V-8 Power with V-6 Economy: Porsche’s Cayenne Hybrid

The Cayenne has been a source of significant consternation for Porsche purists since its debut in 2002. On one hand, a 5,000-pound-plus sport-utility vehicle seems downright sacrilegious from a German brand that built its reputation on lightweight sports cars. On the other hand, if it weren’t for the Cayenne’s sales success, those lightweight sporting cars from Stuttgart would very likely have been consigned to history by now. This year, the Cayenne rolls on, and purists have a new cause for consternation: Porsche is going green with the Cayenne S Hybrid.

Arriving in U.S. showrooms now, the latest iteration of the Cayenne— joining the V-6-powered base model, the V-8-powered S and GTS models, and the twin-turbocharged Turbo—matches a 333-horsepower, 3-liter supercharged V-6 (lifted from the new Audi S4) with a compact electric motor, which together produce 374 horsepower and 405 ft-lbs of torque, the latter cresting at a very low 1,500 rpm. The hybrid duo is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and a permanent all-wheel-drive setup that, although not quite ready for off-pavement excursions, should provide exceptional foul-weather tenacity thanks to a phalanx of computers that constantly monitor and compensate for wheel slippage. The Cayenne S Hybrid is only about half a second slower to 60 mph than the V-8-powered Cayenne S, but it returns some 25 percent better fuel economy than the base, V-6-powered model. Not a bad deal.

A curbed appetite for gasoline is nice, particularly in an SUV as famously hefty as this one, but the Cayenne S Hybrid’s neatest trick is surely its ability to hum along on electric power alone at speeds as high as 86 mph. (Most hybrids can achieve that feat only up to 30 mph or so, if at all.) Porsche calls this fuel-saving mode “sailing,” and it’s made possible by a compact mechanical clutch that can disengage the gasoline engine from the drivetrain for short periods at interstate speeds, allowing the 34-kilowatt electric motor to maintain forward momentum.

The newest Cayenne is an interesting counterpart (or rival) to Porsche’s not-for-U.S.-consumption Cayenne Diesel, which uses a turbocharged 3-liter diesel V-6 producing 240 horsepower and 405 ft-lbs of torque. While the Hybrid favors the sport aspect of sport utility, providing V-8-like oomph with better-than-V-6-like economy but forgoing off-road aplomb, the Diesel is devotedly utilitarian, with a burly low-range transfer case and a 7,000-pound tow rating. Both models will return about 25 mpg on the highway.

Porsche hasn’t announced pricing for the Cayenne S Hybrid, but look for a bottom line close to $70,000 (about $7,000 to $10,000 higher than a Cayenne S). For Cayenne buyers keen to demonstrate their environmental sensitivity without giving up sportiness (Porsche estimates the Hybrid will run to 60 mph in a brisk 6.8 seconds), the new model’s price premium likely won’t prove a deterrent. And for those enticed by the technology but not by the SUV that employs it, Porsche plans to follow the Cayenne S Hybrid with a gasoline-electric version of its decidedly more svelte Panamera sedan. (porsche.com/usa)

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