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Review: Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid

A plug-in hybrid Porsche Cayenne. All about the numbers, I take it?
All PHEVs live or die by their on-paper tax-dodging viability – but the new Cayenne is a bit different. Plus, as this is the third version of Porsche’s sporting luxury 4x4 to get a downsized engine and battery-powered boost, it’s also a useful yardstick. A chance to take stock of where and how progress is being made, in producing naturally quite-thirsty cars that don’t stick two fingers up to the planet they – and we – call home.

Let the number-crunching commence.
The first Cayenne S Hybrid was not a good car. It wasn’t a PHEV: you couldn’t plug it into the wall and charge up the battery. Its supercharged 3.2-litre V6 and electric motor combined for 328bhp and just 434Nm, making the heaviest Cayenne by far the slowest. Porsche knew the Cayenne S Hybrid was a bad dog. It got its act together with the plug-in-able, Cayenne S e-Hybrid from 2015. Battery capacity went up six-fold, there was a charging cable in the boot and the NEDC test was thoroughly gamed. Under test conditions, this Cayenne could do 35km without the V6 waking up.

Thanks for the history lesson…
Well, now you can mull the new Cayenne e-Hybrid’s figures in context. Behind the boxy grilles, Porsche has stuck with a 3.0-litre V6, but this new engine is turbocharged, and develops 335bhp. The 134bhp electric motor, concealed deep in the transmission, is supposedly related to the motors on board the 918 Spyder hypercar, and generates 40bhp more than the old twin-engined Cayenne’s e-motor. It’s powered by a 130kg battery under the boot floor, which charges in around two hours, via a fast-charging wallbox.As a result, total system power is up to 456bhp and 516lb ft, from 410bhp and 700Nm before. Healthy power gains, and masses more torque.That’s why this new Cayenne isn’t like other PHEVs. Porsche says it’s built around a new strategy. And that strategy is more power and performance. More oomph. Because a Porsche SUV should have oomph by the skipload.

So, it’s clever. What about fast?
Oh, it’s faster. You’re wafted on a faultless plateau of torque from 0-100kph in 5.0 seconds (a 0.9sec improvement) and to a largely irrelevant top speed of 251kph.

How does it handle? Still the thickset, last-to-be-picked at sports day member of the Cayenne family?
The latest Cayenne already headed more towards the luxury side of the SUV playing field, and weighing in at 2,295kg, it’s competent rather than keen for corners. An Audi SQ7, say, makes you relish bends, just to marvel in its freakishly athletic abilities. This doesn’t.The Cayenne e-Hybrid doesn’t embarrass itself – it’s got high reserves of grip, corners level and retains great composure. But you sense it’s putting up with that sort of treatment, not encouraging it.
Calm down and you’re rewarded with an extraordinarily comfortable, well-damped ride. Porsche are the masters of wheel control in a big SUV. It’s almost cosseting.

Is it mode overkill?
To make you feel like you’re driving a high-rise 918 Spyder, yes. The mode cycles goes like this. There’s E-Power (wooshy silence), then Hybrid Auto (let the car do the thinking), then Sport, (V6 always on, battery charge maintained for useful boost when you demand a squirt). Last is Sport Plus, which throws every bit of charge the batteries can muster at the e-motor, primes the turbos for max boost and tells the transmission to do its best Le Mans balls-out quali impression.There’s also a kind of electric-only launch control Easter egg called E-Launch, which deploys maximum electric-only acceleration if the battery is charged and you hold the throttle and brake on together in E-Power mode. An E-Launch will get you from 0-100kph in 6.3 seconds, and to a zero local-emission top speed of 133kph.

So what’s the most impressive bit?
I know this isn’t a sexy, poster-grabbing word, but it’s the integration. Whether or not plug-in hybrids are the future of motoring, an over-complex stopgap on our way to pure EVs or merely virtue-signaling (I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle, which is more the fault of lawmakers than carmakers), you have to respect the seamlessness of the mighty engineering going on here.

You’ve got a direct-injection, turbocharged petrol V6 that has to talk to an electric motor, and drive all four wheels of a 2.3-tonne luxury car, potentially on multiple terrains, through an eight-speed automatic gearbox… and then a multitude of settings and modes for the driver to mess it all about. The greatest compliment it’s possible to pay this new Cayenne is that for the vast majority of the time, you’ve little clue on board which team of components is working harder. Don’t bother with the optional sports exhaust, though. The V6 is far from operatic.

That smoothness instantly gives the Cayenne e-Hybrid a worthwhile USP versus the Panamera e-Hybrid you’d imagine does the same job. See, the Panamera saloon uses an eight-speed PDK twin-clutch gearbox. But because conventional automatic gearboxes – torque-convertors – are happier towing trailers, the Cayenne uses an entirely different gearbox. Not PDK, but a smoother, oozier Tiptronic eight-speed auto. You might like your SUV to tow your jet-ski or your Airstream caravan, apparently.

And as a result, the handover from volts to dino-juice, and the teamwork between them when you ask for all 456 horsepower, is beautifully silken. Some incredible brains have been deployed to make that happen. And the result is a more soothing luxury hybrid than the frustrating Panamera equivalent.

It’s only caught out if you demand a burst of acceleration then change your mind, and lift out of the throttle just as the V6 wakes up. Now and again the engine’s left revving in no-mans land, and it takes the Cayenne’s brain three or four seconds to work out you’re off the gas and to calm the transmission down.

What about a crazy Cayenne Turbo S e-Hybrid?
Porsche’s engineers are coy, but grin broadly when asked about slotting the 680bhp V8 drivetrain into a Cayenne. They have the tech, they know it fits, and the world’s not exactly short of demand for super-duper 4x4s right now. Look out, Lamborghini Urus…

Do I get much kit on board?
Happily, gone are the days when Porsche laughed and held out its hand when you asked for so much as heated seats or sat-nav as standard on a Cayenne. The e-Hybrid gets the stopwatch-tastic Sport Chrono pack, active air suspension with three road modes and a raised-to-tiptoes party piece, and multi-zone climate control thrown in. Soon there’ll be remote parking and even an anti-kerbing aid that’ll auto-steer away from kerbs, and save your 22-inch rims.

The graphics in of the 12.3-inch touchscreen are crisply rendered, but the interface itself is miles too fiddly, and has been logically bettered by the new MMI touch system of the latest Audi A6, A7 and A8. Same goes for the part-virtual instrument dials. Simplify those before they’re introduced to the new 911 please, Porsche.

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