The interior is a bit of a letdown for our staff. It almost looks as if Porsche took a 996 dashboard and steering wheel, and blew them up to fit the Cayenne's size. Even the grain of the synthetic dash looks odd. It appears to be covered with elephant hide, the swath from its backside. While the dash itself seems enlarged, Porsche appears to have left the vents, door handles, and switchgear in the old size, so they look out of scale. The switches, dials, and sliders all seem to have been made by the same company that built them for the Snow Speeders in Star Wars. They have a 1980s sci-fi feel to them that, while cool, seems somewhat out of place in a modern car.

The brakes feel great. Plenty of feel and solid, linear pedal travel. The pedal, however, is enormous. It was either meant for drivers with three average-sized feet or clowns. The suspension is quite good. The switchable modes and ride heights make major differences both on- and off-road. The Cayenne is hard to upset on the road and takes freeway ramps with remarkable ease, especially given its considerable mass. Off-road, it always seems well planted and never struggles for grip, like you could make real time across semi-smooth dirt trails and the desert, but those speeds decrease considerably once the trail gets rocky.

We have no doubt the Cayenne can turn some serious lap times on a paved track, but we wonder how much fun it would be. It has all the numbers to compete with the X6, but doesn't deliver the same driving satisfaction.

Volkswagen Touareg
To walk up to the Touareg is to set yourself up for disappointment. You know it's the Cayenne's underachieving stepbrother and expect as much. Once inside, though, it's quickly apparent how much nicer the interior is, impressing not only with fit and finish, but it also looks classy and inviting. The Cayenne could have looked much nicer with a little more effort in material selection and ergonomic design. The seats are a little on the flat side, lacking support, but they make entry and exit easier. The dash layout is straightforward and easy to use, while suspension and drivetrain controls make selection obvious for different conditions.

The V8 is smaller in the VW than in the Cayenne and suffers at the low end because of it. But it doesn't feel that far behind if you're willing to use a few more revs. The downside to the peakier power is having to kick down two gears to pass on the highway. Luckily, the transmission is fairly quick, so it's a minor annoyance.

The Touareg vehicle feels better off-road than most of the competition. Low-range gears and locking differentials make it feel as though you could get out of almost any situation if need be. The steering is well weighted and provides good feedback without being overly active off-road.

Overall, it's a comfortable ride, it just feels like everything was stopped at 80 percent. Maybe this is deliberate, so as to not compete with the Cayenne, or perhaps VW is trying to keep costs down. It's good and has the potential to be great. The upcoming diesel version may be just that. More torque and better mileage could well make this the SUV to watch out for.

Volvo XC90
Volvos have always been known as the vehicles to buy if you want to protect your kids. Several automakers have made great strides in equaling Volvo on crash safety, but things like blind spot warning indicators, anti-rollover gyro systems and bumpers designed to be extra safe in impacts with smaller, lower vehicles keep the company one step ahead. The XC90 has been criticized in the past for interior fit and finish, but it's average among this group, falling just short of the VW.

By Michael Febbo
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