Porsche's Cayenne hybrid still geared for performance

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on June 9, 2011 at 10:27 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 9 at 1:45 PM

When Porsche first introduced the Cayenne sport-ute, sports car purists took it as a sure sign of the apocalypse. Die-hards must feel the engineers in Stuttgart were chosen by the automotive Gods to create performance vehicles that held only 2 adults and not much else. Maybe this is why Harold Camping believed the end of the world would happen on May 21.

No fire and brimstone happened, the big shock is that Cayenne quickly became Porsche’s most popular vehicle.  Ultimately that’s a good thing. Profits from SUVs help to develop better sports cars.

With the second generation Cayenne comes another surprise -- a hybrid system.  In my week with the Cayenne S Hybrid I have been bombarded by people wanting to know if it gets Prius-type fuel economy (no), if it is slow and pokey (no), and if Porsche is just trying to copy Toyota (doubtful).  Most are fascinated by what they see as an oxymoron.  A Porsche Hybrid?  Hmmm, Mr. Camping has updated his date to October 21.

It’s Logical Really

Porsche has always been about engineering excellence, and there’s an awful lot of that in this rig.  With government fuel economy mandates and emission standards to meet all over the world, drivetrains like this are the future, especially when it comes to performance and luxury oriented cars.  At least battery or hydrogen technology improves.

The S Hybrid starts with a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that pumps out 333 horsepower and adds a 47 horse electric drive motor.  Combined they produce 380 hp and 427 lb-ft of torque at the ridiculously low range of 1000 rpm.  Mounted in the cargo area is a 288-volt nickel metal-hydride pack.  Just to be sure, don’t take bets involving putting your tongue on any of the cables or fittings colored orange since that’s to warn first responders that they are very high voltage. 

Cayenne is a sport-utility vehicle so naturally four wheels get power. The transmission is an 8-speed unit that can be shifted manually from the console or optional steering wheel paddles.  Remember, most hybrids use CVT transmissions. 

Drives Like a Hybrid.  A Very Powerful Hybrid.

Cayenne has shed nearly 400 pounds, its stout German structure still weighs in at 4,938 pounds.  It’s a Porsche not a Prius so it’s geared for performance.  An EPA rating of 20 city, 24 highway is not too shabby, especially when acceleration, off-road prowess, and comfortable seating for five adults is factored in.  The Lexus GS hybrid uses the same approach, more performance than fuel efficiency.

S Hybrid does all the expected hybrid tricks, pulling away on electric power, feathering in the gas engine when needed, charging the battery when coasting or breaking and shutting the engine down at stop lights.  The great thing is it does all the Porsche tricks, too.  0-60 rushes up in 6.1 seconds according to Porsche, a half second off the gas-only Cayenne S.  That small compromise offers up city fuel economy that’s 25 percent better.

Sailing Along

Like most modern hybrids, the transition from electric to gas is pretty seamless.  Floor it and you’ll hear the electric motor surge to life with the gas engine following suit a second or so later.  This Cayenne has less of that great Porsche engine note with the direct injection engine sounding a bit like a refined diesel in the distance.  Even at high speeds, the gas engine often shuts off to save fuel in what Porsche calls “sailing”.  A slight tap of the throttle brings the engine back on-line seamlessly.   A graphic on the large center mounted LCD screen shows what’s happening , which is good because the system is so smooth you won’t always feel it.

Hybrid brakes often have lumpy modulation.  As you might expect from Porsche, Cayenne does not have that problem, they are smooth and sure.

Handling?  Well, it is a Porsche, they’ve done some great work in this department.  It corners quite confidently.  Cayenne is no Cayman but driving dynamics are excellent for a machine like this. It’s tough to explore the limits without a track, my guess is you’ll be quite happy driving to the summer house.  The suspension can be softened or stiffened to match your mood (optional).  Ride height is adjustable when the terrain gets really nasty (also optional).  There’s hill decent control as well.

Want to drive without gasoline?  Push the E-Power button and Cayenne S Hybrid will tip-toe silently around solely on electric power if the battery is well charged.   The gas engine cuts in quickly if a driver’s foot is less than feather light. 

Sleek and Sophisticated

For 2011, Cayenne gets a new sculpted design.  It’s much more flowing this time around compared to the first gen Cayenne that I found too starched and uptight for a Porsche.  The 2011 model is very handsome with the headlamps receiving the same family design DNA found on 911.

It’s even more impressive inside.  If there were luxury fighter jets, the interiors would look like Cayenne’s.  When Armageddon finally happens, I wouldn’t mind spending my last few hours here.  Beautifully crafted with excellent materials, it’s a huge improvement over the first generation and worth lingering over.  The grab handles alone look like they cost $1,000 each.  Lots of identical buttons to decipher though. 

A sticker near the left-hand mounted ignition states Cayenne S Hybrid is limited to 150 miles an hour.  Better that Al Gore III stay away from this hybrid, huh?  Also performance related, Cayenne hybrid can tow 7,700 pounds, meaning you can tow your other Porsche to the track if you’d like.  Nice life. 

Firm seats are supportive and road trip rated.  The gauge cluster has a terrific trick- fill the gauge on the right with whatever parameter you’d like, phone info, hybrid energy flow, trip computer, or satellite nav screen.  Very useful.

As Expected, Not Exactly Cheap 

Cupholders hold all sizes of cans and bottles, ashtrays look engineered, not just installed. Options can push the price of the S Hybrid pretty high, base price is 69 grand, my tester is 87.  That said, there’s still high-end wheels, keyless ignition, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats and other options a buyer can buy.  I’d love to see a panoramic roof, there’s no option for that.

Passengers will find the back seat very comfortable with no space problem for knees, legs, or feet.  Seats don’t slide fore and aft but they are well bolstered and quite supportive.  Lock controls are down on the center console, along with the power port and cigarette lighter. 

It’s a sport-ute, the rear seats obviously split and fold to create a large useful space to haul a three month supply of food.   With the rear seats up Cayenne holds 9 packs of Kirkland TP in the cargo hold (my standard trunk measuring metric).  That’s about average in class.  There are a few nooks and crannies in the back to stash small things.

Porsche and Prius Group Hug

Despite the hybrid badge, the Cayenne S Hybrid’s mission is quite different than, say, a Prius or Insight, whose reason for existing is focused squarely on fuel economy. On the other hand, Porsche and Toyota hybrid pilots have something in common since both are very engaged and in tune with the act of driving.  Prius owners search for efficiency, Porsche owners are more interested in handling, performance and road feel.  Got to respect passion for driving, no matter what form it comes in.

To the purists who still believe Porsche should stay away from SUVs and hybrids, I suggest taking a deep breath, resign yourself that they are now a full-line car company and then enjoy the engineering excellence.  It’s not going to stop.  Next on their hybrid list is the rear-drive four-door Panamara that starts at 95 grand.  Sort of makes the Cayenne look like a bargain. 

But hey, people expect Porsche to be pricey, they just don’t expect Porsches to be hybrids.  Who would guess the Cayenne, an SUV no less, would be the cleanest vehicle they make?  Since the world hasn’t ended yet, it certainly makes the planet a more interesting place.

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