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Porsche Cayenne: A rhino in a cheetah

June 03, 2006 15:31 IST

Let me take you to a stud farm just outside Pune. It has got wide roads and I am driving a rather wild car. Calling it just another Porsche will be a crime.

Calling it just another Cayenne, even more so. Time to stand up and honour the emperor of the SUV world, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo Gemballa edition.

The only other Cayenne we've featured earlier came with V6 power. It had adequate performance for its bulk, but adequate is not a word that you want to associate with Porsche, right?

The 'normal' Cayenne Turbo packs in 450 bhp and Porsche has just recently released a 550 bhp Turbo S variant for those who cannot have enough of anything, let alone horsepower.

The Turbo we were about to drive was ordered much before the "S" but its owner, Yohan Poonawalla, had spent a bagful of Euros to ensure that it had close to 500 bhp and a body kit from Porsche fiddlers extraordinaire, Gemballa.

The difference, looks wise, is obvious -- the Gemballa Aero 1 kit transforms the Cayenne from butch and featureless to butch and 'characterful.' It has got a creased'n'slit bonnet that helps feed massive doses of air into the intercoolers. Seen front-on, or worse still, in the rear-view mirror, this machine can send shivers down the spine.

Heck, you half expect fumes emanating from its nostrils. The twin pipes at the back do not tell you about the extensive re-routing and expensive metals that make up the Gemballa exhaust bits.

The shiny, black 20-inch Gemballa Sport wheels manage to fill up the wheel arches and the sight of blood-red callipers peeping out of them can give enthusiasts goosebumps. Handsome piece of serious kit or fat lady wearing dollops of lipstick? Former, dear readers, the former.

Fire the motor and the mighty V8 wheezes to life and settles at an idle that's complex enough to be part of a major composition. Gemballa can breathe in a total of 750 bhp if the owner so desires. The car you see here had its share of goodies in the form of a sports exhaust, filters and a DME engine management programme that ensures 530 odd bhp.

Gemballa can also provide an electronic lowering kit and sports suspension bits and a host of other things meant for people who like their 955 served hot.

The drill is simple -- lower the car using the spectacularly easy-to-use Porsche Active Suspension Management system (PASM), slot the Tiptronic box into drive, point that flared bonnet towards the horizon and you are ready to break most records held by production SUVs.

This is the Ferrari Enzo of SUVs and one that can show a clean pair of exhausts to most supercars -- at least in a straight line. And the best part is the big Porsche can be equally at home in the hands of the world's best drivers at Nurburgring as well as with soccer moms who prefer a leisurely drive to the supermarket.

To say that we had a good time with the Turbo will be an understatement. The confines of the Poonawalla stud farm in Pune gave us an opportunity to do phenomenally quick standing-start runs.

Slamming the throttle down does make the engine management system think for a while but as its processors warm up, which takes a few blinks, it sends truck loads of torque to all four corners of the car and the resulting surge of acceleration can literally pin you to the back of the seat.

The Cayenne punches a tunnel-sized hole in the air as it crosses 100 kph in just above five seconds and it can do 160 kph in 11-odd seconds -- compare this to the stock Turbo and you will realise that all that tweaking was worth it.

Watching a quarter mile run by the Turbo can be as invigorating as driving it. The machine grows in size at a pace not usually associated with anything as big and it approaches you with its very own heat and dust haze.

The rumble of the V8 is distinct on the ears and the tremors generated from its footsteps can be felt on your feet. Imagine an angry rhino trying to emulate a cheetah and you get the picture.

Like most SUVs, the Cayenne prefers straight lines to corners. That said, the mission statement given to Porsche engineers was to make the Cayenne handle better than any other SUV on the planet, if not the Boxster and the 911.

But there is a vast difference in the performance packages available (from the V6 to normally aspirated versions to turbos) and that is where fine-tuning becomes the operative word. We had one nasty corner with lots of loose stuff and we kept on attacking it with increasing velocities.

As expected, there was more pronounced body roll at lower speeds and with a bit of practice and well timed mid-corner lift-off antics, we could even get the Cayenne to behave like a tail-wagging rear-wheel driven sedan. What we didn't have access to though was a well paved mountain road with sweeping corners, where the real potential of this car was certain to come through.

Sumptuous interior appointments with acres of leather and every conceivable safety feature makes the Cayenne Turbo a very agreeable place to be.

My only crib centres around the steering wheel design. I detest those rather organic switch gear pods that grow out of the wheel spokes -- a steering wheel is meant to steer and I think it is time carmakers around the world understood that.

While a volume button for your music system is alright, anything else on the wheel only complicates the driving process and hence should be avoided. At least in a Porsche.

In a nutshell, this is the most powerful SUV we've got to drive to date. Since 500 bhp plus SUVs are not everyday occurrences, the records we set will remain for a while. That is, till we get behind the wheel of a Turbo S. We'll need to invent some brand new superlatives by then.

We would like to thank Yohan Poonawalla for allowing us to drive his Gemballa-tuned Porsche Cayenne Turbo.

Bijoy Kumar Y in Mumbai