For many people, the Cayenne is an assault on Porsche’s brand integrity. The tall and heavy SUV would seem to be the polar opposite of the sports cars that have defined Porsche. But, alas, the Cayenne has become Porsche’s bestselling vehicle.
It won’t placate the traditionalists, but the redesigned Cayenne does try to fit in better with the rest of the Porsche family. It’s less bloated and heavy looking outside, and it’s more sports-car-like inside, with its high and wide center console and 911-style gauge cluster (with the tach in the middle). As before, the Cayenne steers with Porsche-like precision and corners very well for a vehicle of its height and weight. The optional adaptive air suspension, however, might be worth skipping. It has three settings, but the comfort setting provides so little damping of jounce and rebound that it fails to live up to its name — normal or even sport modes are better.
The new hybrid version of the Cayenne works against the recent improvements, and moves this SUV further away from the Porsche ideal.
The hybrid pairs a supercharged 3.0-liter Audi V-6 with an electric motor. A clutch between the two can decouple the engine from the rest of the powertrain. Unlike most other hybrids, therefore, the engine can cut out when you lift off the throttle, even at highway speeds, which means you can be coasting along at 70 mph and look down at the tach and see the needle sitting at 0 (although it actually says “ready” rather than “0”). The total system output is 380 hp and 427 pound-feet of torque, fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic. It’s EPA rated at 20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.
It sounds like a pretty slick system, and some aspects of it are. You really can’t feel the engine cut out and restart — the movement of the tach needle is the only giveaway. And I saw fuel economy as high as an indicated 26 mpg, on a hour-long highway trip, and 26 mpg again, on the return leg with more suburban driving. But there’s a price to pay.
First is the sticker price. For the Cayenne S Hybrid, that’s nearly $70,000, which is perhaps not too shocking. This is a Porsche, after all. But, because it’s a Porsche, one needs to remember that the starting price is exactly that: a place to start. My test example piled on some $18,000 worth of extras, and what was surprising is what was still missing at $86,510: a blind-spot warning system, a lane-departure warning system, cooled seats, keyless ignition, a backup camera, even satellite radio.
Okay, so everyone knows that Porsches are expensive. But the Cayenne Hybrid also extracts a price in driveability, and that’s something I don’t expect in a Porsche. A stop-and-go slog up the miserable Van Wyke expressway was a herky-jerky affair in the Cayenne Hybrid, thanks to ragged throttle tip-in and regenerative brakes that are very touchy at the top of the pedal travel. The latter, particularly, never ceased to be annoying in around-town driving as well.
Bigger throttle inputs get you past the non-linear initial response, but then the disappointment comes from the sound of the powertrain. Whether it’s the Audi V-6, the electric motor, or some combination thereof, the dominant sound is a hollow, metallic resonance that will never be mistaken for spine-tingling rasp of a 911.
Compared to the V-8-powered Cayenne S, the Hybrid gets an additional 4 mpg in the city, and 2 on the highway. Based on economics alone, it would take more 120,000 miles (at $4-per-gallon gasoline, and 45/55 percent city/highway driving) to recoup the Hybrid’s additional cost. And that whole time, you’re driving a vehicle with brakes that are touchy, initial throttle response that’s jerky, and an engine note that’s devoid of any Porsche excitement. Oh, and it’s also slower (6.1 seconds to 60 mph versus 5.6 seconds). Sorry, but I’ll take a V-8 Cayenne S any day.
2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
Base price (with destination): $68,765
Price as tested: $86,510
3.0-liter supercharged V-6
Electric motor, NiMH battery
Paralell full hybrid drive system
8-speed Tiptronic S transmission w/auto stop-start
Porsche traction management
Permanent 4-wheel drive
Porsche stability management
14.2″ vented front rotors w/6-piston calipers
13″ vented rear rotors w/4-piston calipers
Multifunction, leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel
4-way adjustable steering column
8-way power front seats w/memory
10-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system
One-touch power windows
Heated, retractable, power side mirrors
Options on this vehicle:
Dark blue metallic paint – $790
Leather interior – $3655
19-inch Cayenne Turbo wheels – $1560
14-way power seat w/memory package – $1335
Convenience package – $4520
– Porsche Communication Management
– Bi-Xenon headlights w/Porsche dynamic lighting system
– Heated front seats
– Auto-dimming mirrors
Air suspension – $3980
Trailer tow package $650
Heated steering wheel $250
Park assist, front and rear $1095
Key options not on vehicle:
– Lane change assist
– Rearview camera
– Seat ventilation
– Sport design package
– Running boards
– Skid plates
– Porsche entry & drive
– Thermally and noise insulated privacy glass
– Panorama roof system
– Roof rails and moldings w/matte aluminum-look finish
– Extended exterior package in black
– Painted front air intakes
– Ceramic composite brakes
– Four-tube sports tailpipes
– Adaptive cruise control
– Illuminated door sill guards
– Burmester high-end surround-sound system
– XM satellite radio
– and many, many more
20 / 24 / 21 mpg
3.0L supercharged V-6 hybrid
Horsepower: 380 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 427 lb-ft @ 1000 rpm
Curb weight: 4938 lb
Wheels/tires: 8.5 x 19″ wheels, 265/50R19 tires