I expected more for $93,000 - the rounded price, including myriad options, of the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S sport-utility vehicle driven for this week's column.
The options did not include an available rear-view camera. "Available" means you get the camera, necessary equipment on something as large as an SUV, for several thousand dollars more as part of Porsche's Premium Package Plus.
Total cost for the triple-P option, which also includes onboard navigation, bi-xenon headlamps, 14-way power seats with memory, front and rear parking proximity sensors, and a host of other electronic servants, is $11,650.
But my "meteor grey metallic" Cayenne S, with $27,560 worth of options, did not include a rear-view camera. How is that possible? What's going on here?
I can get a rear-view camera as standard equipment, or as part of an options package, on an SUV or a car costing one-third as much as this week's sample Cayenne S. I can get a 2011 Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango or Toyota Land Cruiser, all fully loaded including rearview camera, for substantially less than the option-bloated price tag of the Cayenne S.
Okay, Porsche fanatics, let me have it. A Ford or Jeep is not a Porsche. Porsche is premium. Porsche is tops.
My response: Baloney!
It takes only one serious winter storm to put that nonsense to rest. The Cayenne S, equipped with all-wheel drive, did not get stuck in the snow. But neither did the all-wheel-drive Ford Explorer XLT, which, by the way, was every bit as comfortable and well-made as the Cayenne S. For that matter, the front-wheel-drive Nissan Altima 2.5 S mid-size sedan ($25,450 with options, including rearview camera) did quite well in the snow.
I realize that my complaint here seems silly to many self-avowed "auto enthusiasts, or might come off as low-rent quibbling among the financially well-endowed. But I take it seriously.
When does price stop making sense? Exactly what am I getting for $93,000 that I'm not getting for $60,000, $50,000 or $30,000?
Frankly, in the Cayenne S, I don't think I'm getting much, at least not much that makes any real-world sense.
Consider: The Cayenne S, redesigned for 2011, equipped with a 4.8-liter V-8 engine (400 horsepower, 369 foot-pounds of torque), can move from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. It supposedly can reach a cruising speed of 160 mph. So what? In our recent East Coast snowstorms, my Cayenne S moved at the same speed as every other vehicle on the road, which was barely moving at all. And where, oh, where in the heavily regulated United States of America am I going to legally, safely drive anything at 160 mph?
Observers of the U.S. automobile market will note that Porsche has withdrawn the Cayenne GTS and Turbo S, the most off-road-worthy models of the Cayenne line, from its 2011 lineup. There's a reason for that. Overall, strong Cayenne sales have boosted Porsche's fortunes in the United States and elsewhere. But the Cayenne GTS and Turbo S weren't pulling their share of the retail load. It figures.
Not many people will spend the money that Porsche is asking for its SUVs to get them dinged, dented and scratched in the rough.
They'll buy Jeeps, Ford Explorers, and four-wheel-drive Dodge Durango and Toyota Highlander models to do that rough stuff. Others with more money will shop at Audi and Land Rover and still spend less money than they'll spend at Porsche. And nearly all of them will drive away with at least a rearview camera and a vehicle that will serve them as well, as reliably as the Cayenne S serves Porsche's owners.
I applaud Porsche for innovations such as the eight-speed automatic transmission, with a fuel-saving stop-go feature, in the Cayenne S. And, yes, Porsche's traction-management system is a wonder to behold around mountain curves and other tricky roads. But stop-go, designed to shut off a vehicle's engine at stop signs and red lights and automatically restart when the gas pedal is tapped, is also available on many far-less-expensive vehicles. And many less-expensive vehicles can handle mountain curves with aplomb.