Thankfully, Porsche canned the original design sketch.
If you've been spending the last month under a rock, you might have missed Porsche's celebrations for the Cayenne's 20th birthday. It may not seem that old, but the Cayenne is just one year away from legally ordering a beer.
To celebrate this impressive milestone for a car few people thought would work, Porsche is telling the full unedited story behind the original Cayenne, including how it nearly became a minivan. We already covered why the Cayenne needed to be built and why Porsche chose Volkswagen over Mercedes-Benz as a production partner.
This week we look back at one of the most contentious issues related to the first-generation Cayenne. Yup, we're going to be diving into the history of the design, back when the car was still called project "Colorado."
We think it's fair to say that few out there would call the first-generation Cayenne beautiful. It looked like a 966 with a peanut allergy that jumped head first into a vat of Jif.
You won't hear us complaining about it in the future because the initial design sketches prove that it could have been much worse.
To be fair, Porsche's designers were thrown into the deep end. Until the Cayenne came along, Porsche's primary focus had always been two-door sports cars. Suddenly, it needed a blueprint for an SUV. The suits set nearly impossible targets, a collection of things the designers had avoided for decades. Things like a high roof and elevated seating position, four doors with five usable seats, and loads of cargo capacity. And it had to work off-road.
Apart from Porsche's Paris-Dakar experience, it knew nothing about off-roaders.
"Of course, it wasn't at all easy to express the identity of the Porsche brand in a car that had absolutely nothing in common with the existing models made by our company," said Harm Lagaay, the man in charge of Porsche's design department at the time.
The designers spent a whole year on the headlights alone. One of Porsche's distinguishing features at the time was the highest point of the wings and headlights, which had to be above the hood. As you can imagine, the increased ride height and sheer size of the V8 engines made it tricky to incorporate this particular design element.
Due to the complexity, the designers originally created a square hood and chunkier versions of the famous fried egg headlights from the 996-gen 911 and original Boxster. The original design would also have made it easier to service the Cayenne, as the blocky front end provided easier access to the air filter and headlights. The engineers and designers eventually figured out how to do this, even with the final design we got.
The biggest challenge of the Cayenne's design is unexpected. According to Michael Mauer, who took over from Lagaay in 2004, the parts sharing with Volkswagen proved to be a problem. The windscreen and all four doors of the two cars were identical.
"It's easy to underestimate how much the doors define the side of a car. Behind the rear door, we've got maybe another meter, and only a little more at the front, so there is not a lot of room to do very much," said Mauer, who first worked on the Porsche SUV when the E1 facelift appeared in 2007. "With the E1 II, we gave the whole car more visual sharpness and definition," he recalls.
The first Touareg also dictated the interior of the car. "The interior can hardly deny its kinship with the Touareg," says Markus Auerbach, head of interior design style at Porsche.
The traditional placement of the tachometer was sacrificed in the process. Getting the usual Porsche arrangement would have required a redesign of the instrument cluster, and the German manufacturer was essentially broke back then.
Still, Porsche threw some unique design features in there. These include the three-spoke steering wheel, an ignition lock on the left of the steering wheel, and hand-grips for additional support when off-roading.
In the years since, the Cayenne differentiated itself substantially, and as the car that saved Porsche from certain ruin, we can forgive the sharing with VW. After all, there would be no 911 GT3 RS today if it weren't for this. We're just glad it didn't look like the original design sketches.