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Heavy Only on Its Curb Appeal

2005 Porsche Cayenne Tiptronic

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page G01

The 2005 Porsche Cayenne Tiptronic has a curb weight -- the total factory weight minus passengers and cargo -- of 4,785 pounds. For District residents, that means it will be able to escape the city's higher excise taxes and registration fees on what the D.C. government calls "large, luxury SUVs" -- sport-utility vehicles weighing 5,000 pounds or more.

The higher taxes and fees are scheduled to take effect next year.

2005 Porsche Cayenne Tiptronic

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: This is a very expensive "base" Porsche SUV at a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $44,100. Also, some drivers complained that the Cayenne Tiptronic's big, caliper-laden disc brakes are "too aggressive."

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent in all three categories. Again, you will have to drive this one to judge for yourself. From my perspective, it is one of the most nimble, best-handling midsize/large sport-utility vehicles I've driven. And I like those "aggressive" brakes, too.

Head-turning quotient: It drew equal amounts of praise, opprobrium, appreciation and jealousy -- the kinds of reactions often generated by people and things seen as different, or viewed as heretical to conventional wisdom.

Body style/layout: Front-engine, permanent all-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case providing "four-wheel-low" power. Body style includes four side doors and rear hatch.

Engine/transmissions: The 2005 Cayenne Tiptronic is equipped with a 3.2-liter, 24-valve V-6 that develops 247 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 229 foot-pounds of torque between 2,500 and 5,000 revolutions per minute. A six-speed manual transmission is standard in the base Cayenne. The Cayenne Tiptronic gets Porsche's optional six-speed Tiptronic S automatic, which can also be operated manually.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The Cayenne Tiptronic and its sibling models (base Cayenne, Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo) have seating for five people. Maximum cargo capacity is 63 cubic feet with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats down; it's 19.1 cubic feet with those seats up. Maximum payload capacity, the weight of what can be carried onboard, is 1,708 pounds. The Cayenne can be equipped to tow up to 7,716 pounds. The fuel tank holds 26.4 gallons of required premium unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 19 miles per gallon in highway driving.

Safety: Dual-stage front air bags; side air bags; head-curtain air bags; traction and stability control; anti-lock brakes.

Price: Base price is $44,100. Estimated dealer's invoice price is $41,000 on base model. Price as tested is $48,860, including $3,995 in options and a $765 destination charge. Pricing sources include Porsche, Edmunds.com and other industry sources. These prices will change.

Purse-strings note: Compare Mercedes-Benz M-Class, the 2005 Jeep Gand Cherokee and the Infiniti FX 35.

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Curiously, the Cayenne Tiptronic shares the platform -- the basic understructure -- of the Volkswagen Touareg, which has a curb weight of 5,086 pounds and has been placed on the city's list of SUVs subject to higher taxes, according to news reports in The Washington Post and other journals.

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, mostly with the addition of the appropriate trailer hitch, the Cayenne can pull a trailer weighing 7,716 pounds, which is impressive.

The city wants to put the kibosh on large, luxury SUVs, which District 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 the District since 1976, long before Ford Motor Co. developed its gargantuan Ford Excursion or General Motors Corp. came up with its massive Hummer H1. The city's streets were always messed up. In fact, I've often felt like sending a bill to the District seeking compensation for all of the lost hubcaps, busted tires and wrecked front-end alignments suffered by my small cars on its streets.

Indeed, it can be argued that the prevalence of so many four-wheel-drive, off-road vehicles on the District's 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 for the city.

The Cayenne Tiptronic corners with the sure-footedness of a small 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 a là the District 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 those 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 by the District 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, none of which is subject to higher taxes under the District's new rules.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company