It’s not often that I find myself pursued by a crack team of international criminals. To be honest, I’m not sure that I have ever been.
Oh, I’ve evaded my fair share of sinister-looking black sedans and SUVs with tinted windows over the years, but none of them ever caught me, so I can’t say for sure that they were even trying to.
Unless they were anxious to assume my debt, they probably weren’t.
Still, on long mundane drives I often consider this possibility, and like to think that if I happen to stumble upon the whereabouts of Usama Bin Laden or uncover the government conspiracy that’s kept me from winning the lottery all these years, I’ll be ready.
I’ve honed my driving skills, gotten very good at folding and unfolding maps, and taken note of every possible aspect of safety that exists — so that I can completely disregard all of them when the time comes to run.
When it does, I’ll be doing it in a Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
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The idea of a Porsche truck still makes some people uncomfortable. They spend their days either deriding or ignoring it, hoping that it will just go away. Unfortunately for those people, the company sells a lot of them, and it is possibly the best truck in the world.
That is if the best truck in the world is supposed to be a sports car.
It’s not, but in this case, it is.
With a 500-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 under the hood, the Cayenne is unnecessarily fast in a straight line. But that’s the easy part; there are plenty of fast trucks.
Where the Cayenne defies logic is in the turns.
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Few things test your driving mettle more than approaching a bend in 5,000-pound vehicle with a full head of steam. You know you should hit the brakes and take the turn like a school-bus driver with the championship football team on board. In the Cayenne there is no need.
With no fewer than four acronyms controlling the Cayenne’s motions (PASM, PDCC, PSM, PTMP – it doesn’t matter what they stand for, trust me, they work), when you turn the wheel, an amazing thing happens.
You expect a truck going at this speed either to continue going along at this speed straight into a tree, or, at best, to make the turn and then roll off a cliff.
In the Cayenne, the tree lives, and so do you. There’s hardly any body roll. Certainly nothing approaching what you’d expect from something that’s technically a truck.
In fact, it’s at this point that the Cayenne becomes something to you other than a truck. Not quite a sports car, or even a sedan, but a large conveyance with a little bit of both.
It’s only when you get out of the Cayenne and step down instead of up that you remember what a large vehicle it is that you’ve been driving.
Not that it’s very big. Despite the heft, the Cayenne is a small SUV with reasonable but far from excessive cargo space, and less than a ton of leg room for backseat passengers. Unlike the competition from BMW and Mercedes, you can’t get a third row of seats, but that’s intentional, because it couldn’t do what it does if it had one.
Yes, Porsche makes cars that are faster and handle better than the Cayenne for the same price. If the guys on your tail have one of those, you’re toast. That is, if they are chasing you down the autobahn or around a racetrack.
In the real world, streets can be a little rougher than that, and if you really need to get away in a hurry you may want to skip the road all together. That’s an option in the Cayenne, not in a sports car or sedan, or even many of the "performance" trucks out there.
With nearly the ground clearance of a Jeep Wrangler and an adjustable suspension that lets you jack it up an extra 2.2 inches to get through really tough stuff, the Cayenne isn’t just a true off-road vehicle, it’s a truly good off-road vehicle, despite its street-smart appearance.
And while potholes and cobblestones are the worst obstacles most Cayennes will face, its abilities make those a lot easier to traverse as well. No concerns about bottoming out or getting shunted to the side mid-turn, like in a tightly sprung car.
Its ride alone is easily worth the $93,700 asking price ($111,510 with options in the case of our test vehicle), but the Cayenne also gives you a handsome interior covered in enough leather to make Pamela Anderson strip in protest, seats deeply sculpted to keep you in place through the turns but not too snug for your daily commute, and a big screen in the center console called Porsche Communication Management (PCM) that does a lot of things, but not all of them well.
Like similar systems available in many cars today, PCM integrates the radio, CD player, navigation system, and hands-free telephone in one place … sort of. The six-CD changer is located way back in the luggage compartment, and the DVD that holds the maps needed for the navigation system goes into a drive that takes up all the space beneath the passenger seat.
It all feels very cobbled together and its operation isn’t much better. There’s no touch screen, so everything needs to be done using the various buttons and dials that surround the screen. This is fine for tuning the radio or playing a CD, but it is cumbersome when entering destinations into the navigation system, which has issues of its own.
On a drive from Manhattan’s Upper East Side to a restaurant across the East River in Brooklyn, I programmed the PCM to find the shortest route and avoid tolls. Curiously, it guided me past all three of the toll-free bridges and into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, where I had to pony up $4.50. Hoping it knew something I didn’t, I continued to follow the directions several miles south of where I was headed, before it finally looped me back north toward my destination.
On the way home the PCM tried to do the same thing. I’d like to think it spotted a car tailing us and was taking evasive action, but I doubt it. Next time, I’ll check the map.
The PCM is connected to an exceptional sound system, though, with the clarity of a concert hall, if not the thumping bass of a nightclub. Unfortunately, if you want to bring your own music along you’ll have to dig out one of those old CD holders that attaches to the sun visor, because the PCM won’t work with an iPod or other auxiliary music player.
Porsche attributes the PCM's shortcomings to the difficulties of a small manufacturer trying to provide a unique product at a reasonable price. It’s a tough argument for a car that costs as much as the Cayenne. Now that Porsche is on the verge of taking control of automotive giant Volkswagen, hopefully it’s something they’ll be able to fix soon.
Unfortunately, the PCM is standard on the Cayenne Turbo, so if you want to dump it for a custom system, you have to eat the cost. On cheaper Cayennes it is an option.
Of course whether you’re running for your life or just out for a drive on a great back road none of this should matter. In the Turbo Cayenne it’s about the driving, and in that area there’s no complaint.
But you’d better enjoy it while it lasts.
At 12 mpg city, the Cayenne drinks gasoline as much as it gobbles asphalt. This probably isn’t an issue for the people who can afford one, but if those guys behind you are driving a Prius, you may be in trouble.
2008 PORSCHE CAYENNE TURBO
Base Price: $93,700
As Tested: $111,510
Engine: 4.8 L twin-turbo charged V-8
Power: 500 hp, 518 lb-ft torque
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive w/6-speed automatic transmission
0-60mph: 4.9 sec
What do you think of the Cayenne Turbo?
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