Porsche Celebrates 20 Years of the SUV that Saved the Company

It’s hard to believe that the Porsche Cayenne has now been on sale for 20 years. To some of us, the idea of a sporting SUV is still new, despite Lamborghini and Ferrari now producing SUVs. But the Cayenne was the first performance SUV and it made a huge impact on the automotive landscape when it debuted. IT looked weird, it was expensive, and it seemed like Porsche was going down the same ill-fated path it did with the 928. Nobody wanted a four-seat, tall, front-engine Porsche with a V8. Or so we thought.

Today, the Cayenne name is so popular it’s available in 19 models. Nineteen. From the base model, which starts at $72,200, to the Cayenne Turbo GT which starts at $188,700, the Cayenne has become the do-it-all platform as a performance SUV.

Was the original Cayenne a “real” Porsche?

The original Porsche SUV, right, wit h the 2022 version, left.
The 2022 Cayenne, left, with the original 2002 Porsche SUV Cayenne | Porsche

The first Cayennes were received with skepticism. Sure, they were Porsches. But could they really go off-road? Could they really be fast? Yes and yes. The first-generation Cayenne had a choice of two V8 engines with 340 or 450 horsepower. They could reach a top speed of 165 mph in turbo trim. So yea, they were fast.

But Porsche’s Traction Management system was new then. It split the power front-to-back and allowed up to 100% of the traction to split to either axle. Also, the Cayenne can and could be, optioned with a fully locking center differential and a low-range transfer case that, as any off-roader knows, is key to getting through or over the tough stuff. The optional air-ride suspension allowed them to increase ground clearance to 10.7 inches.

Did a Porsche SUV save the company?

Satisfying luxury SUVs that owners were happy with, according to Consumer Reports
The 2022 Porsche Cayenne SUV in blue | Porsche

Every car manufacturer today makes an SUV. But, in the 1990s, it was anathema for a sports car company to make an SUV. But, in the 1990s, Porsche wasn’t doing so well. According to Porsche, the company was in the red and it only delivered 23,060 cars in the 1991/92 model year. The company started to design new models, like the Boxster, and redesigned the 911.

But the U.S. sales folks knew that SUVs were hot and recommended an SUV for the third Porsche model. Porsche launched Project Colorado, which became the Cayenne in 2002. It was built on the same platform, and in the same facility, as the Volkswagen Touareg. Since then, it’s become the company’s most successful vehicle ever and owners love them. In the last 20 years, it’s sold more Cayenne SUVs than 911 sports cars. And the 911 has been around since the 1960s.

Ferry Porsche predicted its success

Ferry Porsche, the son of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche, said in 1989, “If we build an off-road model according to our standards of quality, and it has a Porsche crest on the front, people will buy it.” He wasn’t wrong.

While the Cayenne may be the most successful Porsche of all time, today, the smaller Macan SUV outsells every other Porsche model.

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