Green Technology; 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

For years Vancouver has been recognized globally as one of the “greenest” cities in the world, so when Porsche’s Cayenne S Hybrid made its way around it seemed like the perfect time to hop on the eco-bandwagon and see what all the fuss is about. Until recently the thought of a Porsche Hybrid sounded about as out of place as a Subcompact Rolls-Royce, however with Mercedes-Benz and BMW bringing hybrid SUVs to market and the Cayenne already being such a strong seller, it seems logical for Porsche to tackle the Green agenda as well.

The idea of a hybrid Porsche isn’t new. Ferdinand Porsche is credited with building the world’s first ever fully functional Hybrid car in 1900 called the Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus. Its drivetrain consisted of 2 wheel hub-mounted electric motors and 2 on-board single cylinder engines acting as generators to charge approximately 4000lbs of batteries. With that much lead on board the Vivus’s total curb weight was not far off of the 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid’s near 5000lb heft. Though many things have changed in the last 111 years, it’s fascinating to see a technology catching on after its genesis over a century ago.

As luck would have it, my seat time with the Cayenne S Hybrid fell on the same days as Vancouver’s annual “Bike to Work Week”, a time where motorists around the city either hop out of their cars, or spend far more time cursing while at the wheel. Not wanting to disappoint our fair city, it seemed appropriate to hop on my bike and pedal my way down to pick up the Cayenne. With no intention of parking the hybrid for the week, and 221 lb-ft of torque coming from the onboard electric motor, my green guilt was now left in the dust.

Once the bike’s front wheel was removed there was plenty of room to tuck the bike into the hybrid’s spacious rear cargo area with the seats folded flat. For those of you planning on taking your mountain bikes out more regularly there is a roof mount bike rack available from Porsche.

At first glance it is clear that the Porsche set out to design a far more dynamic and aggressive vehicle than the original Cayenne. Where the first generation Cayenne came out looking a bit bulbous and inflated, not unlike the first BMW X5, the new bodywork adopts a more of that sleek swagger expected from a sibling of the iconic Porsche 911. The nose has an angry shark-like appearance that makes a statement, and certainly won’t be mistaken for any other SUV on the road.

It’s a sharp looking car from any angle, however my partner Christopher and I both agree that this shade of brown should never find its way onto another car. It sucks the sporting feel out of the car’s appearance. If the goal was to choose something “Earthy”, to appeal to those wanting to get in touch with nature, might I suggest a good old fashioned electric green instead? In any other colour the new Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid is a definite head turner.

Once inside the Cayenne S Hybrid, its vast dimensions rapidly scale down, giving the driver the perception of being in a far smaller vehicle. The front seats are expectedly well bolstered, and the centre console and cockpit design give the driver a slightly encapsulated feel, without becoming claustrophobic. A quick bit of fiddling with the touch screen navigation/audio/info command centre reveal an incredible array of information if you are tech savvy enough to get used to their operating system. Any owner over time would easily acclimatize to the system, however I did find myself struggling a little longer getting used to the Porsche hardware than I have with similar systems from other auto makers.

One of the most interesting bits of gadgetry built into the Cayenne S Hybrid’s user interface is a graphing tool that actually tells you what percentage of time you are running in electric mode, splitting the data into 5 minute blocks. On top of that there is a stopwatch counter that runs every time the vehicle’s petrol engine is shut off while driving. Rather than focusing on the car’s performance at its handling limits, I found myself roaming my way around Vancouver solely on electric power whenever possible. Challenging myself to explore the Cayenne’s E-Power limits became a game not unlike a well-to-do man’s equivalent to mobile solitaire. Though it may sound like watching paint dry to some, I was quite proud rolling back into our driveway and seeing that on my 2 hour drive, I’d been traveling without CO2 emissions for 1 hour and 18 minutes. Unfortunately I later discovered that all that E-Power driving did me few favours at the pump. Even with the most conservative driving the Cayenne S Hybrid managed a hair better fuel economy than Audi’s Q7 3.0 Sport we tested a few months prior, and well above the projected combined fuel consumption of 8.2L/100km toted by Porsche.

A short while after my eco-friendly roaming I decided it would only be fair to have a go at the Cayenne’s more spirited side. On the open road the Cayenne S Hybrid is no slouch. Although the Cayenne is still quite heavy, much of its mass sits quite low and with the Porsche Active Suspension Management in its stiffest setting all body roll is kept to a minimum. The Cayenne’s brakes are quite aggressive, and take a bit of getting used to. Taking full advantage of brake force regeneration to charge up the battery pack, initial braking is tackled by the electric motor before the brake calipers are engaged.

The added torque available from the hybrid drive system proved quite useful on a few runs out of the city with the Cayenne. Climbing hills from a stop quickly shows off the Cayenne S Hybrid’s low-end torque, and launching out and around its underpowered rivals kept me grinning, while still satisfying my green guilt. My only hope is that a few years of fine-tuning help to streamline the 8-Speed Tiptronic transmission’s erratic nature. Even in sport mode the Cayenne’s gearbox had developed an unhealthy obsession with shifting at the most inopportune times. With any luck our German friends are hard at work trying to build a hybrid system around the Porsche PDK dual clutch transmission.

The steering system in the new Cayenne S Hybrid proved to be another weak point. Porsche’s Servotronic system, which uses a combination of both hydraulic and electric steering assist does not feel as grounded as one would expect from the brand. The levels of assist in the system range from overly light to artificially heavy, but never quite right in my mind. Many manufacturers are starting to adopt electric steering assist in varying levels, and unfortunately most systems still feel too artificial to most enthusiasts.

Minor flaws aside, by the end of the week I found myself somewhat reluctant to turn the keys back over. Maybe its my inner wanting for something a little more eco-friendly from the SUV sect, or maybe its my obsession with near-useless technological gagetry, but the Cayenne S Hybrid won me over, even its Auburn Metallic skin. Either way, for anyone shopping for V8 level performance from a luxury SUV without all the gas guzzling guilt that comes with it, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid is definitely worth a second look.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid base MSRP: $77,500 (as tested $100,525)


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