Auto critics consistently rank the Porsche Cayenne among the best luxury mid-size SUVs on the market. It’s a big seller for the Porsche brand. Combining the good looks of a Porsche with a comfortable, spacious and upscale cabin, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid—the plug-in hybrid version—brings a new level of efficiency to the vehicle lineup.
Porsche revealed the 2015 model, with a facelift to the second-generation Cayenne, at the 2014 Paris motor show. It has sharper lines, updated front fenders, a larger hood, a revised rear bumper than integrates with the tailpipes, and new aerodynamic fins on each side of the front end. Bi-Xenon headlights, with a new more angular shape, are standard on the E-Hybrid. The license plate recess and latch now blend into the tailgate. Porsche designers also added a revised bumper with integrated tailpipes.
It’s hard to beat Porsche styling, especially in the form of this elegant crossover. The Cayenne’s good looks and capable ride have helped it to become Porsche’s best-selling model. The plug-in version has tallied about 1,500 units sold since it recorded its first sales in November 2014, with most Cayenne buyers opting to roll away in the standard, turbo and diesel variants.
The specifications of the Cayenne S E-Hybrid are impressive. The Audi-sourced 3.0-liter supercharged 333-horsepower V6 gas engine combines with a 95-horsepower electric motor for a total system output of 416 ponies and 435 pound-feet of torque.
Despite its size and heft, this 5,181-pound crossover, using an eight-speed automatic transmission, zips from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. That’s pure Porsche.
The clutched powertrain can work purely on internal combustion, just on electricity, or a combination. The Cayenne S E-Hybrid is an all-wheel-drive vehicle.
The Porsche parallel plug-in hybrid system is the same as what’s used in the Panamera S E-Hybrid—but battery storage is upped from the sedan’s 9.4-kWh pack to 10.8 kilowatt-hours. Critics are divided on whether or not the extra weight from the battery pack and motor have a tangible effect on the S E-Hybrid’s performance and handling compared to the Cayenne S.
Drivers can engage Porsche’s familiar Sport and Sport Plus buttons to maximize responsiveness. There is a feature similar to a kick-down that releases a burst of acceleration at a key point in the pedal’s downward movement. The ride is more compliant in the Comfort mode.
With sufficient charge in the battery, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid runs on electric power until the pack’s energy is depleted. The 10.8 kilowatt-hour pack should enable around 20 miles of all-electric range—although official testing (which consider the possibility of the gas engine coming on throughout a drive cycle) pegs the pure electric distance at 14 miles.
The best way to compare all-electric range is to look at the size of the battery pack. The Cayenne S E-Hybrid sits halfway in between the Prius Plug-in Hybrid’s 4.4-kWh pack and the Volt’s 17 kilowatt-hours. Of course, the Cayenne is a larger heavier vehicle.
As with other plug-in hybrids, overall efficiency is largely a matter of how often you can keep the battery charged to run the vehicle more efficiently on the electric motor—rather than the large capable gas engine.
It’s interesting to note that EPA’s overall combined efficiency rating of 47 MPGe. This aligns with anecdotal reports from owners who say they get about 40 mpg (plus electricity usage) on trips of around 50 miles. In other words, when running on electricity, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid is nearly as efficient as other electric cars. When the battery is depleted, it reverts to SUV fuel economy in the low 20s.
For drivers with a light touch on the accelerator, and able to frequently charge, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid is an extraordinarily efficient SUV. But when you get past the first couple dozen miles of electric range—and you want to extract 300 to 400 ponies’ worth of acceleration—efficiency is sacrificed in favor of driving fun.
The Cayenne plug-in hybrid has one other cool trick worth noting. By selecting its “E-Charge,” the internal combustion engine starts up right away to act as a generator--replenishing about 80 percent of the battery's charge in about 30 minutes. Overall efficiency suffers during this process, by about 20 percent, but when the pack is once again nearly full, then you can go back to all-electric motoring—or you can unleash the total combined gas-electric wallop of 416 horsepower. The E-Charge function also allows drivers to strategically decide when to go into silent all-electric mode, even after a long drive without plugging in.
Using a 240-volt charging station allows drivers to fully re-charge the 10.8-kWh pack in about three hours. That’s with the standard 3.6-kW onboard charger. An optional 7.2-kW charger ($840 add-on) cuts that time in half—down to about 90 minutes. (For a reasonable $390, you can also buy a Porsche-branded home charging station.)
As described above, you also can charge the battery without plugging in, by pressing the E-Charge button—engaging the engine to use gasoline to charge the battery to about 80 percent of its capacity in less than 30 minutes.
The 2016 Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid features an upscale cabin replete with leather, wood and metal trims. The front seats are adjustable and comfortable. The back seats, which are roomy and can be reclined, have ample room for three adults. Behind the second row, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid has 20.5 cubic feet of cargo space, which is about three cubic feet less than a non-hybrid. The battery mounting under the floor means no spare tire.
Hybrid-specific instruments include: a power meter replaces the traditional speedometer and a battery state-of-charge indicator.
The Cayenne S E-Hybrid comes with as robust a suite of standard and optional security features as you’d expect from an $80,000 SUV. Dual front and rear side airbags, emergency braking assist, traction and stability control, and dynamic lighting are among the many standard features.
No safety testing information is available for the Cayenne S E-Hybrid.
The base price of the Cayenne S E-Hybrid is $78,700, including a $1,050 destination and delivery charge. The vehicle qualifies for a $5,335.60 federal tax credit.
The Infotainment package, at $1,990, adds a Bose stereo, satellite radio and integrated "online services" (including the Aha smartphone app with on-demand music, Internet radio, Facebook and Twitter feeds, traffic and weather reports and Google POI search).
The Premium package, at $4,090, adds Power Steering Plus, extended LED accent lighting, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and 14-way power heated and ventilated front seats with memory functions. The E-Hybrid also gets a panoramic sunroof.
Finally, the Premium Package Plus, at $7,490 (pushing the total price past $85,000) includes the Premium package and adds adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry and ignition, heated rear seats, power rear window sunshades and a blind-spot monitor (upgradable to a lane-departure warning system). For $2,600, the Sport Package adds an air suspension with three electronically controlled settings.
New for 2016, is the $2,900 Platinum Edition trim, which adds Porsche Dynamic Light System, 20-inch RS Spyder Design wheels and matching satin platinum door guards. Inside, the Platinum Edition brings eight-way leather sport seats with soft, stain-resistant Alcantara center panels, BOSE surround sound, and Porsche’s new Communication Management system.
There is also a long list of a la carte options, including many of the above items plus various wheel designs, ceramic composite brakes, aero body-panel extensions, skid plates, off-road underbody protection, running boards, roof rails, power-closing doors, quad-zone automatic climate control and customizable interior features. There's also adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot warning system, voice command functionality, a dual-screen rear seat entertainment system, a 16-speaker Burmester audio system and Wi-Fi hotspot capability.
Comparisons of Similar Cars
The most popular plug-in crossover SUV by miles is the new Tesla Model X, a fully electric model with as much as 257 miles of EV range, and seven seats. That model from the iconic electric vehicle manufacturer—which also operates a nationwide network of quick charging stations—is on pace for more than 10,000 deliveries in the US in 2016.
While the Model X is a revolutionary vehicle that has successfully ignited the passions of critics and consumers alike, it’s a different animal than the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, which seats five and has a limited all-electric range of about 20 miles. The two vehicles can be grouped in the nascent plug-in SUV category, and both start in the $80,000 range.
For many drivers, the purr of an engine and the familiarity of a classic luxury nameplate like Porsche are simply more desirable than a fully electric SUV that’s controlled mostly from a 17-inch touchscreen. The Cayenne, like other plug-in hybrids, is also not in any way compromised in terms of driving range or quick fill-ups.
Two new luxury plug-in hybrid crossovers from BMW and Volvo are much closer to the Cayenne in terms of appeal. The BMW X5 xdrive40e and the Volvo XC-90 T8 both launched within the last model year. Both bring the devotion to the styling, safety and brand identity associated with their makers, and can make an easy transition to some amount of electric miles.
The Porsche plug-in crossover’s 14 miles of all-electric range slightly beats the BMW X5’s 13 miles but is bested by the Volvo’s 17 miles. Where the three PHEV crossovers differ most is price. The Volvo XC90 T8 starts at $69,000, and the X5 edrive 40e can be yours for just $64,000. Both vehicles are also fresher in their model cycles than the Cayenne, which means fresher styling and more high-tech features.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, decidedly down-market from those luxury European carmakers, is still apparently in the works. Its U.S. release data has not yet been confirmed.
The Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid is a low-volume niche vehicle. Depending on your region, you might have to order the vehicle and wait. Start with your local Porsche dealer, or visit the Porsche website where you can configure the packages, options and other details: http://www.porsche.com/usa/models/cayenne/cayenne-s-e-hybrid/