Most complaints surfaced when not hitting the highway. The brake has to be applied to fire the engine. Why? It’s in park. From there, the six-speed automatic’s second-gear starts kill off-the-line throttle response and hinder acceleration. Of course, the manumatic function can be used to start in first gear, but it’s still annoying. Also, the Cayenne was prone to irritating lurches in stop-and-go traffic–a combination of a sometimes harsh-shifting tranny and borderline touchy brakes.

Fuel economy was a concern for a vehicle this large. We averaged 16 mpg, splitting the EPA 14 city and 18 highway ratings. And the premium-fuel requirement pushed at least one fill-up to $100.

If some of these characteristics don’t seem Porsche-like, here’s one that definitely is: This SUV requires service at 20,000-mile intervals. Too bad we had to visit the dealership at just 3000 miles because the rear glass hatch (which can be opened separately from the liftgate) wouldn’t close properly and would sometimes open unexpectedly. The problem was a leaky housing that allowed water to ruin the electronic switch–but it took three switch replacements before it was fixed properly. In addition, the plastic cover for the rear wiper arm came off during one of the Cayenne’s weekly visits to the carwash, and an airbag warning light had appeared. All three items were fixed without charge under the four-year/ 50,000-mile warranty.

The first scheduled visit at the 20,000-mile mark involved a change of the oil and its filter, as well as an inspection of all major subsystems. Porsche service has never been cheap, and it totaled $412, which included $322 for 3.5 hours of labor at $92 per hour. While we were there, we had the dealer replace another missing trim piece–this time it was a slice off the passenger-side exterior door handle.

A set of tires was the only normal wear item–by 25,000 miles, the 255/55R-18 Continental 4×4 Contacts were shot. We paid $606 for Pirelli Scorpion Zeros.

No further problems surfaced, so the second and last scheduled stop came at 40,000 miles. This time the bill was $489 for an air-filter replacement, oil change, and more thorough inspection of all systems. During this service, the dealer also corrected problems involving two recalls: The key fobs were replaced, and the right-rear door-control computer got a software upgrade.

So, the service total was a hefty $901–the same tab for our long-term Cadillac SRX was just $236–but other than having to replace a few minor trim pieces and the window switch, the Cayenne was trouble-free. Another plus is its resale value–Kelley Blue Book recently named it the highest among SUVs. To illustrate, the value of our Cayenne, with 40,000 miles on the odo, had diminished by just 19 percent; an SRX of similar age plunges 33 percent.

And there’s no question that adding an SUV to its lineup has done nice things for Porsche. At a time when the company’s car sales were dropping, overall sales jumped 33 percent in 2003 and by another 11 percent in 2004, due to the 31,038 Cayennes sold during those two years. Cayenne sales for ’05 were strong as this was written and should outpace first-year figures. (Not to mention Porsche had enough cash in its pocket to cough up roughly $4 billion to purchase 20 percent of Volkswagen.)

Think of it this way: Since the Cayenne went on sale, Porsche has introduced two new models, the Carrera GT and the Cayman; has redesigned the 911 and the Boxster; and has a sedan, the Panamera, on the way. So how could Porsche’s decision to build a big clumsy SUV be a bad thing for enthusiasts when the profits it has generated will pay for Porsche sports cars of the future?

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