By Jim MacPherson
Let’s start by making one thing clear. The Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid is not your typical fuel-sipping, penny-pinching hybrid. Rather, this Porsche manages to blend high performance with a modicum of fuel efficiency.
As a result, Prius owners will hold its fuel economy in disdain. Still, it’s hard to overlook the fact that this nearly 5,000 pound sport utility vehicle, which can tow a 7,700 pound trailer and manages to blast to 60 miles per hour in 6.2 seconds, traveled slightly more than 23 miles on each gallon of premium fuel in our testing.
This might not be the kind of economy that will prompt hugs from environmentalists, but it’s substantially better than the non-hybrid Cayenne models, especially around town. Here, it’s 25 percent better than the base V-6 and V-8-powered versions, and one-third better than the top-of-the-line Turbo.
To achieve this blend of performance and economy, Porsche uses a 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6 engine that’s linked to an electric motor powered by a 288-volt nickel metal-hydride battery. This Porsche S Hybrid, which is a new addition to the Cayenne lineup that was redesigned last year, can run on electric power alone, or tap both the gasoline engine and electric motor for maximum performance. The only transmission is a smooth shifting eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard.
Handling is top notch. This is one sport utility vehicle that defies logic while, if not breaking, at least seems to bend the laws of physics.
In the Hybrid, Porsche uses permanent all-wheel drive with a self-locking center differential. To this, Porsche adds torque vectoring.
Simply put, the Cayenne sends the power at the rear to the wheel that will contribute most to the vehicle’s stability and the driver’s sense of control. Now, add stability control and the net result is an extremely high level of road holding; a level that most drivers will probably never fully exploit, nor should they, on a public road.
Acceleration is very quick from just about any speed. However, there is one quirk. The gasoline engine shuts off when the vehicle stops. This can produce a disconcerting hesitation when first starting out in a situation where the driver wants powerful acceleration immediately. However, this isn’t a factor in most cases. Our acceleration run was undertaken after overriding the engine stop function.
The engine also shuts down on downhill stretches. At these times the tachometer needle simply falls below zero rpm and points out that it is “ready” to restart when needed. Step harder on the pedal and the gasoline engine instantly springs back to life. These transitions are virtually undetectable.
The ride is surprisingly comfortable for the SUV field. The driver can select among comfort, normal and sport settings. Even with our review vehicle in the sport setting and equipped with the optional 21-inch wheels (18-inch wheels are standard), the ride never became harsh, although it did turn a little twitchy over rough pavement. The comfort setting proved to be just that, although it did allow a little more body motion than expected when encountering rough pavement at higher speeds.
There is ample room and highly supportive seats up front. In the rear, adults will also fit quite comfortably. The step in height is also reasonable for a sport utility vehicle.
This Porsche’s blend of technology and performance has to be counted as a success. This sport utility vehicle is markedly more economical than its stable mates, yet also impressive for its performance. All it takes to enjoy this blend of performance and economy is enough money to handle the purchase price.
Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
Starts at: $69,975
Engine: Hybrid V-6+electric
HP: 380 (gas+electric)
EPA Automatic: 20/24
Next week: Volvo S60