Game Changer

ON JUNE 7, 2000, A LEGEND WAS BORN. Porsche introduced a hot chili pepper, the Cayenne, to sting the world with the most powerful, most fun to drive, über- (yes, over-) performing, sport utility vehicle.

Photos of the Cayenne S and Turbo were first unveiled at the Geneva motor show in March 2002.

Premiering on Sept. 25, 2002 in real life during a Paris Motor Show press day, the world gawked at a super-hot chili-pepper legend that was a market changer. Launched in December 2002 with specific performance attributes, the Porsche Cayenne stood apart from all SUVs.

The Cayenne’s top-line Turbo S reached 60 MPH in 4.8 seconds and 100 KPH in just 5.2 seconds. Top speed posted at 270 KPH. The legend was born, a sports car and SUV in one? Impossible? But, could it go off-road?

The Cayenne’s full-time four-wheel-drive was fully off-road capable, its bias sent 62 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels and 38 percent up front, making it outperform all other class competitors in 2002. The secret to its off-road capabilities was its reduction gear ratio of 2.7, meaning at the same engine speed (RPM), vehicle speed is reduced by 2.7 times in all gears when off-roading.

To drive off-road enthusiastically, to shorten its off-road braking distance, its special off-road ABS briefly blocked its front wheels. The resultant wedge effect in front of the wheels assisted off-road braking. Off-road ABS operated only when in reduction gear and driven straight-line with speed below 50 KPH. If the steering wheel was turned, off-road ABS was automatically switched off to maintain steering capability. Another special feature, with low range selected, and at speeds below 35 KPH, was that braking was performed with a delay. An advantage of this was that when driving downhill on loose ground with turned wheels, cornering force was not lost through further free-rolling wheels. The Cayenne’s wading depth was at least half a meter, outperforming many other competitors. To protect its interior, all Cayenne models had door seals doubled — the seals were on the doors as well as on the body.

Porsche has proved that it can sell SUVs ever since the first-generation Cayenne was introduced 20 years ago. The brand’s flagship high-rider is currently in its third generation, with many hard-core off-roading abilities changed to meet customer demand. While Cayenne 955, 957 and 958.1 had permanent four-wheel drive, from 958.2 onwards, drive force was sent to the front axle only when the rear wheels lost grip, like in all C4 911s.

Remember, when Porsche introduced the Cayenne, it wasn’t openly accepted by many purists, but the truth is success of this genre saved the company. Before launching its current 9Y0 version, more than 760,000 Cayennes (955, 957, 958.1, 958.2) were sold. By December 2020, less than 20 years since launch, Porsche had sold over one-million Cayennes. It took the company over 50 years to reach that milestone with the millionth 911 built in 2017.

Can it Cayenne? Yes, Porsche definitely does with this SUV.

Randy Gananathan is the PCA National SUV special-interest group advocate as well as a former editor of Provinz. Contact him with any questions about Porsche SUVs at or 905-780-9670.

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