Porsche is getting serious about its commitment to alternative powertrain, and it's starting with its bread and butter cars, the Panamera sedan and Cayenne sport-utility vehicle. We recently spent an afternoon in and around San Diego with the 2015 Porsche Cayenne S e-Hybrid to explore the performance limits of its electrified range.
What is it?
The Cayenne S e-Hybrid is the second of two relatively attainable battery-electric hybrids in the Porsche lineup, joining the Panamera S e-Hybrid four-door coupe. Based on the second-generation Cayenne, which debuted several years ago, the S e-Hybrid is the brand's first hybridized SUV. It joins a lineup that spans from the efficient Cayenne Diesel to the superquick Cayenne Turbo S. Like its sibling, the Volkswagen Touareg, the Cayenne is a capable off-roader, in addition to excelling at on-road driving. The Cayenne is one size up from the smaller, and more recently introduced, Macan SUV.
Green-tinted badges and brake calipers are the dead giveaways, but the only ones, that this Cayenne is more economical than most. It's part of an expanding lineup of Porsche hybrids, although this Cayenne is no 918 Spyder.
How does it drive?
Quite smoothly. The Cayenne is a high-riding sport-utility vehicle, but Porsche engineers have done a brilliant job for nearly a decade of convincing drivers that the SUV is, indeed, a sports car. When the battery is charged, the Cayenne S e-Hybrid starts up as a battery-electric, and whizzes away at double-digit speeds—just like a Toyota Prius and similiar hybrids act. As speed increases, and/or as the battery capacity drains, the supercharged V-6 kicks in. Total system power of 416 hp puts the Cayenne S e-Hybrid among the leaders of the plug-in pack, which include the upcoming Volvo XC90 T8. Charging is part of the plug-in hybrid lifestyle, and Porsche estimates that it will take about two hours to obtain a full charge, using a Level-2 charger.
The Cayenne is much more fun to drive than an SUV ought to be. There is no lag from the supercharged engine, and the hybrid system is present without making too much of a fuss. Steering has great weight and feel, suspension travel is tuned for highway cruising—absorbing more than one pothole on the crumbling roads along the southwest border—and the cabin is whisper-quiet at speed. Ride quality should please passengers in both rows, and shifts from the 8-speed automatic are imperceptible, unless the driver chooses to intervene manually.
On the other side of the ledger, the S e-Hybrid's brakes retain the semblances of sponginess that we dislike about hybrids, which we imagine is absent in non-hybrid Cayennes, if our experience driving both versions of the Panamera is any indication. (Excellent carbon ceramic brakes are standard, but the regenerative brakes kick in first.) We were less than fond of the Cayenne's tendency to shut itself off at idle, leaving us to re-initiate ignition multiple times during a photo shoot.
What's it like inside?
Luxurious to a fault. There isn't a rough surface in any Cayenne model, and the S e-Hybrid is no different. Bespoke hybrid gauges line this model's instrument cluster, but that's about it, in terms of differentiating this model from the others. If you can survive the sensory overload of buttons and switches—don't bother counting them—the Cayenne's interior is a wonderful place to spend time. For the ultimate in customization, Porsche Exclusive is a one-stop shop for everything from seat piping to extraordinary paint requests.
What's its specialty?
Performing as a hybrid without losing its performance edge.
Most innovative feature?
The Cayenne S e-Hybrid has a top speed of 78 mph in electric-only mode. Try maintaining that kind of speed in a traditional EV. That said, we also recommend trying out the Cayenne Diesel, which is a powerhouse at even higher speeds.
How's the competition?
Growing. The Cayenne S e-Hybrid competes at the highest end of the luxury SUV market. A new crowd of plug-in hybrid SUVs is set to launch soon, including the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e, which will shift the target for hybrids.
A grand performance tourer with a green secret.
Heavy steering, solid performance, exquisite fit and finish, no tradeoffs in cargo capacity.
Awkward brake pedal feel, no efficiency gain over the Cayenne Diesel, getting on in age, pricey at any options level.
The ideal setup:
The 21-inch "911 Turbo Design" wheels ($3575) are a must-have for looking the part of a proper, 21st-century Porsche. Otherwise, option to your heart's content; if you're going to pay top dollar for a hybrid Porsche, it might as well look the part.
By the numbers: 2015 Porsche Cayenne S e-Hybrid
MSRP: $78,195 (includes $995 destination charge)
Power / drive wheels: 3.0-liter, 333-hp supercharged V-6 engine and 95-hp electric motor / all-wheel drive
Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy: 21 city mpg / 24 highway mpg
In showrooms: Now