Despite not being a world-renowned sports car, the first-generation Porsche Cayenne is one of the most important vehicles that Porsche has ever produced. While the Cayenne brought much-needed profitability to the company as a whole, it also introduced the Porsche brand to an entirely new group of customers who otherwise might never have considered a car from the Stuttgart marque. The Porsche Cayenne is a full-size sports-luxury SUV that combines the very best of on and off-road performance, along with superb driving characteristics and a respectable towing capacity.
While it was a controversial product at the time that many thought would not succeed, or they felt it would dilute the Porsche brand, the Cayenne has proved to be a success. The versatility and mind-blowing performance of the Cayenne were unlike anything else at the time. Porsche ended up selling over 95,000 examples of the first-generation Cayenne over a span of seven years. No one really expected the Cayenne to do quite so well, except perhaps for Porsche, who knew just how much they had invested in building the world's most capable SUV. It would be an exaggeration to say they 'bet the farm' on the Cayenne. Still, there are plenty of rumors about Porsche pulling the plug on racing programs to focus funds and engineering talent on the development of the Cayenne. It certainly paid off, as Porsche sold twice as many Cayennes as they did their sports cars in the first year of production.
Porsche Cayenne Background Info (955/977)
The first generation of Cayenne can generally be split into two models, the 955 and the 957. The 955 sold from 2003 until 2006 and includes the Cayenne, Cayenne S, Cayenne Turbo, and Cayenne Turbo S models. There is no 2007 model year Cayenne in the United States. The 957 covers all Cayennes sold from 2008 to 2010, and includes those same previous models and introduced the Cayenne GTS and the 2010-only Cayenne S Transsyberia. The 957 is essentially a face-lifted 955 that rides on the same chassis, and it includes both mechanical and aesthetic changes.
The rare Cayenne S Transsyberia is a limited-edition model released in 2010 to commemorate Porsche's participation in the 2007 Transsyberia rally, of which only 600 were sold in the USA. The Transsyberia combines the higher-output Cayenne GTS V8 with off-road accessories such as front and rear skid plates, rock guards, and optional light bars. They also featured wild contrasting graphics, looking very much like the Cayenne equivalent to a 911 GT3 RS.
The 955/957 are built on the Volkswagen Group PL71 chassis, which it shares with the VW Touareg and Audi Q7. Porsche designates this as the 9PA chassis, and although the basic unibody construction and core chassis are the same as those used by VW and Audi, the majority of the engines, electronics, and interior components are all unique to the Cayenne. Thanks to these differences, as well as Porsche's ability to tune the suspension and the utilization of their cutting-edge technology, the driving experience behind the wheel of a Cayenne is quite different than a Touareg or Q7.
The Porsche 955 and 957 Cayenne models have a curb weight of around 5,000lbs depending on the exact model and engine trim. Despite the heft, the Cayenne redefined what an SUV can and should be, and it's exactly what you would expect from a company as capable as Porsche. The Cayenne competes with other luxury Sport Utility Vehicles such as the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Lexus LX470, Cadillac Escalade, and other similar models. However, the versatility and uniqueness of the Cayenne really put it into a class of its own. None of the competitors can really hold a candle to the Cayenne when it comes to being a superb all-arounder.
With nearly unmatched off-road capabilities, the 2003 Cayenne Turbo, for example, can also sprint to 60mph in only five seconds flat and has a top speed of over 160mph. One vehicle shouldn't really be able to do both of those things with such ease, but the Porsche Cayenne is not most vehicles. On-road, off-road, in traffic on the way to work or at 100mph+, the Cayenne delivers excellence. And while the 955 may have relied a bit too much on the visual DNA of the Porsche 911, and at some angles looks a bit like a Carrera that someone had played around with in Photoshop, by the 957 facelift, the Cayenne was truly coming into its own.
What Are The Differences Between The Porsche 955 & 957 Cayenne?
The Porsche 957 Cayenne features both mechanical and aesthetic changes compared to the 955 generation. Aesthetically, the 957 has a new bumper, hood, and fenders, as well as better integrated and more unique headlights. At the rear, the Porsche 957 features LED taillights but is otherwise very similar to the Porsche 955.
The Porsche 957 Cayennes also have more model-specific suspension tuning, so the sporty GTS has more firm and aggressive suspension tuning than other models, for example. The Porsche 957 also introduced the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) system. PDCC was available as an option on 2008-2010 Cayennes and features hydraulically controlled sway bars that help keep the car flat in the corners on-road and better control off-road. In low-range 4WD, the sway bars are disconnected completely to maximize suspension travel and articulation.
Inside, the 957 also received updated electronics. The most significant change is the enhanced Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system, the control interface for the infotainment system. The PCM system features an improved user interface, touch screen, Bluetooth, auxiliary audio input, and iPod connection. Lastly, the 957 Porsche Turbo gets Dynamic Curve Lights that help to illuminate the road around curves.
What Are The Similarities Of The Porsche 955 & 957 Cayenne?
Since the 955 and 957 are both built on the same Porsche 9PA chassis, there are many core components and specifications shared between the two. All Porsche Cayennes feature ABS anti-lock braking systems, front and side curtain airbags, a dual-mode traction control system, and a four-wheel independent suspension system. The 955 and 957 Cayenne both have a respectable 7,716lb towing capacity, making them a great choice for those wanting to tow to the lake or the race track on the weekends.
Porsche 955 and 957 Cayennes also feature full-time four-wheel-drive with both high and low range options. Porsche was absolutely insistent that the Cayenne be more than capable of delivering the goods no matter the situation. So, although low-range four-wheel-drive may seem unusual as a standard option for a sports-luxury SUV that probably won't often see much time off-road, it's standard on all Cayenne 955 and 957 models. The baseline torque split between the front and rear axles is 38/62, but it is variable depending on the conditions, and up to 100% of power can be sent either front or rear thanks to Porsche Traction Management (PTM).
Porsche Traction Management uses a computer-controlled, electronically actuated multi-plate clutch to control power flow and is utilized on all Cayenne models. An optional off-road pack upgrades to an auto-locking rear differential and an electronic rear sway bar disconnect system that allows for more rear suspension travel and more side-to-side articulation.
Active air suspension is standard on the Cayenne Turbo and optional on all other models. Cayennes equipped with the active air suspension can be set to Comfort, Normal, or Sport modes. Additionally, the Porsche Stability Management control system is continuously monitoring the vehicle's speed, as well as inputs such as steering angle, throttle angle, engine load, and lateral acceleration. It makes adjustments to keep the truck as stable and flat as possible at speed or in the corners. As a result, despite its size and weight, the 955 and 957 Cayenne stay remarkably poised and are surprisingly agile. Another trick feature is that the Cayenne will lower its ride height as vehicle speeds increase. For example, the Cayenne Turbo sits a full 1.5" lower at speeds greater than 130mph than it does at lower speeds.
Inverse to that, the air suspension can also be raised to increase ground clearance for driving in deep snow or other more challenging off-road conditions.
All 955 and 957 models have the same basic braking system, with a few exceptions. All Porsche Cayennes feature 6-piston front brake calipers and 4-piston rear brake calipers. The base model Cayenne V6 typically comes equipped with 17" wheels and a 330mm front and rear brake discs. Most Cayennes had an 18" or larger wheel and came with 350mm front brake discs and 330mm rear brakes. Starting with the 957, some highly optioned Cayennes Such as the Turbo and Turbo S have even larger 380mm front and 350mm rear brake discs.
Porsche Cayenne Engines & Transmissions (955/957)
You can basically break down the engine options on the first-generation Porsche Cayenne models into two categories, pre and post-facelift. Cayenne 955 models from 2003 to 2005 have port-injected engines, while Cayenne 957 models from 2008 to 2010 have direct-injected engines.
All of the V8 engines feature a dry-sump lubrication system, normally used for race cars or Porsche's GT sports cars. With a dry-sump, there isn't an oil pan that holds the oil at the bottom of the engine like on a traditional wet-sump engine. In the Cayenne, a dry-sump is used to ensure the engine has a steady supply of oil during more 'spirited' off-road drives and extreme inclines and angles. It also allows for more clearance under the engine, a potentially advantageous center of gravity, and less chance of a damaged oil pan leaving you stranded out in the wilderness.
The 955 V8 engines feature Porsche Variocam variable valve timing, while the 957 V8 engines feature Porsche Variocam Plus, adding variable valve lift for even more power. The naturally aspirated engines all feature Porsche Varioram dual-plenum intake manifolds to boost engine torque, while the Turbos do not. All the Cayenne V8 engines, including the Turbo and GTS, feature an aluminum engine block and heads. At the same time, the base model Cayenne uses either a 3.2 or 3.6 L VR6 engine borrowed from VW that are both iron block and aluminum head.
Transmissions are the same across all models, with all Cayennes coming standard with a 6-speed Tiptronic transmission—the same transmission used in the VW Touareg and Audi Q7 during the same years. The Porsche Tiptronic features an adaptive transmission control unit that can optimize shift points and performance based on driving habits and conditions.
Both base model Cayenne VR6 models and the 957 Cayenne GTS had an option for a 6-speed manual transmission. While the sporty GTS lends itself a bit more naturally to the manual, driving an SUV as big and heavy as the Cayenne is with a manual transmission is definitely a different experience. While the manual-equipped Cayennes are not the most common, they're definitely available, and you'll be able to find one for sale if you do some searching.
As you might expect, the Porsche Cayenne doesn't have the best ratings in terms of miles-per-gallon because of its size and weight. Although it depends on the exact engine and transmission, you can plan on getting between 13-20mpg, with the Turbos on the lower end of that range, the Cayenne S and GTS right in the middle, and the base model VR6 at the upper end.
Porsche Cayenne Engines (955)
- Cayenne Base
- 955, 2004-2006 - 3.2 L VR6 - 247hp/229lb-ft of torque
- Cayenne S
- 955, 2003-2006, 4.5 L V8 - 335hp/310lb-ft of torque
- Cayenne Turbo
- 955, 2003-2006 - 4.5 L twin-turbo - 444hp/457 lb-ft of torque
- Cayenne Turbo S
- 955, 2006 - 4.5 L twin-turbo - 514hp/531 lb-ft of torque
Porsche Cayenne Engines (957)
- Cayenne Base
- 957, 2008-2010 - 3.6 L VR6 - 286hp/284b-ft of torque
- Cayenne S
- 957, 2008-2010 - 380hp/369lb-ft of torque
- Cayenne S Transsyberia
- 957, 2010 - 4.8 L V8 - 399hp/369lb-ft of torque
- Cayenne Turbo
- 957, 2008-2010 - 4.8 L twin-turbo - 493hp/516 lb-ft of torque
- Cayenne GTS
- 957, 2008-2010 - 4.8 L V8 - 399hp/369lb-ft of torque
- Cayenne Turbo S
- 957, 2008-2010 - 4.8 L twin-turbo V8 - 542hp/553lb-ft of torque
Where To Buy A Used Porsche Cayenne (955/957)?
You can currently find both 955 and 957 Porsche Cayenne models at used car dealerships as well as private sales on sites such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. The newest first-generation Porsche Cayenne is 10 years old, so it will be rare to find these at a Porsche dealership unless it is a very low mileage example or perhaps one of the rare Transsyberia variants. The most desirable GTS and Turbo S models can sometimes be found on premium auction sites such as Bring a Trailer, but you will always pay more due to the kind of cars these sites will attract.
How Much Does A Used Porsche Cayenne (955/957) Cost?
While they're attractive in terms of pricing, the base model VR6 Cayenne 955 is fairly underpowered compared to the amount of weight it has to haul around. The 3.2 L VR6 is super smooth and does an adequate job, and is quite reliable when serviced properly; it's just not a very enthralling drive. The 957 3.6 L VR6 Cayenne is a much better match to the car in terms of horsepower and torque, but these models definitely hold their value, many times coming in very near what you will pay for a similar Cayenne S.
The Cayenne S, with either a 4.5 L or 4.8 L V8, is the most common model that you're likely to find for sale and the best "all-around" Cayenne. Although all Cayennes feature the same towing capacity of just over 7,700lbs, a more powerful and torquey engine will be better for towing. If you plan on using your Cayenne as a tow vehicle, starting your search with the Cayenne S is probably your best bet.
If you can find a solid example, the Cayenne Turbo may just be the best all-around value. While it has unbeatable acceleration and performance for an SUV, the turbocharged engines are also said to be more reliable thanks to additional oil squirters and other stronger components. They've also depreciated to nearly the same price as a Cayenne S in some instances, meaning you can get quite a lot of truck for your money.
The Cayenne GTS and the Cayenne S Transsyberia seem to hold the most value, and as such, you will usually pay more for one of those models. That said, the GTS is fairly easy to find on the used market and depending on the exact mileage and condition, you may see some pretty competitive prices.
Used Porsche Cayenne Pricing (955)
- Cayenne Base - 2004-2006
- Cayenne S - 2003-2006
- Cayenne Turbo - 2004-2006
- Cayenne Turbo S - 2006
Used Porsche Cayenne Pricing (957)
- Cayenne Base - 2008-2010
- Cayenne S - 2008-2010
- Cayenne GTS - 2008-2010
- Cayenne Turbo - 2008-2010
- Cayenne Turbo S - 2008-2010
How Reliable Is The Porsche Cayenne (955/957)?
The Porsche Cayenne can be an exceptionally reliable SUV, provided that it receives proper servicing. There are many examples with well over 100,000 miles that are still running like new. Like any other high-performance German vehicle, regular maintenance with the best quality parts goes quite a long way to keeping your Cayenne running tip-top. Lack of service and deferred maintenance is the most common cause of the majority of Porsche Cayenne problems.
The earliest years had some issues with a hard-shifting transmission resolved in later years with a TCU update. Overall the suspension and major components are extremely robust, and it's rare to see these needing replacement. The interior soft-touch plastics can get sticky and wear, especially if they've been sprayed with a harsh cleaner or the previous owner used a lot of hand lotion, or otherwise got oil and grease on the plastics.
When you're test-driving a Porsche Cayenne, it should feel very solid and in control at all times. You'll want to be sure there aren't any malfunction indicator lights up on the dash or any warning lights. Acceleration should be smooth and free from any hesitation or unusual noises. Any kind of rough running, a flashing check engine light, or excessive engine noise and knocking could indicate a more serious engine problem. Coolant leaks can be common, especially on the 955 4.5 L V8 models.
Porsche Cayenne automatic transmission problems are fairly rare with proper service. Shifting should be smooth in Tiptronic-equipped Cayennes, without any harsh gear changes or hesitation off the line or between shifts. A manual Cayenne or Cayenne GTS should have a firm but not excessively heavy clutch pedal, and gear changes should be smooth without any grinding or balking between shifts.
All Porsche 955 and 957 Cayenne models have 6-piston front brakes and 4-piston rear brakes. Stopping should be strong and without grinding, noise, or vibration in the pedal or steering wheel.
It is worth noting that if you are looking to purchase a used Cayenne, you should consider having an independent Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) performed by a shop or specialist of your choosing once you've picked a car to buy. A PPI will include a full electronic system scan, a visual inspection, and a quick driving evaluation to make sure that the Cayenne you're looking to buy is a good one.
Although the Cayenne is a truck and not a 911 or some other Porsche sports car, any vehicle carrying the Porsche badge can be a little more expensive to repair. When in doubt, it's best to have the car professionally evaluated before handing over your hard-earned money, as a good PPI can save you from hidden problems.
While there are some lower-priced Cayennes out there, anything you see towards the bottom end of our price range will probably need a few repairs. As a rule, we recommend buying the newest Porsche Cayenne that fits in your budget.
Lastly, if you plan on handling most of your own service and repairs, especially if you use the FCP Euro Lifetime Replacement Guarantee for consumables like brakes, a Cayenne can provide a lot of performance and luxury for the money. That said, it is a Porsche, so some parts will be more expensive. Some electrical components do required coding, so it would be beneficial to have a good relationship with a competent, independent Porsche specialist for that service. If you plan on paying a Porsche specialist to handle all of your service and repairs, you can expect the labor costs to be much higher than they are on other brands, as well as some of the parts depending on the item at hand. Porsche owners call this the 'Porsche Tax,' which you can potentially avoid by doing the majority of your service and repairs yourself.
The Porsche Cayenne was a game-changing vehicle when it went on sale back in 2003, and thanks to the number of Cayennes sold, there are plenty to choose from on the used market. The Porsche Cayenne represents one of the best values that you can find in terms of features and performance in a luxury SUV. While it's important to keep in mind that a vehicle like the Cayenne that cost $60,000 to $100,000 or more when it was new will cost a bit more to maintain than your average compact sedan or hatchback, that doesn't mean you should cross them off your shopping list. For the informed buyer who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty every so often, the first generation 955 and 957 Cayenne models are hard to match when it comes to bang-for-the-buck.
If you have any questions or comments about the first-generation Porsche Cayenne, leave them in the comments below.
FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55