2005 Porsche Cayenne S
Can’t choose between fun-to-drive or towing capacity? With Porsche’s Cayenne S, you don’t have to.
OK, let’s say you’re mired smack dab in the crux of a midlife crisis, and the only things that will cure it are either a mistress, a new boat or a sports car. Now let’s assume you can only afford one of the three—most likely one of the last two.
Let’s assume you already have the boat, something around 7,500 pounds, and you’d still like a sports car for zipping around town. Now let’s assume you can’t give up your tow vehicle, and without selling it or trading it in, you can’t afford the sports car. Unsolvable dilemma? Hardly.
Porsche’s Cayenne S sport utility vehicle can give you up to 7,700 pounds of towing capacity, yet still deliver the fun factor virtually absent from nearly every other SUV on the market.
Porsche purists may scoff at the Cayenne. It’s no 911, but for an SUV with as much towing capacity as it has, it is a ball to drive on and off road.
The Cayenne features six air-suspension level settings, from “special off-pavement” to “special low level.” The highest setting engages in severe off-road conditions when the vehicle is traveling at less than 19 mph. It offers a ground clearance of 10.75 inches and, in concert with its short front overhang, an approach angle of 32 degrees.
Used for street driving, “low level” is about an inch below normal ride height and, according to Porsche literature, is comparable to typical sport suspension. Even if the driver has not manually selected this setting, the Cayenne adjusts itself to low level at speeds of 78 mph or more. The “special low level” setting can’t be manually configured by the driver, but the Cayenne will drop another half-inch to that setting when speeds surpass 130 mph.
The air-suspension system also offers three rates, sport, normal and comfort. Toggle a switch on the console until the lights indicate the selected mode has been activated. Without a trailer in tow, we always had it set to “sport” mode, which prevents a good bit of body roll during hard cornering, but it never seemed harsh or stiff. In turns at speed, the Cayenne remained composed and manageable. As hard as we pushed it on the street, the Cayenne never even hinted at understeer.
Before the corners, hard braking became almost as much fun as the Cayenne’s acceleration. We can say, unequivocally, that the Cayenne has the best brakes of any pickup or SUV we’ve ever tested. Given the usual bevy of Chevy Silverados and Dodge Durangos we test, perhaps that’s not saying much. So it’s fair to say that the brakes are so far superior to other vehicles that it’s not even a contest.
And they should well be. The Cayenne came fitted with massive six-piston monobloc calipers up front and four-piston binders at the rear. Most tow vehicles could be considered well equipped to have four-piston calipers up front.
Braking power was amazing. In addition to being immensely powerful, the brakes also offered incredibly precise feel and easy modulation. Reaction at the pedal was instantaneous and antilock mode was buttery smooth, the best we’ve sampled.
Under the hood, the Cayenne S came with a 340-horsepower 4.5-liter V-8 with variable cam timing and four valves per cylinder. Variable cam timing meant there was lots of power on tap at every engine speed. No doubt the 11.5:1 compression ratio helped, but that kind of squish also necessitated 91-octane fuel. The engine had a deep mellow exhaust note that made you feel good every time you rolled on the throttle.
Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission—built, oddly enough, in Japan—the engine always had the proper ratio no matter the situation. Even with six gears, the transmission never felt busy. To the driver, the transmission felt a lot like a manual, like it had gear-to-gear mesh rather than planetary gear sets and a free-spooling torque converter. Shifts were smooth and quick and quiet.
But how does it tow, you ask? It does the job just fine. It feels solid and stable, even with a 6,500-pound trailer in tow. No wonder these SUVs are such popular tow vehicles among Porsche Owner’s Club racers. There is a slight tugging at the rear, but nothing disconcerting and certainly less than we expected.
With a trailer in tow, the air suspension system adjusts itself so the vehicle remains level and the front end never feels light, even at highway speeds. The transmission also adjusted to the load. Though the Cayenne only has a 112-inch wheelbase, its nearly 5,000 curb weight helps make it a more formidable tow vehicle.
It’s just that you feel so guilty using it for such lowly grunt work—like towing a trailer. But again, if you want a vehicle for genuine “sport” and utility, the Cayenne S is unbeatable.
Though its interior doesn’t feel as luxurious as that of the Volkswagen Touareg, with which it shares a chassis, it is tremendously functional.
For instance, at the beginning of our test week, we felt the interior needed more zip to satisfy the types of buyers who would be lured into a Porsche showroom. However, if you look at every other Porsche car, their interiors are also somewhat Spartan in appearance.
We came to love the ergonomics. The driver’s seat was, like the brakes, the best we’ve sampled in any tow vehicle. The seat adjusts to racecar-like position, with loads of thigh support, more than ample side bolstering and the ideal relationship among the pedals, seat and steering wheel. To top it off, the seats were heated as was the steering wheel.
The steering wheel also had Tiptronic controls at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions on the wheel. We preferred the autostick feature on the console over the steering-wheel shift controls for performance, but it’s a simple matter of preference.
You can buy an SUV that tows more, and if your trailer weighs more than 7,700 pounds, the Porsche Cayenne S isn’t for you. But you cannot buy one that’s more fun to drive. It’s an SUV that’s tough enough for towing and sporty enough for enthusiast driving—and maybe nimble enough to steer you clear of a mistress.
EPA Fuel Economy Estimates
City... 14 mpg
Highway... 18 mpg
0-60 towing... 16.96 seconds
40-60 towing... 9.23 seconds
0-60 non-towing... 8.2 seconds
40-60 non-towing... 5 seconds
Engine... 4.5-liter V-8
Horsepower... 340 at 6,000 rpm
Torque... 310 pound-feet at 2,500 to 5,500 rpm
Compression ratio... 11.5:1
Transmission... six-speed automatic with Tiptronic
Axle ratio... 4.1:1
Fuel capacity... 26.4 gallons
Tire size... P255-55/R18
Brakes... Four-wheel disc with antilock
Suspension... Front: fully independent double wishbone; Rear, fully independent multi-link
Curb weight... 4,949 pounds
Tow rating... 7,700 pounds
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... 6,790 pounds
Gross Combined Weight Rating...14,500 pounds
Overall length... 188.3"
Maximum width... 76"
Price as tested... $72,775
Customer service... 1-800-PORSCHE
Web site... www.porsche.com