20 Years of the Porsche Cayenne

Ferry Porsche predicted it back 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 would go on to be proved right. Since 2002, the Cayenne has been one of the mainstays of the car manufacturer’s global success.

During the 1980s, Porsche was selling as many as 50,000 cars annually. By the early 1990s – when recession hit many industrialised nations – Porsche’s sales dropped to just under 12,000 units, forcing a financial crisis that it seemingly wouldn’t recover from any time soon. By 1994, the company ran up losses of about $300 million. It was a dark time in the history of Ferdinand Porsche’s dream, with the company’s then CEO, Wendelin Wiedeking, likening the experience to being in “a valley of tears.” There were big decisions to be made for Porsche to secure its long-term financial stability. 

Enter what would become the ‘second’ new Porsche – ultimately, the car that would lead the company out of its slump, the Boxster, launched in 1996.

Although the new mid-engine wunderkind staved off a catastrophe, Porsche realised that the legendary 911 and the new Boxster alone would not be enough to lead the company into a secure future and began formulating plans for a ‘third Porsche’, albeit initially without a firm decision on the segment it would expand into. Curiously, an MPV was also under consideration, but at the urging of their US sales organisation, Porsche ultimately opted to develop an off-road concept as this type of vehicle was rising in popularity in North America, Porsche’s largest market at the time. 


Being an entirely new segment for Porsche, they joined forces with Volkswagen, opting to build the new car on the Touareg platform. Project ‘Colorado’ was born and officially announced in June 1998. 

Despite the identical architecture, the sibling manufacturers initially used their own engines and developed their own chassis set-ups. Porsche was responsible for developing the joint platform at its top-secret Hemmingen site, while Volkswagen contributed production expertise for large volumes.

In 1999, Zuffenhausen decided to build the car in its home market rather than abroad, and constructed a new production facility in Leipzig, which officially opened in August 2002. Its Volkswagen counterpart, the Touareg, was produced at the Volkswagen plant in Bratislava, Slovakia. The painted bodywork for the Cayenne was also sourced from there, with the final assembly taking place in Saxony.

Both the first and second model generations of the Cayenne – known internally as E1 and E2 – rolled off the production line in Leipzig and later also in Osnabrück, although all Cayenne production was moved to Bratislava with the launch of the third generation E3 in 2017.


Its wide technical range makes the Cayenne a family-friendly touring vehicle that is also a robust off-roader and highly dynamic sports car with typical Porsche performance. 

The first generation (E1) started as confidently as one might expect from a Porsche – with a choice of two V8 engines. In the Cayenne S, the newly developed 4.5-litre engine generated 250 kW, while the Cayenne Turbo managed an even more impressive 331 kW.

They reached top speeds of 242 and 266 km/h, respectively – an important message to regular sports car customers, whose expectations for the chassis were equally well met. The cornering dynamics were handled by a new electronic system: Porsche Traction Management (PTM)

The first-gen Cayenne was also the first Porsche to feature the newly developed Porsche Active Suspension Management, offered with air suspension that continuously regulates damping force and incorporates road conditions and the driving style into its calculations. Its air suspension also helped the Cayenne off-road, improving the already impressive 21.7 cm ground clearance to 27.3 cm with the help of the level control system within the air suspension. 

Porsche optimised its on-road performance at the beginning of 2006 with the introduction of the first Cayenne Turbo S, which attracted attention with its engine output of 383 kW from its 4.5-litre V8 bi-turbo engine.


“Establish, sharpen, refine” is Porsche head of design Michael Mauer’s matter-of-fact description of the evolution of the Cayenne’s design. One could say the same of its technical progress.

To optimise weight and performance, the second generation (E2) saw the replacement of the low-range transfer box by an on-demand all-wheel drive system with an actively controlled multi-plate clutch, which is still in use today. Porsche also introduced hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains in the wholly redesigned E2. All existing engines gained additional power and consumed less fuel. The attention-grabber in the redesigned interior was the now-rising centre console.

The objective with the E3 was to “heighten the range of capabilities even further, making it sportier with greater ride comfort while maintaining off-road capabilities”. The new aluminium bodyshell saved weight, making the vehicle more efficient and agile. 

The E3 was also intended to offer a wide range of driver support with the addition of a central control unit integrated all driver assistance systems. In addition, the large SUV received a connectivity update: smartphone integration, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity. 

With the introduction of the third Cayenne in 2017, Porsche also bade farewell to the diesel engine and focused instead on developing plug-in hybrid technology. Another significant milestone was the launch of the even sportier Cayenne Coupé, featuring a sharply sloping roofline, in 2019.


The most potent Cayenne model is the Turbo S e-Hybrid, which has been available since 2019 and has a system output of 500 kW. As with all Porsche plug-in hybrids, the driver of the top model can use the electric energy for additional thrust in any driving mode. For example, the Cayenne Turbo S e-Hybrid has a system torque of 900 Nm available from standstill, allowing the large SUV to accelerate to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds. 

The foundation for today’s electrified model variants was laid back in 2007 with the model update of the first-generation Cayenne. In the concept study of the Cayenne S Hybrid, Porsche relied not on a power-split hybrid but rather a parallel full-hybrid. In this design, the electric motor is used when the car starts rolling and at higher speeds, enabling the prototype to glide at up to 120 km/h without an active combustion engine.

Full-hybrid drive finally came to market in 2010 with the second-gen Cayenne – the first series-production hybrid vehicle from Porsche. The combination of a 3.0-litre V6 supercharged engine and a 34 kW synchronous electric motor generated a system output of 279 kW. The first plug-in hybrid followed four years later, with which Porsche played a pioneering role within the premium SUV segment.


The Cayenne is a sporty all-rounder and has demonstrated its capabilities in extreme conditions. 

In 2006, two private rally teams entered a Porsche Cayenne S in the Transsyberia Rally from Moscow across Siberia to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia – and took first and second place. Porsche drew inspiration from the feat and developed a limited run of 26 Cayenne S Transsyberia cars tailored to long-distance rallies as a customer racing vehicle. They scored a one-two-three finish at the 2007 Transsyberia, with a total of seven Porsches making it into the top 10.

The special equipment in the Cayenne S Transsyberia included specialist all-terrain tyres, a safety cage, a shorter axle ratio, a differential lock, reinforced front wishbones, and reinforced underbody panelling. The engine output of the V8 remained unchanged at 283 kW. 

In 2008, 19 optimised Cayenne S Transsyberia models started the Siberia Rally and took all but sixth place in the top 10.


Oliver Laqua, now the overall vehicle project manager for the Cayenne, was already working as a concept engineer for the E1 in 1998 and, in 2004, was commissioned to design a particularly sporty Cayenne in every respect. The young engineer aimed to develop a lightweight vehicle under the project name ‘Roadrunner’. However, the fact that the ‘Roadrunner’ was to be offered exclusively with rear-wheel drive met with as little enthusiasm from the board as did the rather impractical bucket seats.

When it came to the powertrain system, however, the developers got their way – a naturally aspirated V8 engine instead of a turbocharged one. Standard equipment included a six-speed manual gearbox and a specially developed chassis. For the first time, the steel suspension was combined with the PASM-controlled damping system – a concept that, until then, had been reserved for two-door sports cars. 

The new car’s name was taken from Porsche history books – the 928 GTS (discontinued in 1995) and whose designation, in turn, had come from the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS of the 1960s. These historic models represented exceptional sportiness combined with outstanding long-distance capabilities. 

The first Cayenne GTS was launched in 2007 with the model update of the E1 generation. Its 298 kW output from 4.8 litres of displacement put it at the top of the naturally aspirated Cayenne range. In the second-gen GTS, output rose to 309 kW, and for the 2015 model update, Porsche switched from a naturally aspirated V8 to a bi-turbo V6 for efficiency reasons. However, Porsche returned to eight cylinders with a 338 kW 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo in the current Cayenne GTS. Inspired by the resounding success of the Cayenne GTS, every model series at Porsche now has a GTS variant in its portfolio.


At Porsche’s recent 20-year celebrations, we had the opportunity to drive off-road-modified versions of the E1 and E2 – built by Porsche South Africa to underscore the car’s stupefying go-anywhere credentials. Porsche also granted us access to its range of Platinum Edition Cayennes for a test drive around the Cape.

Available in Cayenne, Cayenne S, and Cayenne e-Hybrid guise (and corresponding coupé derivatives), the Platinum Edition boasts exclusive design elements and additional standard equipment.

Key highlights include such model-specific details in satin-finish Platinum as the inlays in the slats of the air intakes at the front, the Porsche lettering integrated into the LED rear light strip, the model designation at the rear, and the standard 21” RS Spyder Design wheels. Sports tailpipes and side window trim in black truly enhance the sporty, elegant look of the special series. Matching solid colours in white and black, metallic paint finishes in Jet Black, Carrara White, Mahogany, Moonlight Blue, and Crayon are available.

Although no technical modifications are garnered for the Platinum Edition, the interior is a fitting homage to Porsche style, with Crayon seat belts and brushed aluminium ‘Platinum Edition’ door entry sills, as well as textured aluminium interior package and silver-coloured trims adding a special touch.

To differentiate further from their standard siblings, Platinum Edition models receive extended equipment as standard, including LED headlights with Porsche Dynamic Light System (PDLS), a panoramic roof, privacy glass, a Bose surround-sound system, ambient lighting, eight-way leather sports seats, the Porsche Crest on the front and rear headrests, and a dash-mounted analogue clock.


For Porsche, the Cayenne has created the economic basis for sustainable success without compromising the brand’s motorsport-based values. Shortly after its world premiere at the Paris Motor Show in September 2002, the Cayenne became a worldwide success, immediately exceeding sales expectations. Originally Porsche planned for 25,000 examples to be delivered each year, but in the eight years of the first-generation Cayenne, 276,652 cars were sold. The millionth Cayenne, meanwhile, rolled off the production line in 2020. 

As a style icon in the SUV segment, the Cayenne has helped strengthen the appeal of the Porsche brand and is now one of Porsche’s most in-demand models worldwide – a milestone that is likely to remain for at least another 20 years.


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