Porsche, one of the most revered sports car manufacturers, omnipresent force in motor sport and frequently celebrated on our print edition’s covers, has become the world’s leading manufacturer of plug-in hybrid vehicles with three separate models.
Its third offering, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, follows in the tyre tracks of the similarly-titled Panamera and the eco-exotica that is the 918 Spyder, and has just hit the market.
Wasn’t there already a Cayenne Hybrid?
There was, but it was hardly the pick of the range with its old-tech 1.7kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack that could only be recharged by running the engine.
This new one you can charge up from the mains. It takes about three and a half hours for a magic 100% confirmation beep, but it’s cheaper than allowing the engine to do the job in E-Charge mode, however impressive an 80% replenishment after half an hour of driving really is. You also get a sleek Porsche Design wall box as part of the package, just remember to hire the services of an appropriate sparky to install it.
So is an electric cable the only difference?
Combining speed with efficiency is not a wholly new concept within Porsche, the latest addition to the Cayenne family takes the lessons learned from 2013’s similarly-propelled Panamera E-Hybrid and advances them in SUV form.
Fewer reams of clean sheets of paper were consumed in the process of creating the E-Hybrid version of the Cayenne, as the Audi-sourced 3.0-litre supercharged engine is carried over from the Panamera, as are its electric motor – sandwiched between the internal combustion unit and the eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox – and the ancillary connections to the battery.
Playing a key role is the latest 10.8kWh lithium-ion battery installed, in an apparent homage to W. Heath Robinson, under the otherwise plush boot floor, representing a six fold increase in capacity over the old Hybrid’s 1.7kWh nickel-metal-hydride cells, as well as a 15% improvement over the Panamera’s system.
Consequently, in spite of the Cayenne’s sturdier 2350kg mass and bluffer aerodynamic properties, its EV mode range of up to 22 miles and maximum electric speed of 78mph almost matches the Panamera’s (same range, but nudging 84mph).
Due to hybrid-favouring quirks in the NEDC fuel efficiency tests Porsche posts claims of a bafflingly impressive 83.1mpg and CO2 output of just 79g/km for the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, although with a forceful throttle application and the system in E-Charge mode we managed to see figures wincingly in the mid-20mpgs.
Jokers in the E-Hybrid’s pack are that its reserves can be stored up for zero emissions motoring in urban environs, consuming no petrol in the process, while that low CO2 figure makes for tantalisingly low BIK figures for those lucky enough to have a Porsche on their company car choice list.
Is the performance sufficiently Porsche?
Tease the throttle pedal through its resistance point and watch as the power gauge’s needle – incidentally the same gauche lime green hue as the badging and brake callipers – swings eagerly through ‘Efficiency’ and closer to ‘Boost’, the tachometer awakening from its 0rpm slumber signalling the engine’s somewhat coarsely burst into life.
Don’t expect to be thrust back into the seat with the same forcefulness as the Turbo manages, but with 435lb ft of urgency purchasing the asphalt at all four corners from a lowly 1,250rpm, the E-Hybrid’s brisk enough to make eco-conscious buyers wonder if they’ve been mis-sold the Cayenne’s credentials.
With a combined parallel hybrid petrol-electric output of 410bhp it’s enough to see the SUV edge up to 151mph, sprinting from standstill to 62mph in 5.9 seconds.
At this juncture it’d be prudent to mention the dirty ‘D’ word: the V8-engined Cayenne S Diesel will get to 62mph half a second sooner and crack 156mph if you need to. ‘Aah but 209g/km and only 35mpg,’ cry the green brigade. True enough, but for the majority of private buyers who don’t drive 90% of the time in clogged-up city centres, even with a heftier road tax bill, the S Diesel’s likely to be cheaper to run.
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Does it handle like other Cayennes?
While urban settings best suit the Cayenne’s EV strengths, negotiating city streets slowly is not what a Porsche’s primary role should be, even one with this SUV’s heft.
There’s initially reassurance spotting the familiar Sport and Sport Plus labels on buttons nestled within the Cayenne’s vast plethora of switchgear, amplifying not only the Porsche’s responsiveness to driver inputs but less fortunately also the additional weight of the battery pack out back.
Push harder through ribbons of twistier bends and, predictably, it handles closely to more conventional Cayennes but that extra weight dulls its responses closer to the extremes of its capabilities, ultimately diluting some confidence in its agility.
On the firmer Sport settings the ride quality’s disadvantaged also, transmitting too many of the road’s imperfections into the otherwise luxurious solidity of the cabin. Select Comfort and your passengers will thank you (as will your own buttocks after a lengthy drive).
Braking smoothness is frequently lamentable on hybrids, the initial portion of pedal travel actuating the energy recuperation resulting in jerkiness as you call for greater retardation from the stoppers. Here the difference is negligible and barely inferior to conventionally-propelled Cayennes, proving simple to modulate effectively.
So is the Cayenne S E-Hybrid the unforeseen side effect of emissions legislators squeezing the lifeblood from Porsche’s raison d’être?
If it is, that’s not how the engineers at Stuttgart have interpreted it. The Porsche Intelligent Performance mantra is not only part of the mind-set, it’s also proudly emblazoned along the flanks of the 919 Hybrid, the firm’s challenger in its 2014 return to World Endurance racing.
Away from the confines of Circuit de la Sarthe, E-Hybrid goodness is undeniable for managing directors looking to lower their company car tax bill, but our money would still go on refills from the black pump into a Cayenne with ‘S Diesel’ badging.