Porsche: Project “Colorado”: Searching for the right shape

With the decision to develop a ‘sporty multifunctional car’, Porsche presented its design department and its then boss, Harm Lagaay, with major challenges.

With the decision to develop a ‘sporty multi-function car’, Porsche presented its design department and its then boss, Harm Lagaay, with major challenges.

Design sketch by Matthias Kulla, 1998, Porsche AG

It was the first time in the company’s history that a blueprint for an SUV was needed instead of a two-door sports car. In a way, this was the exact opposite of a sports car layout: a large car with a high roof, four doors and room for five people and all their luggage. In addition, the Cayenne required a much higher ground clearance than a classic sports car, as it was expected to be among the best for off-road driving. Internally, the Cayenne is known by the code letter E for Enduro, with the first Cayenne named E1 and the current model being the E3.

“Of course, it was not at all easy to express the identity of the Porsche brand in a car that had absolutely nothing in common with the existing models of our company,” said Lagaay after the work. The designer spent a whole year on the headlights alone. They didn’t just have to integrate the low beam, high beam and cornering light while maintaining the clean lines of the Cayenne’s body – these were some of the components that ensured the brand identity.

Even today, every car enthusiast can recognize the face of the Porsche 911 of the 996 generation on the front of the first Cayenne. This impression was reinforced by the so-called topography of the front part. The highest point of the wings and headlights is above that of the hood. This is a distinctive feature of a Porsche, as these contours are a clear visual reference to the design of the iconic 911. However, it was significantly more difficult to achieve this particular design in the Cayenne, with its large V8 engine under the hood.

The Porsche product became a brand

Another feature of the 911-style hood is its distinctive forward taper. The designers also wanted to adopt this for the Cayenne, but the engineers initially proposed a square hood. This would make it easier to access the air filter and headlights. The designers had the upper hand on this point, but they also worked with the car’s engineering team on areas that were not visible. For example, they have worked together on an optimized arrangement of the air filter.
Michael Mauer was also pleased that Porsche was willing to invest so much in design and construction as part of its internally named “Colorado” development project. In 2004, he succeeded Harm Lagaay as chief designer: “For me, the Cayenne revolves around a fundamental question. Whatever type of vehicle concept would have been used to enhance the 911 and Boxster sports car lines, the move to the third Porsche made a brand of the product. And the design gave the car, whose proportions take it as far as possible from the sports car, a Porsche identity that transcends the brand name.”

This is still evident today in the Cayenne E1’s distinctive rear shoulder – in which Ferdinand Alexander Porsche played a key design role – as well as the smooth surfaces of the body and the omission of a traditional radiator grille between the headlamps. These classic Porsche features also diminished the importance of the relatively large air intakes in the front apron. A front-mounted engine needs air for combustion and cooling. And Porsche customers were already used to the front air intakes of the sports cars. In this case, however, they are responsible for cooling the brakes.

The doors were the biggest design challenge

Mauer describes the car’s side profile as the most difficult design challenge. The Cayenne was created together with the Volkswagen Touareg, so the windscreens and all four doors of the two SUVs are identical. “It’s easy to underestimate how much doors define the side of a car. We might have another meter behind the back door, and just a little more in the front, so there’s not a lot of room to do a whole lot,” said Mauer, who first worked on the Porsche SUV when the E1 facelift appeared. in 2007.

“With the E1 II, we’ve given the whole car more visual acuity and definition,” he recalls. The problem with the door was still there, though, along with the difficulty of designing a fastback-style rear end — one that would taper diagonally toward the rear like a sports car. At Porsche this is known as the ‘flyline’. However, if the doors cannot be changed to prevent the roofline from sinking down, there is little room at the rear to create a flyline that the customer will recognize as a signature feature. The options that remained to solve this problem were a more sloping design of the rigid side windows behind the rear doors and the addition of a spoiler to extend the roofline.

Compromise in the interior

All in all, even from today’s perspective, with its formal clarity and emphasis on characteristic Porsche elements, the first Cayenne is a consistent member of the model range. However, the interior of the E1 was heavily influenced by Volkswagen. “The interior can hardly deny its affinity with the Touareg,” says Markus Auerbach, Head of Interior Design Style at Porsche. For example, Porsche made compromises on the brand’s usual five-tube design for the instrument panel. While five interconnected rings can be seen in front of the steering wheel, the tachometer is not in the middle as usual with Porsche, but on the left.

Getting the usual Porsche lineup would have required the development of a new instrument cluster – an unplanned investment for the first-generation Cayenne. However, Porsche was able to incorporate a number of characteristic elements into it: its own three-spoke steering wheel, the handles on the center console that underline the outstanding off-road performance of the SUV, and the ignition switch that can be found in the same place as in every Porsche – left next to the steering wheel.

SOURCE: Porsche

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