2008 Porsche Cayenne

Sam Smith
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So, there I am, ripping down a Spanish autovia, twin-turbo V-8 wailing away, wind whistling past the roof rails. There I am, downshifting through a roundabout, flat-footing that direct-injected lump and using errant Peugeots as apexes ("Si, policia! Un Porsche grande!"). There I am, doing 150 mph. And not having very much fun.

How did we get here? Ten years ago, sport-utility vehicles didn't walk all over sports cars, and it was impossible not to have a good time in a Porsche. Since then, we've watched a host of manufacturers build apex-inhaling, racetrack-lapping trucks, and we've seen most of those trucks prove an important maxim: capability and sheer speed aren't always everything.

In spite of its impressive performance and record-setting sales, the first-generation Porsche Cayenne was a little lacking in character.Unfortunately, the 2008 Cayenne continues that theme. It has a new face, mildly reworked interiors, and revised engines, but little else feels or looks different. The Cayenne S and Turbo are even more muscle-bound than before, with power increasing from 340 and 450 hp to 385 and 500 hp, respectively. Porsche says that highway fuel economy for is up 15 percent for the Cayenne S and 11 percent for the Turbo, thanks to new direct injection. The base Cayenne is no longer a gutless wonder, since its Volkswagen-supplied V-6 has been enlarged from 3.2 to 3.6 liters for an additional 43 hp and 44 lb-ft of torque. Finally, active antiroll bars are now available on air-suspended models.

All of these changes should add up to a truck that's better to drive, and they do. Trouble is, while Porsche's SUV is amazing, it still isn't particularly entertaining. Yes, it's fast as stink, and, yes, it does things no 4800-pound vehicle should be able to do. (Wheel control and chassis composure on undulating pavement will blow your mind.) But once the novelty wears off, boredom sets in. The Cayenne is so good, so capably idiotproof, that the driver is all but left out in the cold. Oddly, the V-6-powered, manual-transmission Cayenne is now the most involving driver's car of the bunch. The engine doesn't outshine the chassis, the steering is light and responsive, and you find yourself giggling as you heel-and-toe around every bend.

Absurdly potent? Yes. Hard-core enthusiast's dream? Not so much. But then, if it were, it probably wouldn't sell as well. What a shame.

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