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Car of the Year 2004: Porsche Cayenne Turbo

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Building an SUV might not have seemed an obvious choice for Porsche; when announced, the news prompted head-scratching, even amid the extreme vogue for SUVs. (Lamborghini did set a precedent in the 1980s with its LM, but that was a supercar anomaly.) The Stuttgart automaker famous for rear-engine, 2+2 sports cars nevertheless attacked the category with a vengeance. Porsche’s Cayenne Turbo leapfrogged right past the chronically underpowered offerings from the other luxury SUV manufacturers into, well, Porsche territory.

Oddball styling has earned the Cayenne its share of critical comment, especially when compared to the cleaner lines of the Volkswagen Touareg, with which it shares a basic platform. The Turbo model does benefit from a larger grille area, which provides a more unifying effect for the incongruent Boxsterish nose and the otherwise unremarkable SUV design. 

Once you are ensconced behind the wheel, however, the Cayenne’s looks become a trivial complaint. The argument that the Cayenne is neither fish nor fowl, that it splits the difference between sports car and SUV without excelling in either category, is a red herring. It is, in fact, an honest SUV that does not pretend its owners hit the trails in Moab, frequent the lumber department at Home Depot, or travel with more than two or three passengers at a time.

The Cayenne has as much utility as many SUV owners will ever need and sweetens the pot with performance no other SUV can match. The massive 450 horsepower produced by the 4.5-liter, turbocharged V-8 puts it near the head of any class and handily outstrips fellow SUVs—the Escalade’s 345 hp, the Mercedes ML55’s 342 hp, and the Range Rover’s 282 hp, for instance. The Cayenne Turbo boasts a sub-6-second acceleration time to 60 mph, as well as notable high-speed stability. The three suspension settings—from sport to comfort—provide dramatically different rides. The sport setting encourages the driver to throw the Cayenne into corners, but the trade-off is a relatively harsh ride on uneven highways. In comfort mode, ride quality improves markedly while handling capabilities diminish. Around town, the Cayenne’s midsize dimensions allow for easy maneuvering.

While it is difficult to fault the Cayenne’s technical prowess, the interior would benefit from further ministrations—as is the case with so many cars, even in this class. Materials, design, and palette could all stand some rethinking, although Porschephiles will appreciate the familiar placement of the ignition to the left of the steering wheel. 

“I’m an original 996 Twin Turbo owner, and this SUV is fun, functional, and fast.” —Jon Tamiyasu

“The Cayenne Turbo is the best SUV in the world. If you can stand the thought of actually subjecting a near-six-figure utility vehicle to the indignities of mud, snow, gravel, and towing, this is the SUV for you. A truck may be more honest, but some folks can’t live without making a social statement in their top-dollar SUV, and no doubt, this one is at the top of the heap. But to me, putting any utility vehicle alongside these other cars is like entering the prettiest poodle on the planet in a Miss America pageant: It’s still just a dog.” —Robert Ross

“Can you get one re-bodied so it’s not so ugly?” —Bruce Hannay

“For those who wail that Porsche is straying from its sporting heritage with

the Cayenne, the forthcoming V-6–powered SUV can be their latest ammunition in their strikes at the automaker. However, one simply cannot make the same argument with the Cayenne Turbo. If the 911 Turbo is one of the icons of sport and speed, the Cayenne Turbo fulfills the exact same mission. No other SUV—BMW’s X5, Land Rover’s Range Rover, and certainly not General Motors’ Hummer H2—comes close.”  —Fluto Shinzawa

Specifications

Engine 4.5-liter twin-turbo V-8

Power 450 hp at 6,000 rpm

Torque 457 ft lbs at 2,250 rpm

Zero-to-60 time 5.6 seconds

Top speed 165 mph

Transmission 5-speed automatic Tiptronic

Wheelbase 112.4 inches

Curb weight 5,200 pounds

Base price $88,900

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