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A tough road warrior in a svelte Porsche suit

REVIEW

The Cayenne Tiptronic corners like a sports car, but it can also pull a 7,716-pound trailer.

January 05, 2005|Warren Brown | Washington Post

The 2005 Porsche Cayenne Tiptronic has a curb weight -- the total factory weight minus passengers and cargo -- of 4,785 pounds. That means it will be able to escape the wrath of places such as the District of Columbia, which this year will penalize large SUVs with higher fees and taxes. In the district's case, those vehicles weighing 5,000 pounds or more.

Curiously, the Cayenne Tiptronic shares the platform -- the basic understructure -- of the Volkswagen Touareg, which has a curb weight of 5,086 pounds.

But it's amazing what can be done with vehicle technology nowadays. The new Cayenne Tiptronic runs with a lightweight 3.2-liter, 247-horsepower, V-6 engine.

With the proper equipment -- in particular, with the addition of the appropriate hitch -- the Cayenne can pull a trailer weighing 7,716 pounds, which is impressive.

Washington and some other jurisdictions want to put the kibosh on large, luxury SUVs, which city leaders claim are tearing up local streets and pollute more.

I have no problem with making people pay for what they use. For example, drivers of larger vehicles -- regardless of whether those vehicles are SUVs, minivans, pickups, station wagons or sedans -- should have to pay more for parking in the city than I pay for parking my little Mini Cooper hatchback.

But give me a break. I've been driving in D.C. since 1976, long before Ford developed its gargantuan Excursion or General Motors came up with its massive Hummer. The city's streets were always messed up. In fact, I've often thought about sending a bill to the district seeking compensation for all of the lost hubcaps, busted tires and front-end misalignments my small cars have suffered on its streets.

It can be argued that the prevalence of so many four-wheel-drive, off-road vehicles on the roads is the direct result of many of the city's thoroughfares qualifying as "off-road" in the first place.

In that regard, assuming that you are willing to shell out major dollars for an SUV, the Cayenne Tiptronic is perfect.

The Cayenne Tiptronic, base price $44,100, corners with the sure-footedness of a sports car with a low center of gravity. Yet this Porsche is a bona fide rock-climbing, stream-and-ditch-fording, pothole-resistant off-road runner.

Switching from urban off-road to true off-road is a cinch, thanks to a two-speed transfer case lever, mounted atop the center console, that allows you to move from permanent all-wheel drive (in which power is routed from wheel to wheel on an as-needed basis) to "four-wheel low" (in which an electronically controlled center differential is activated, simultaneously sending drive power to all four wheels).

A fully independent double-wishbone front suspension system works in tandem with a multi-link, fully independent system in the rear to help smooth rough roads.

But my favorite devices on the Cayenne Tiptronic include the Porsche Traction Management (PTM) and Porsche Stability Management (PSM) systems; the combination helps the vehicle to remain remarkably stable.

It is important to repeat here what has been said many times by automotive safety experts: You can make any vehicle roll over -- including a Toyota Prius hybrid sedan or a super-ground-hugging Ford GT sports coupe. No technology can overcome the immutable laws of physics.

But, that said, the Cayenne Tiptronic gets kudos for being one of the SUVs best designed to mitigate the actions of unstable drivers. The PTM and PSM systems can correct some common errors, such as going too fast into curves or going into back-end skids on slippery roads.

Detractors may look at the Cayenne Tiptronic as a tank that barely squeaks by the higher SUV taxes being imposed in Washington and under consideration by other jurisdictions nationwide.

But I regard it as a peace-of-mind vehicle because of its excellent road performance, utility, versatility, safety -- and environmental compliance.

You read that correctly. Check out the tailpipe numbers on this one: The Cayenne Tiptronic has an average smog index rating of 0.53, compared with an average smog index rating of 0.80 for all new vehicles sold in the United States. That means the Cayenne Tiptronic is cleaner than many sedans, minivans and station wagons.

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