“See, it’s stable,” said Jürgen Kern, Porsche manager of testing and quality management. “Even at this speed.”
I glanced at the speedometer – 168 mph – and nodded appreciatively, but inside I was screaming: “Put your hands back on the wheel, Jürgen! Your freakin’ hands! Back! Wheel!” I knew Kern would push the new Porsche Cayenne Turbo S to its maximum speed, and that’s why I offered to let him drive. But I didn’t expect him to go all “Look, Ma” on me.
Truly, though, the 520-horsepower SUV barely wavered at three times the speed of sanity. There was a little vibration, but nothing more than you’d get on slightly rough pavement, and none of the lightness and lift that usually comes with high speed. No wonder, though, because the 2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S weighs 5,875 pounds fully loaded with options. That’s 2,200 lbs. more than a 911 Carrera S. You’d need a jet engine to raise the wheels of the Cayenne Turbo S off the pavement.
Regardless of the new Cayenne’s stability, we had just passed a “Watch for Camels” sign, which had inspired my morbid musings, and I wanted Kern’s hands back on the steering wheel. Our exit approached and he slowed to about a buck ten and made a lane change.
Kern and I were now on a two-lane highway, driving past a meticulously-maintained Arabian thoroughbred ranch and several circular, rag-tag goat farms that dotted the desert like driftwood construction on a deserted beach. At the gates of the 50,000-acre Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve a uniformed guard waved us through. We stopped the Cayenne to reduce the pressure in the tires from 42 to 18 psi, and it was then that I saw my first camel, no doubt attracted by the hissing air or whatever piques the interest of the extremely simpleminded. Supported on massive, flat feet, it moved over a dune as though controlled by puppet strings – all gangly and disjointed. Up close, it was easy to appreciate the extreme hazard such an animal posed to vehicular traffic, not least because it blended into the sandy landscape.
The desert was much different than downtown Dubai. Out in the vast, shifting dunes, you could imagine the Arabia of old, or least something more authentic than what looks like a Scottsdale strip mall. Dubai is the capital of the emirate of the same name (one of the seven United Arab Emirates). A city of 900,000, it sits on the shore of the Arabian Gulf. The tourism mecca of the UAE and the Middle East and one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Dubai’s skyline bristles with cranes. Buildings under construction seem to vastly outnumber completed projects. Nothing, save for a small part of downtown Dubai, looks more than five years old. Western culture has fully infiltrated and obscured any Arab flavor. Think Phoenix with Arabic script. Starbucks, Applebee’s and other fast-food outlets line the main roads. There are shopping malls everywhere, including one attached to an artificial indoor ski resort chilled to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Strolling through a mall made up like a traditional Arabian souk, or market, I was met by the unmistakable smell of a Cinnabon counter. I even spotted a huge Martha Stewart billboard in the city.
We spent 90 minutes plowing over the dunes in the 2006 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. Dubai’s sand is fine like talc and it feels much like driving on powdered snow over packed ice. Because the desert winds constantly change the landscape, Kern was never sure what lay on the other side of a dune. It was a trick to speed up the face and then reduce power at the crest to drop safely down the other side. Not enough power and you slid backwards, too much and you risked planting the nose of the $111,600 Cayenne in the sand, possibly busting up the grillework and maybe even the radiator. If there’s one thing I know about the desert, it’s that when you’re in the middle of it you don’t want to be leaking water.
Just the fact that my concern was dependent upon driver error and not vehicle malfunction speaks volumes about how solid this Porsche is. Also consider that the 2006 Cayenne Turbo S can spank a BMW M3 coupe on the road. Sure, $111,600 amounts to plenty of sport-ute, but this isn’t just any SUV. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S marries opulent luxury with on-road performance and off-road prowess. It’s like those freaks that excel in multiple professional sports, or a bigamist with three gorgeous and talented wives. Now, that’s not something you see every day, is it?