Musings on the Motoring World

Time to embrace the madness of the rally-ready Porsche Cayenne

If you love perusing second-hand car classifieds, it is depressing to see just how expensive some used cars have become. Five-figures for a high-mileage Honda EG Civic Type R? Six for a decent unmolested Toyota Mk4 Supra? Don’t ask questions because they “know what they’ve got”? Equally depressing are the used prices on early-2000 luxury SUVs, particularly that of the first-generation Porsche Cayenne

Of course, nobody gives a toss about these early SUVs. Traditional SUV buyers are moving onto more fuel-efficient and better-equipped models. Whereas traditional enthusiasts will see it as sell-outs and fashionable accessories for the cashed-up bourgeois that have moved on. Not least of which they see it as degenerate products that prostitute the sanctity of [insert brand].

Before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we shouldn’t see the Cayenne as an uggo badge and botch job. There is more to like about the first-generation Cayenne than enthusiasts would care to admit. To understand that we have to look at the circumstances that influenced its creation.

Over-engineered with a purpose

After learning from Toyota on how to make cars with a profit – and making a profit with the Boxster – Porsche started looking into making some real money. In doing so, the company came to a realisation that its customers were buying other practical everyday vehicles. Obviously, that had to be fixed, and it had just the company to partner with in developing it, Volkswagen.

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t Porsche who came knocking on Volkswagen’s door looking for a chassis for its Cayenne. Instead, the job of developing what would become the PL71 platform fell on Porsche’s lap. Strangely, the end product wasn’t a ‘roided out station wagon like every soft-roader SUV you see roaming today’s parking lot.

For some reason, Porsche engineered the PL71 platform to be able to accommodate a whole range of off-road bits. Can’t imagine why Porsche drivers need height-adjustable air suspension, low-range gearbox, and a locking differential. It’s not as though they need a Porsche to drive around their estates to laugh at the peasant classes. They have Range Rovers for that.

Volkswagen itself says that these features were included in the first-generation Touareg because “people buy into the dream that one day they might go off-road”. In all likelihood, this had more to do with the Touareg being another over-engineered product of the Ferdinand Piech era.

Based and off-road ready

Picture by Forge Motorsports Overland

Anyhow, since the first-generation Cayenne and Touareg were the first SUV models for both companies, nothing was left to chance. As such, both models were built to be far more capable than many of its customers were expecting. This has led us to a rather interesting situation where adventurous off-road enthusiasts are picking up used Cayenne examples and using it for off-road excursions.   

Picture by Forge Motorsports Overland

With the internal mechanicals already up to par, most owners merely upgrade its capabilities with a lift kit and throw out the Cayenne’s smooth road-biased tyres for knobbly mud-plugging items. And just like that, they have a Cayenne that can take on all but the most vertical of cliffs. Aftermarket companies like Forge Motorsport Overland have met the demand with aftermarket gear for the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne.

Fab pedigree beneath the flab

It isn’t as though modifying the Cayenne in such a way is all that strange. Porsche themselves did prepare a Cayenne to take on the Transsyberia Rallye back in the 2000s. And the company did have some historic motorsports roots in rallying. This particular Cayenne owner wrapped one in the Rothmans’ livery, which pays tribute to Porsche’s Paris-to-Dakar winning 959.  

Usually buying something described as a “used luxury SUV” will raise more red flags than Communist China. Pleasantly that isn’t so much the case with the first-generation Cayenne. As it turns out, it is surprisingly hardy mechanically and electrically. It is no Range Rover, which is a loaded claymore primed to perforate your finances if you trip over a servicing interval. Nor was it overwrought with overly sophisticated features and engines like its Touareg relative.

So long as an owner keeps an eye on consumables they won’t run into too much trouble. The only caveat used car shoppers would have to be mindful of is that it is a Porsche. So expect Porsche prices in parts and servicing if you have someone else doing the labour. However, if you are willing to get your hands dirty over a weekend, you can find ways around that.

Competition and adventure possibilities

I am not going to deny that it won’t be as reliable and capable as the indomitable Toyota LandCruiser and its posh siblings, the Lexus GX and LX. However, low-mileage used examples of the Japanese off-roaders are nowhere as cheap as the equivalent first-gen Cayennes.

So if you are looking for a cheap off-roader to go trail-bashing now and then, there are plenty of good examples you can pick up for a song. Instead of leaving perfectly serviceable off-roaders to waste, you can give these SUVs a new lease in life. Who knows, maybe some enterprising fellows might be able to start a low-cost off-road competition series. Now wouldn’t that be something?