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Second-hand: 2003-2005 Porsche Cayenne

Porsche needed a cash cow, and nothing generates fat profits like an SUV.

  • Cars in a parking lot

Foodies know cayenne as a red, hot chili pepper that spices up bland dishes and, medicinally, helps improve blood flow.

Likewise, the Porsche Cayenne adds zing to mundane commutes and accelerates heart rates on expressway on-ramps.

It’s also a remedy for corporate insolvency.

“For Porsche to remain independent, it can’t be dependent on the most fickle segment in the market,” Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking explained at the truck’s launch in late 2002, referring to impulsive sales of two-seat sports cars.

Porsche needed a cash cow, and nothing generates fat profits like an SUV.

While late to the party, Porsche cobbled together a five-passenger, all-wheel-drive sport utility with enough cojones to prove you can drive big and still wear a Porsche emblem.

Purists were appalled, but the paunchy Cayenne quickly found an audience, making it the best-selling model in Porsche stores.

“Bloody marvelous, fast as you-know-what,” read an enthusiastic owner’s post. “A 911 Carrera 4 with four doors and a beer gut!”

CONFIGURATION

The 2003 Cayenne shared its unibody foundation with Volkswagen’s soon-to-arrive Touareg. Each automaker provided its own engines, chassis tuning, and interior and exterior styling.

The all-wheel-drive system was genuinely off-road ready with its low-range gearing and locking centre differential. In the Cayenne it delivered 62 per cent of available torque to the rear wheels (VW’s was split 50/50).

Standard on the Turbo and optional for the S model was a self-leveling air suspension that offered generous ground clearance with six driver-selectable heights ranging from 11 to 27 centimetres. It could ford a stream half a metre deep.

Antilock braking and antiskid/traction control were also standard. Manhole-cover-sized brake rotors and six-piston front calipers made sure the weighty SUV halted with authority.

To ensure the Cayenne could accelerate authoritatively too, Porsche built an all-new, all-alloy 4.5 L V8 complete with four cams and infinite intake cam adjustment (VarioCam), oil-cooled pistons and coil-on-plug ignition.

The naturally aspired base V8 netted 340 hp while the twin-turbo version made 450 hp and 457 lb.-ft. of torque from the same displacement. Both engines were mated to an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual controls.

Despite casting a huge shadow, the Cayenne was snug inside for five. Leather upholstery was standard, but some found the seating stiff and unforgiving. The rest of the interior was conservatively styled in wrinkly plastic, accented with some bright metal inserts.

With no provision for third-row seating, the cargo area was deep and generous, although extending it by folding the second row of seats was a struggle, owners reported.

“Can’t get the headrests on and off by myself; really hard to fold and lift the rear seats,” complained the owner of a 2006 model.

An entry-level V6 joined the Cayenne lineup in 2004. Supplied by Volkswagen, the 3.2 L V6 developed 247 hp and 229 lb.-ft. of torque, and again was tied to the six-speed slushbox.

A six-speed manual transmission finally arrived in 2005, but only for the V6 model. It included the Drive-Off Assistant, designed to hold the brakes on inclines until the clutch was engaged. All 2005 models wore revised exterior trim.

ON THE ROAD

The V8-powered Cayenne S could sprint to 96 km/h in 6.6 seconds, generate 0.82 g of skidpad grip and brake from 112 km/h in 55 metres.

For truly mind-bending performance, consider the Turbo: highway velocity came up in five seconds flat, and that’s in a wagon that weighed well over two  tonnes.

At the other end of the performance envelope was the V6-powered model, which sauntered to 96 km/h in 8.8 seconds – performance that harked back to the Porsche 924.

Beyond the strengths of the various powertrains, the Cayenne was coveted for its ability to carve up a snaky road without breaking a sweat.

“Points like a sports car on the track and easily beats the Boxster. With active suspension it was surprising to see how little body roll there is when cornering at speed,” wrote an ’04 owner.

Spicy performance came at a price. Some drivers decried the punishing ride, especially on pot-holed streets. And nobody liked the Cayenne’s thirst for premium fuel, with consumption as high as 20 litres/100 km.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

Cayenne owners gushed over the truck’s handling, aggressive acceleration and posh appointments. Some even took advantage of the SUV’s muscular 7,700-lb. towing capacity.

“No problems pulling a Porsche 993 on a trailer at any speed up hill,” read one blog entry.

Unfortunately, the Cayenne exhibited some of the same niggling electrical glitches seen in other German automobiles.

Common faults included malfunctioning radios and navigation displays, computers, door locks and remote fobs.

Owners aren’t happy about the truck’s appetite for rubber. Many reported replacing their expensive performance tires in as little as 30,000 kilometres. Also, this is one four-wheeler that drives poorly in snow, so owners need to budget for four winter tires.

Another common complaint has to do with the automatic transmission, which is often slow finding the right gear.

“Herky-jerky transmission. Push the pedal and wait four seconds for the car to move while Dodge Neons zip on by,” commented one driver. Dealers have reflashed the electronic controller with various degrees of success.

Other reported problems include frequent alignments, wheel vibration, loose trim, rattles and rear hatch glass that can pop open.

All in all, it’s an exhilarating ride in a SUV you won’t spot on every corner. But you pay dearly for the badge.

WHAT’S BEST: Blistering V8 acceleration, unreal handling, cool tow vehicle

WHAT’S WORST: Tight interior, friend of OPEC, eats tires for breakfast

TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2004: $31,000; 2006: $46,000

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Toyota Sienna, Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute and Nissan Titan. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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