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Porsche Cayenne - An Amazing SUV

If the Porsche Cayenne Turbo is not the ultimate sport utility vehicle then it's pretty close to it.

It's not the biggest. Nor at $96,000, is it even the most expensive. But in combining pure, blinding speed with off-road capabilities that challenge any other manufacturer, Porsche has made an amazing SUV.

Sample the reaction of The Boston Globe newspaper's automotive writer Royal Ford.

"I expected it to be wicked fast, which it was," he said. "I drove it on the race track in Birmingham, Alabama. What surprised me was how good it was off-road. We got into some really slick red mud down in Alabama, and it climbed a pretty tortuous trail. I was really… I was amazed."

A lot of people were amazed that Porsche embarked on a sport utility vehicle in the first place. After all, the company has spent its entire 50-year history making sports cars. Journalist Royal Ford says the answer lies in economics.

"You know, they built the thing because they are actually a small company," said Royal Ford. "You're only talking 25,000 cars every year that they sell.

Birchard: So it's a matter of survival?

Ford: "Yeah, they want to not be taken over [by a larger company]. And they looked around. 'How do we survive? Do we build a station wagon, do we build a truck? No, we build an SUV.'"

Porsche's Chris Gilman says diversification will help protect against downward cycles in the world's economy.

"As the economy is strong, our sales are strong," he said. "When the economy dips, our sales dip and that's because a sports car is ultimately a deferrable purchase."

Once the decision was taken to build a sport utility vehicle, Chris Gilman, the manager of the Cayenne project says they wanted to make sure it carries that special Porsche flavor.

"A lot of SUVs are fun off the road, but they're not necessarily fun on the road," said Chris Gilman. "We wanted to build an SUV that put the true meaning of 'sport' in sport utility and was fun both on the road and off the road."

Early in the Cayenne's development, some asked whether an SUV could be a "true Porsche". The Boston Globe's Royal Ford answers the question.

"You got two Porsches going on here you got the Cayenne 'S,' which is one thing, and you got the Cayenne Turbo… the Cayenne Turbo is absolutely a true Porsche," he said. "Get out there on the race track with it and you can do 165 miles an hour. That's a true Porsche to me."

In a down U.S. economy, the SUV decision is looking good with Cayennes accounting for roughly half of Porsche's sales so far this year. Through August, they had sold just over 7,500 of the vehicles. Nearly 6,000 were the "S" version, which has a base price of almost $60,000. Amazingly, they've sold over 1,500 of the twin-turbo Cayennes, which roll out of the showroom with a price tag of as much as $96,000.

Photos courtesy of Porsche