Monday, January 11, 2016

Shopping for a Used Cayenne

I need to replace my daily-driver automobile, because it is showing too many signs of wear and degradation. It's an adequate car and I would rather keep it, but nothing lasts as long as I'd prefer, especially since I refuse to change cars as if they were fleeting fashion statements. At the same time, I don't like the new cars that are on offer these days, and I mean none of them from any manufacturer at all. Every single new car in this market is festooned with gadgets, 'Infotainment' up the wazoo, and nanny-like protection devices meant to correct my errors before they materialize, and all of this is advertised as being "must have" equipment unless you are an authentic relic from the 19th century who doesn't accept anything more modern than indoor plumbing. The salespeople look down their noses at you when you make a dismissive appraisal of their product's do-dads. What to do? Either get the simplest 'stripped-down' base model car without quite as many gizmos, or buy an older car without most of them and hope that it lasts reliably.

As a result I have been looking at everything that's out there. Where I live, I run my 4x4 in four-wheel-drive 75% of the time for six months of the year. I live on a dirt road, and we normally see a lot of snow and ice, most of it in the winter. In the spring, these dirt roads mean that 'mud season' is the fifth season of the year, and it's brutal. I have actually seen cars stuck in the mud up to the belly, in the middle of the road on a steep hill, and they were headed down that hill. That's real mud and it's no joke. So, AWD, or 4WD it is for me. Some people struggle through with two wheel drive, but they aren't happy about it, so they do plenty of complaining but drive those cars anyway, albeit very slowly. A lot of 'on-road' driving here is worse than 'off-road' driving elsewhere. You get the picture, but it's worse than that.

There is another important factor; Quebec dumps more tons of salt on every kilometer of its roads than any other place on the planet Earth (to melt ice and snow in winter, as well as to keep down dust on unpaved roads in the summer, and Quebec mines its own salt for all such uses, so they use it lavishly). For this reason many car manufacturers evaluate their new models here for corrosion resistance in the winters, by seeing how they survive - I saw a seriously rusted Rolls-Royce driving sheepishly on the streets of Montreal. So, I need a solid, well-made car, not a piece of tin. 

A 'First Generation' model, 2009. It's not the car below, though. Web image.
How about a 'previously owned' Porsche Cayenne? It's been Porsche's most popular model for years, and so there is a good selection of them around. For nearly all of this SUV's life Porsche has offered a normally aspirated V-6 engine in the base model Cayenne (the one with fewer gizmos). The source of this motor is Volkswagen, who have been using the engine in a variety of automobiles for some time with actual success. Plus, according to the reading that I did for this post, the VR6 has a much better reliability record than the Porsche V-8s that are more commonly available in the Cayenne. I'd like one of those VR6 motors, but I'd like it with the 6-speed manual transmission (no longer available with the base V-6!). A Cayenne would be more fun to drive when equipped with a 6-speed manual, and according to me the V-6 has more than enough power to live up to Porsche's sporting image. So I started shopping.

No kidding, the Cayenne is a popular model, consequently there are many of them for sale. Or, does this glut of cars mean that people are trying to unload them? I don't know, but some of them have very high mileage, or kilometric use if you prefer, so they might be just as worn as the 4x4 I have now. Consequently, I need to be a cautious shopper, especially since many of the nicest looking examples are a substantial distance away, and this would involve additional cost to get the vehicle here.

There is a wrinkle in all of this. I searched for used Cayennes with six-speed manual transmissions. Right, plenty of them were listed, so I began to look at the descriptions, but more importantly, the pictures. Guess what, 95%+ of the Cayennes with written descriptions claiming that they are equipped with 6-speed manual transmissions actually have Tiptronic automatic transmissions plainly shown in the photographs of the vehicle for sale. What?

That is obviously a Tiptronic automatic transmission, but it is listed as being a
"6-speed manual" transmission. It ain't any such thing.
After seeing this anomaly repeatedly, I began to write questions to the sellers, using the forms provided for this by eBay, Craigslist,, etc. I got some written replies saying, "Sorry, the car has an automatic transmission." But, eBay provided my telephone number to the sellers (my mistake), so a few of them called me. "Hi, thank you for your interest in our Porsche Cayenne, will you require financing for the car?" "Wait a minute," I said, "I asked you a question. I repeat, does this Cayenne have a 6-speed manual transmission as you describe?" "Uh, no, it has an automatic."

One place emailed me twice, and called twice, too. The second call I answered, because I was in at the time. I asked the same question, and this salesperson said, "Sorry for the inconvenience, but the car is an automatic." This time I was beginning to go on a boil, so I said something like, "Why are all of these Cayennes described as having manual transmissions when in fact they have automatic transmissions?" "I have no idea," she said. I replied,"Your establishment did it, too, but you can't answer why this is?" "No" was her reply, "Sorry for the inconvenience."

This is part of the above car's description. I left out the VIN and the Stock# to protect the guilty.

I don't get it. If Porsche sold so few truly manual transmissions they could not have been very popular, so why is it a good marketing tool now to describe these cars as having manuals when people didn't want them in the first place? Did Porsche not sell what people really craved? I don't think so. It isn't really possible to put it down to confusion, either. Yes, you can move the Tiptronic's shift lever to select a gear on your own if you want to for some reason, but this "manumatic" is still 100% automatic when you leave the lever alone. It is in no way a 6-speed manual transmission, and any dealer selling such a vehicle knows the difference - but if not, don't buy from that dealer, because they don't know what they are doing or talking about. Then again, don't buy from them if they are intentionally misrepresenting the vehicle's equipment. Who needs that? I found scores of improperly identified Cayennes. Do dealers think that ALL buyers are idiots?

Let's face it, since Porsche is now essentially a manufacturer of high-zoot SUVs (which support the frivolous sports cars they also build, like my 911), there naturally are a large number of used Cayennes for sale. As a result, these are on offer by all manners of car dealers, and possibly a majority of them don't know a 'manumatic', from an automatic (Tiptronic), from an actual manual transmission - and neither do the customers for these cars. Is it that what most customers really want is a flashy SUV to outshine their neighbor's lesser marque, and the transmission is of no interest at all (the most likely answer)? Are they mainly driven in the big city, anyway (although an 'off-road' vehicle), where an automatic can be a convenience? Is this why nobody complained when Porsche dropped the low-range transfer case gearing and other functional capabilities when they brought out the 'second generation' Cayennes? The manual transmission is a dying breed generally speaking, at least in North America, but few notice, or care, except for 'real' drivers of old 911s. . .  

I'm still looking, but not only at Cayennes. 

Addendum:  In the end I bought a Jeep. It has a manual transmission and a relative minimum of gizmos - a plus in my view.

P.P.S.:  I wrote the above post a while back, and since then I sold my 911, so now I'm once again considering a Cayenne, to stay in the Porsche family - I'm a PCA member, after all. I do want a 3.6L VR6 version, maybe from 2008 to 2010, because they still had a two speed transfer case. Not that easy to find a low mileage example, though.  And, yes, dealers are still describing automatic transmissions as being "manual." Plus, private sellers often don't even mention the engine or transmission at all. I asked some why this was, and they answered that they had no idea what type of engine or transmission their Cayenne had. I rest my case - Cayenne owners are not, by and large, sports car people.  C'est la vie. Maybe I will broaden my search, again.

P.P.P.S.:   For a complete history of the Cayennes under discussion in this post click here.

P.P.P.P.S.:  Now my friends are trying to twist my arm to buy a Cayman, as if I still wanted to scoot around in a zippy car. A Cayenne isn't zippy enough? I admit that a Cayman is an attractive possibility, but they don't really have enough legroom for me, and long-term comfort is a legitimate thing to consider. Plus, Caymans of more recent vintage come at a higher price, and that's a concern, too. Tempus fugit, my friends say, you ain't getting any younger, so enjoy yourself. I'm too conservative about frivolity, maybe. What to do?