Tuesday, October 16, 2007

2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo




The 2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo is a unique combination of performance and luxury. With its formidable on-track and off-road credentials, Porsche's SUV is one of the few cars that can truly claim to be sporty and utilitarian: the 5,600-pound behemoth can shift itself from standing to 60mph in the same time as a Porsche Carrera coupe, and (separately) can tow as much trailer weight as a Land Rover LR3. In keeping with its performance-oriented mission, Porsche has invested lots of effort in endowing the Cayenne Turbo with car-like driving dynamics: the Porsche Active Stability Management (PASM) and optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) systems both ensure that the Turbo rides more like a coupe than a caravan, while its vented rotors and performance tires are more suited to the tarmac than tundra. Despite all its performance prowess, however, the Cayenne Turbo's primary attraction will be as a mall-crawling status symbol, and, from the perspective of cabin communications and entertainment tech, it struggles to compete with cars half its price.

Test the tech: Detour guideWhile the 2008 Cayenne Turbo's Porsche Communications Management (PCM) navigation system generally failed to impress us (see the In the cabin section below), one of its features did manage to pique our interest. To the right of the in-dash LCD screen, a button with a squiggly line indicates the navigation system's Diversion function, which enables drivers to quickly reroute in the event of unexpected traffic or road closures on the suggested route. A push of the button brings up a screen that requests the distance of the current route that is blocked.

We like the one-touch diversion feature of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo's as-standard navigation system.

To test the system, we resolved to program in a destination, then, while under route guidance, to continually reroute, noting how quickly and how accurately the system managed to get us out of the current spot, while still keeping us on track to our destination. In practice, the system works well: it gets you off the current road as quickly as possible--often at the next available turning. When diverting, we found the system often put us on a parallel road one block over from our original route to minimize the additional distance for our overall journey.

The Diversion feature asks drivers how far they think the road ahead will be blocked.
However, we did find one significant flaw in the system: without a very timely radio report or real-time traffic information, which is unavailable on the PCM navigation system, it is often impossible for drivers to tell how much of the road ahead is blocked. Accordingly, the Diversion function is only going to be as good as your information on the traffic situation ahead of time, and if you have such information, you might be more inclined to route around the trouble spot before setting out.

In the cabinThe interior of the 2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo is generally well laid-out with simple, classy appointments and materials, including the leather-covered cowl and door panels, and the silvery matte trim on the steering wheel and dash. We're not sure why Porsche opted for the cheaper-looking white plastic on the central console, though. The as-standard black leather seats in our tester were firm and supportive, suggesting that they were designed with lateral forces in mind: the presence of grab-rails on both the driver- and passenger side of the central console confirm the suspicion. For those who want "smooth" rather than "natural" looking leather, an optional $395 upgrade is available, and for an extra $270, you can get the Porsche emblem embossed on the headrest. Buyers of the Cayenne Turbo are given the "option" of one of two pricey alternatives for upward visibility: a $1,190 outlay gets you a moonroof, while $3,900 gets you a panoramic roof system.

As with other high-end SUVs, such as the 2007 Range Rover Supercharged and the 2007 Audi Q7 4.2 Quattro, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo includes GPS navigation as standard.

Unfortunately, that's about the most attractive thing about the nav system, which we found to be disappointingly reminiscent of the clunky and outdated COMAND interface found on lower-end Mercedes-Benz models. Like the COMAND system, the Porsche navigation interface comprises a bunch of black-plastic hard buttons surrounding a small, non-touch-screen display set low in the dash.

Destinations must be entered using a spindly, push-in/rotary knob to the right of the screen, which can be used to input place names just one letter at a time. We found programming the system to be time-consuming and unintuitive, especially the way in which the knob must be rotated counter-clockwise to move down through a vertical list of options, in contrast to nearly every other electronic system in the western world. On the positive side, the DVD-based navigation was quick to calculate routes.

The PCM navigation system's maps are colorful but less crisp than those of other systems.
Once under way, the maps on the Cayenne's small LCD screen are colorful, but hardly state-of-the art in terms of crispness or clarity: in comparison with the navigation system in the 2008 Toyota Highlander, for example, the maps look at least one generation old. Turn-by-turn voice guidance is adequate (if a little shrill in its commands), although, in keeping with its outdated feel, the Porsche system does not feature text-to-voice technology for calling out the names of individual roads en route. The most advanced feature of the Cayenne's navigation system is its handy reroute button (the squiggly line to the right of the display), which acts as a one-touch shortcut to programming a detour around traffic congestion or other road incidents.

For entertainment, the 2008 Cayenne Turbo fares slightly better with an as-standard Bose-branded surround-sound audio system hooked up to a single-disc in-dash changer that can play CDs as well as MP3- and WMA-encoded discs. For the latter, audio tag information on folder, artist, and album is displayed on the main LCD display, while folder and track number show up in the full-color display in the instrument cluster. For those who want to play more than 15 tracks at a time while driving the Cayenne Turbo, options are limited. There is no dedicated, "intelligent" iPod interface, nor is there any sign of a generic auxiliary input jack for low-fi connection to a portable audio player.

A six-disc CD changer is available as a $650 option, but alas, it lives behind a panel in the cargo area, and--double alas--can only be used to play Red Book CDs: MP3- and WMA discs do not even register when inserted. Thankfully, our car was also optioned with XM satellite radio ($750), which gave us a few more music options in our week's worth of driving, although we found no way to display information for individual track and artist names on either of the two cabin displays.

The 2008 Cayenne Turbo's in-dash single-disc CD player can handle MP3- and WMA-encoded discs, but the optional six-disc changer can play only Red Book CDs.

Telephone integration on the Cayenne must be one of the most bizarre systems we've ever seen. For those who have an extra $960 to expend on the "phone module for PCM", or $1,525 for the "phone module for PCM with handset" (our $106,000 tester was equipped with neither) a most unusual interface awaits. To the left of the main display there is a small drawer, into which drivers place their cell phone's SIM card (GSM only). With the card installed, the Cayenne becomes a giant mobile phone, with drivers able to browse contacts accessible via the main display, and to make calls using the hard-button keypad to its left. Not only is this system expensive, it is one of the least user-friendly cabin features on the market, as drivers have to disassemble their cell phones every time they get into the car. Why Porsche peddles this solution rather than a generic Bluetooth interface is beyond the realm of our understanding.
Other tech features on the Cayenne Turbo that, unlike the phone interface, were designed with some degree of usability in mind include forward- and back-up audio/visual proximity sensors (a back-up camera is an extra $1,680); an as-standard power liftgate; and a usable HVAC system with its own display and unique rotary controls.

Under the hoodThe 500-horspower Cayenne Turbo is one rapid ride. Its quad-overhead-cam, 4.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 moans and groans around town but really gets up and goes on the freeway. Porsche claims the Cayenne Turbo will accelerate from zero to 60mph in 4.9 seconds--an extraordinary feat for a car of its weight, height, and girth. The Turbo version of the Cayenne is distinguishable by the two power domes on its hood, as well as by its oversize front grille, which allows the car to suck in the air required for its intercooled twin turbochargers.
In its default drive mode, the Cayenne Turbo starts off in second gear to give drivers a smoother start, and to minimize fuel consumption, which is nevertheless still estimated by the EPA at a binge-drinking 12 mpg in the city. To tap into the car's maximum launch potential, drivers can either press the Sport button on the central console, or activate one of the two manumatic shifting methods, either by pulling the shifter toward them or by notching one of the two plastic thumb-shifted paddles on either side of the steering wheel. We found shifting with the small steering-wheel-mounted thumb shifters to be more hassle than it was worth.
Whichever way you shift the Tiptronic six-speed manu-matic gearbox, the Cayenne Turbo demonstrates breathtaking performance for an SUV. Throttle response is not immediate, and after flooring the gas pedal, the driver has to wait a couple of heartbeats for the car's computers to reach agreement on the best way to tackle the request. But when it comes, the Cayenne Turbo's power is immense, propelling the car forward with whirlwind acceleration and a whirring, whining soundtrack as the turbo winds up. For those reckless souls whose eyes are not glued to the road ahead during this process, an analog turbo pressure meter swings to the right during spirited acceleration, giving an indication of the level of bi-turbo boost.

The Cayenne's Turbo boost gauge lives to the right of the instrument cluster.
As well as its class-leading straight-line speed, the Cayenne Turbo demonstrates some impressive driving dynamics in cornering, especially with the PDCC system and suspension both set to set to Sport mode. While some body roll and squat is inevitable in a car that stands 66 inches tall, the PDCC system achieves its mission of minimizing body roll and giving the Cayenne Turbo handling characteristics that belie its size.

A bank of switches on the central console enable the driver to set ride height and suspension configurations via the optional PDCC system.

In addition to its generic Sport setting, the four-wheel drive Cayenne Turbo has five driver-adjustable ride-height settings (lower for improved freeway and track performance, higher for fording mud and water); and three configurable suspension settings, depending on the driver's preference for a firmer, sporty ride or a softer, more comfort-tuned one.

The good:
The 2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo's twin-turbo V-8 delivers staggering performance for an SUV. Its dynamic chassis-control and stability-management systems enable the car to be optimized for road, track, or trail driving.

The bad:
For a car with a six-figure price tag, the Cayenne Turbo's cabin technology is woefully out of date; its phone system in particular is disastrously designed. Some of its options are comically overpriced.

The bottom line:
The 2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo is a performance powerhouse but a cabin-tech laggard, and while its off-road credentials are unquestioned, it is unlikely they will ever be used. This is one $100,000 mall crawler that owes more to its badge cache than the quality of its interior amenities.

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