Best Porsche cars ever: Porsche Cayenne S Transsyberia

The Porsche Cayenne S Transsyberia is in no way a poor relation to the Stuttgart brand’s sports car heritage

Key specs
EngineV8
Capacity4.8 litres
Power385bhp
Top speed110mph (est)

Love it or loathe it, Porsche’s decision to add an SUV to its line-up was a commercial masterstroke that allowed the brand to continue to build the sort of enthusiast’s cars it’s so famous for. For that alone, it’s significant, but when the Cayenne arrived in 2002, Porsche’s claims that it would be a ‘sports car’ were met with a degree of derision from the automotive press. That was until they drove it. To say that the Cayenne changed the idea of how enjoyable an SUV could be to drive is an understatement, and it has become better with every iteration. 

Even Porsche’s brand ambassador, legendary race and rally driver Walter Röhrl, who’s a card-carrying light-weight and high-performance enthusiast, admits that Porsche built a special car with the first Cayenne, and that it’s only gone on to get better with every new model series. We’re championing the first, and it’s represented here by the Cayenne S Transsyberia, which, in typical Porsche fashion, was built to compete in the 10,000km Transsyberia rally raid, an event that required the off-road entrants to be fully road-legal. 

Porsche only modestly modified the production Cayenne S to create its special competition model, retaining the 4.8-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine with its standard 385bhp output. It would drive through the standard Tiptronic S automatic gearbox, too, although the German manufacturer did lower the final-drive ratio on the off-road specials. 

Cherry-picking elements from the production car’s options list, the Cayenne S Transsyberia also benefited from a locking rear differential and revised settings for the air suspension. Underbody protection, robust off-road tyres, and a snorkel, as well as improved sealing around the doors, allowed the Cayenne S Transsyberia to wade through water up to 75cm deep. 

It’s more a case of what was removed than added to this Cayenne special, with a good deal of the interior trim left back in the factory. This not only compensated for the additional weight of some of the off-road-specific equipment, but also meant there was room for extra safety and communication equipment, as well as a pair of spare wheels and tyres where the rear seats would usually go. 

Porsche never enters competition lightly, and with 25 of the 34 teams entering the Transsyberia rally doing so in Porsche Cayennes, it came as little surprise that one of them took the overall win. To prove that result wasn’t a fluke, many teams went back over the following years, with the Cayenne making the event its own. 

The mix of chequer-plate flooring, lightweight door cards and multi-point seatbelts feels a bit incongruous in the Cayenne, with the racer’s austerity at odds with the otherwise production-standard dashboard. It feels quick on the hillclimb, and it’s impossible not to cut a corner to off-road it during the dash up the hill, the cabin resonating with the sound of its powerful V8 ahead. 

Sure, there will be many among the masses who find sporting SUVs derisory, but when Porsche builds an SUV, it does so to its own principles. Underlining it was the right thing to do is the fact that it took fewer than 20 years for Porsche to build and sell a million of them – a feat it took 54 years to achieve with the 911.

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