Apparently there is a difference, and it has influenced Porsche styling since the beginning.
What is the definition of a grille? That can vary, depending on who you talk to. The specific definition of grille according to Merriam-Webster says a grille is “a grating forming a barrier or screen; especially: an ornamental one at the front end of an automobile.” For some people, modern cars have two grilles, an upper and a lower one.
According to Porsche, however, a grille is only the upper part, with the lower part simply being an air intake. And by that definition, no Porsche car has ever had a grille. Ever? Yes, ever.
Road & Track magazine had occasion to speak with Michael Mauer during the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show. Mauer is the head of design at Volkswagen and is also the chief designer for Porsche, and in that interview he dropped something of a bombshell. In an article about the subject, Mauer told the magazine that all Porsche vehicles only have air intakes, because there’s only the one section. Apparently, having only one opening on the front of a car automatically relegates it to being the "lower" section, thus making it an air intake.
Obviously this whole thing came about because Porsche’s early cars had rear engines exclusively. As such, there was no need for a large opening in front, so a traditional grille was never a key Porsche design feature. These days, however, Porsche does make vehicles with engines in the front, but Mauer said the no-grille design philosophy has stuck with the automaker. He also said it’s been something of a challenge to maintain that look on vehicles that no doubt require gobs of air. That certainly explains the awkward styling found vehicles like the Cayenne and Macan.
If the subject seems a bit pedantic, you probably wouldn’t be alone on that. Simply going by the basic definition, any opening with a grate of some sort is a grille, whether it's upper or lower. And if you look close at the Cayenne up top, there sure seems to be a clearly defined "lower" section. And we can think of all sorts of vehicles with only one opening that any normal person would identify as a grille, from classics like the 1957 Ford Thunderbird to a new Ram 1500.
Grille or air intake, it doesn’t matter. The takeaway here is a better understanding of Porsche’s design philosophy, and it’s very interesting to say the least. Whether you like or dislike the styling approach, there’s no denying the uniqueness that sets every Porsche model apart from the rest.
Source: Road & Track