Our first destination is a remote expanse of sand dunes, where we'll test the Cayenne's off-road chops with the assistance of a guide named Ahmad. After airing down the tires, we're about five minutes into the great beige yonder when I high-center our vehicle atop a particularly pointy bit of sand, requiring a tow from a fellow Cayenne. Whatever little confidence Ahmad might've had in my driving is now gone, and when I ask where there's a good area for doing doughnuts, he tries to discourage me from this idea. I can tell he's having visions of us stuck again, in the middle of nowhere, and eventually being eaten by nomads. But I've got a twin-turbo V-8, four-wheel drive, and the world's biggest sandbox, and I didn't come all this way to not act like a big hick.
Eventually, Ahmad relents and says he'll show me how to properly kick up some sand. This is like telling a contestant on The Biggest Loser that you'll show him how to eat dessert. I am actually offended. Saying something like "Yeah, yeah, whatever, Ahmad," I charge down a hill and prepare to sandblast everything between here and Tehran using the tried and true rally-driving oversteer method: turn, brake, get on the gas, and countersteer. Except, in sand this deep, somehow it goes wrong. The front tires refuse to bite at all, and I end up in a full-lock, full-throttle understeer slide that causes waves of sand to wash over the windshield and obliterate all forward vision. That was ugly.
"May I?" asks Ahmad, and I relinquish the wheel. He proceeds to drive into the same shallow bowl and, never touching the brakes, coaxes the big Porsche into a pirouette around its front wheels as a sandstorm erupts behind us. As the kids would say, "I got served."
On the way back out to the road, an ominous vibration erupts from the left front of the Cayenne, and I pull over to discover that the tire, aired down to 14 psi, has bled out its minimal air pressure and gone flat. We pump it back up with a portable air compressor, but Ahmad warns that some sand might've gotten inside the tire, and this could cause vibrations on the road. Duly noted. We pull back onto the pavement and set a course for the city.
I'm from Boston, so I know construction. But Dubai makes the Big Dig look like a Lincoln Logs project. In one area in the southern part of the city, I count thirty-four skyscrapers in progress, compared with five or so that are complete. Dubai's flag should feature a crane, a dump truck, and an exploited Indian laborer. And maybe also the mall. It includes your regular shopping attractions, such as a kiosk selling T-shirts that read "FBI: Female Body Inspector," as well as less common mall features like prayer rooms and a ski slope. Yes, you read that right. Granted, it's a wussy ski slope, but c'mon-an indoor ski slope in the desert? What next, a series of man-made private islands that collectively form a map of the world? An underwater hotel? A 100-square-mile amusement park? Why, yes, actually. All of that is in the works, plus, according to a front-page story in a local paper, a space tourism terminal. No idea is too wild, too extravagant, or too ambitious for the main man running the show, His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai.
Unsurprisingly, Dubai sports more exotic cars than you can shake a hookah at. I pull into the Dubai Autodrome racetrack to see if I can sneak out for a few hot laps, and the parking lot is littered with Porsche Boxsters and 911s and Chevrolet Corvettes, as well as a fleet of driving-school instruction cars-Audi RS4s. The track is booked solid, but one of the instructors, a British expatriate named David, has kind words for the Cayenne. "I've driven the Turbo here," he says, "and it's much better on a track than any SUV has a right to be. You can actually slide it around." Unfortunately, with the track busy, we have to explore the Turbo S's abilities on the considerably more frightening stage of the local highways. As I said before, the roads are great, but the drivers are another story. David concurs. "I've lived here since 1974," he says, "and you see so many accidents. I call it the Dubai Death Highway."