Porsche has a history of introducing cars that break the 911 mold. Vehicles like the Porsche 928 and 924 rewrote the rear-engine formula in favor of a conventional front-engine and rear-wheel-drive layout. But things got interesting, and Porsche loyalists rebelled when the automaker hopped onto the SUV bandwagon almost 20 years ago.
The 2003 Porsche Cayenne, the company’s first SUV, shook up the performance car world and introduced the brand’s first family-friendly vehicle. Enthusiasts howled how the Cayenne wasn’t a “real Porsche,” but strong sales validated the company’s bold, new direction. Today, the Cayenne is Porsche’s best-selling vehicle and the number one reason why the automaker is in such a strong financial position.
Above all else, the Cayenne stands out as the first Porsche with four doors and the first Porsche with five seats. If you’re considering putting a Cayenne in the garage, read on as we explore key details for each of the vehicle’s three generations.
Hop back twenty years, and it was clear that the automotive industry is shifting to SUVs. Recognizing this trend and seeing German rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW succeed in the premium SUV space, Volkwagen tossed its hat in the ring with an all-new platform.
This chassis would underpin the Cayenne and serve as the foundation for the VW Touareg and the Audi Q7. Yet, beyond the platform, each vehicle had a distinct look and pecking order in the VW SUV family.
In the case of the Cayenne, the front end clearly borrowed from the 911. The large soft triangular headlights and peaked forward quarter panels helped identify the vehicle like a Porsche. However, elsewhere, the Cayenne featured design elements never before seen in something from Stuttgart. The tall greenhouse was distinctive and made for a commanding view for the driver. The blunt rear end and simple tail light setup meant the Cayenne was all business.
Inside, the Cayenne’s interior featured the classic triangle-hub steering wheel evoking similarities with its sportier siblings. At the same time, the grab handles on the center console convey a rough and ready image. Fit and finish are no less perfect than any other vehicle in the lineup; it’s still a Porsche.
For its inaugural model year, the Cayenne was available in the S trim (4.5-liter V-8 with 355 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque) and the Turbo (which upgraded the V-8 to 450 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque). Both models had all-wheel drive and a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission as standard equipment. In Turbo form, the Cayenne became the most powerful SUV on the road and a 0-60 mph time of 5.3 seconds wasn’t too shabby either.
In 2004, Porsche introduced the base Cayenne with V-6 power. This 247-horsepower 3.2-liter engine wasn’t about typical Porsche performance but instead price. Now, SUV shoppers could spend a little bit more money and get a vehicle with a Porsche badge. The automaker couldn’t build these fast enough. The base could even be ordered with a manual transmission. In 2006, the Turbo S appeared for one year with a 4.8-liter V-8 providing 513 horsepower and 531 lb-ft of torque.
For 2008, the Cayenne gets a facelift that smooths out the front end and gives the car a wider-looking stance. Horsepower is increased across the board, with the resurrected Turbo S hitting 550 horsepower and cracking the five-second mark for a 0-60 time. The GTS is also introduced, which features 21-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. Even Volkswagen’s love for Diesel creeps into the Cayenne lineup (2009-2010).
The second-gen Cayenne debuts for the 2011 model year and features a more sculpted hood and softer-shaped headlights. A slightly lower-looking greenhouse combined with a reshaped body gives this Porsche a more modern and less stodgy appearance. Inside, the signature grab handles lose prominence in favor of any angled center console (and all-new dash) that would look right at home in a starship.
This new Cayenne is less about proving the concept of a Porsche SUV and more about the automaker flexing its engineering muscle. The idea (at least back then) of placing a hybrid powertrain in a 911 might have been unthinkable but made perfect sense in an SUV. So, the new Cayenne included a hybrid option that added an electric motor to a supercharged Audi V-6; combined output here hit 380 horsepower. While the GTS and Turbo S take a break for a few years, the other trims are about crossing thresholds. The base V-6 offers 300 horsepower (OK, 296 to be exact), the Cayenne S reaches 414 horsepower, and the Turbo delivers 513 horsepower.
The GTS and Cayenne Diesel returns for 2013 offering 420 horsepower and 240 horsepower, respectively. The following year, the Turbo S reappeared with the same 550 horsepower and much better acceleration time (0-60 in 4.3 seconds).
The Cayenne gets a refresh for 2015, featuring a more cohesive grille and wider but less tall taillights while the base, GTS, and Turbo S are put in cold storage. The Cayenne S loses its V-8 for a turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 420 horsepower. At the same time, the hybrid (now wearing the S E-Hybrid badge) offers improved output reaching 416 horsepower. The Turbo hits 520 horsepower.
Also new with the second-generation Cayenne is an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. The six-speed manual with the base continued only until 2014 when it got dropped completely.
2016 sees the return of the base V-6 with no engine changes and the GTS, which tweaks the turbo V-6 of the S for 440 horsepower. Significantly, the mighty Turbo S emerges with an impressive 562 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque.
For used Cayenne shoppers, the second generation offers a sweet spot. These models benefit from significant depreciation but still, have the modern looks of newer Cayennes.
2019 is a transformative year for Cayenne as this Porsche enters its third generation. The previous models’ off-road orientation gives way to a Cayenne now centered around luxury and performance. The third-gen Cayenne shares its platform with the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga (in addition to the Audi Q7 and Q8), so this direction makes sense. The latest Cayenne is still a very capable machine in bad weather and off the payment, but there’s no escaping the luxury experience behind the wheel. Yet, the vehicle still maintains the 7,700 towing capacity that was available with the earlier generations.
Inside, it’s obvious to see it’s still a Porsche. The reworked dashboard and center console continue to evoke a spaceship, and the arms-length options list offers a dizzying array of choices.
Power for the base Cayenne now comes from a turbo 3.0-liter V-6 pushing out 335 horsepower. The S gets a slightly smaller V-6 (2.9 liters), but the twin-turbo setup generates a healthy 434 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque. Stepping up to the Cayenne Turbo gets a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 with 541 horsepower and 567 lb-ft of torque.
2020 sees Porsche embrace the fastback SUV trend championed by its German competitors. As a result, the Cayenne Coupe comes into being with powertrains similar to the regular Cayenne.
The E-Hybrid returns the following year with an electric motor added to the base Cayenne’s V-6; combined system output reaches 455 horsepower. The real jaw-dropper is the Turbo S E-Hybrid with a neck-snapping 670 horsepower and 663 lb-ft of torque. The GTS reappears for 2021 with 453 horsepower.
Check out the used Porsche Cayenne models for sale at Trust Auto. Please note that all vehicles are subject to prior sale.
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