chassis shines. As befits a true Porsche, the suspension is significantly more important than the actual horsepower.
But the horsepower in the upper trim levels is downright obscene. I’ve driven a wide variety of Cayennes, but the only one that anyone really cares about is the big boy. That’s what you want to hear about, right? Nobody cares about the hybrid. A couple of weeks ago I spent a bit of time playing with a 2014 Cayenne Turbo S. We’re talking the full monty. Sport chrono package, red seat belts, 550 horsepower. Sheer madness. I’ll try to do a full review eventually, unless Pure Pursuit Automotive sells it before then.
Throughout the cabin are subtle nods to the Cayenne’s pedigree. The tachometer sits dead ahead, full baboon-ass red in this one, bracketed in by the speedometer and a multi-function display. Because more important than your speed, or your location, are your RPMs. This is how I operate both my car and my motorcycle. Engine speed first and foremost, and everything else is incidental. They’ve even carried over the tradition of the ignition key being placed on the left of the steering column.
For those of you who don’t know, every Porsche vehicle manufactured today has the key on the left of the steering wheel. Yes, before you ask, it feels very odd the first few times. Kind of like a bathhouse in Budapest. But this isn’t done just to be eccentric. That’s more of a Citroen thing. All Porsches have a key on the left due to the company’s history with a little racetrack in France known as Circuit de la Sarthe. Now if that doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry. The race is more commonly known by the name of the town: Le Mans. Now, historically, drivers at Le Mans had to run to their racecar, jump in, start it, and then go. No rolling starts here. Now, Porsche, in that interesting German way, had decided that if the ignition was on the left, a driver could turn the key with one hand, as they shifted into gear with the other. This would theoretically save fractions of a second on the start. Now, did those fractions of a second matter much in a race that lasted for 24 hours? I’m not sure, but I love to pretend I’m a racing driver, so I’ll take it.