2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid Review

A sporty and luxurious people-mover that's also a hybrid. And it's a Porsche. What's not to like?

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid Review
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The most telling feature of the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid is the fact that unlike every other hybrid on the market there isn’t a giant display screen boldly proclaiming your excellent fuel economy. In fact, that info is nearly impossible to find, buried several menus deep in the car’s onboard computer.

FAST FACTS

1. Powered by a supercharged 3.0L V6 and electric motor, the Cayenne Hybrid makes 380-hp and 427 b-ft of torque enabling a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds (0-100 km/h to 6.5 seconds).

2. Fuel economy is rated at 20/24-mpg (8.7/7.9 l/100 km), compared to 16/22-mpg (14.5/8.2 l/100 km) for the V8.

3. One big reason for the Cayenne’s fuel economy numbers is what Porsche calls “sailing”, when the gas engine shuts off at speeds of up to 97 mph.

4. Pricing is pegged at $68,300 ($78,200 CDN) a $3,900 ($4,800 CDN) increase over the Cayenne S.

This speaks to the fact that the gas-electric Cayenne is less about getting good fuel economy, and more about looking like you’re getting good fuel economy. And that’s by no means a criticism. In fact, it’s another very important reason people will buy a Porsche. And when it comes to the Cayenne, there are already three good reasons.

First, it’s a Porsche. Second, it’s a functional family vehicle… that’s also a Porsche. Third, it’s a trendy performance SUV… that’s also a Porsche. And now the German automaker has added a fourth reason: it’s a hybrid… that’s also a Porsche.

NO SUCH THING AS “MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE”

Now some used to say (and many still do) that a performance SUV is a ludicrous idea. And while true in theory, in practice Porsche has proven just how dynamic a machine a top-heavy truck can be. A similar feeling by “haters” is shared about hybrid SUVs, a seemingly incongruous concept, attempting to transform a behemoth monstrosity into a green (greenish?) machine. Now, for the first time ever, all of these aspects have been combined into one package and with that Porsche crest up front, how can it not be a success?

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

Looking at both the performance and the fuel economy, the Cayenne S Hybrid manages to register some impressive numbers in each category, while not giving up anything in terms of its functionality. Holding true to the “S” in the name, it makes 380-hp and 427 lb-ft of torque while also achieving 20-mpg city and 24-mpg highway. During our test we averaged 23-mpg, which is no small feat for a five-seater truck with plenty of cargo room and a 0-60 mph time of 6.1 seconds.

By comparison, the 400-hp Cayenne S gets a 16/22-mpg rating and shaves just a half second off the hybrid’s sprint time. Yes there’s a cost associated, with a $4,000 premium over the Cayenne S, but at this level, that’s less than the cost of an option package and for most shoppers isn’t even worth a second thought.

UNIQUE HYBRID SETUP LETS YOU “SAIL” AT SPEED

Porsche’s hybrid system is slightly different from any other on the market. It works with an electric motor placed between the supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine and 8-speed transmission, with a special clutch that allows the gas engine to be decoupled at speeds of up to 97-mph. Porsche calls this “sailing” as it allows the SUV to coast along, emissions-free, at much higher speeds than any other vehicle on the market.

This process is generally smooth, though not entirely so. And when paired with the truck’s 8-speed automatic transmission you can’t help but feel that there’s a lot going on in the drivetrain. We’d normally be the last to recommend a CVT, but in this case it might help deliver a smoother overall experience – though not a very Porsche-esque one.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

As for the regenerative braking function, it’s similar to many other hybrids, which in most cases wouldn’t warrant criticism, but this is a Porsche after all. It’s not hard to tell the difference from the regen to regular braking, and that switchover certainly kills the progressive feeling Porsche brakes should have.

Back to the hybrid setup, it is a full two-mode system and allows for the Cayenne to be powered by gas, electricity or a combination of both. On pure electric power it can hit speeds of up to 40 mph, though that requires a seriously light right foot. An E-Power button on the center console will keep the ute in full electric mode as much as possible, and doesn’t require lethargic acceleration, which is perfect for your daily commute and means that unlike every Prius on the road other cars won’t be cutting in front of you every time you go to accelerate.

Also helping in the performance category is a Boost mode that ups the electric assistance with throttle inputs of over 70 percent, otherwise that extra thrust is only available when the pedal is pushed all the way to the floor.

MUTED DRIVING EXPERIENCE

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

If sporty driving is what you’re in to then there’s an optional PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) setup, not to mention an air suspension. The PASM system makes a significant change in the driving dynamics of the big SUV, firming up the shocks with the press of a button so you really feel the road.

With an electric motor and a big battery pack, Porsche’s hybrid system does add a considerable amount of heft to the Cayenne, although one could claim it’s been offset by the equally huge weight loss the new version has over its predecessor, weighing roughly the same as a first-gen Cayenne S. At 4,938 lbs, it’s not ideal, but not a bad start for the brand’s first hybrid – especially one that still manages to be pretty quick. While down slightly in terms of acceleration when compared to its V8 sibling, more noticeable is the sound, or lack thereof. True, the Hybrid does have a decent enough exhaust note, but it’s nothing compared to the V8.

NO COMPROMISE ON FUNCTIONALITY

Despite the use of a nickel metal hydride battery under the trunk floor, Porsche has managed to maintain the normal model’s cargo capacity – quite a feat. As a result there’s an excellent 62.9 cu-ft of space, due in part to rear seats that can slide forward by 6.3-inches. That’s not a problem either as the rear seat area offers an incredible amount of legroom.

All of this comes as quite a surprise, with the style of the new Cayenne making it look considerably smaller than the outgoing model – even though it’s actually grown its dimensions.

GERMANS DON’T BELIEVE IN CUP HOLDERS

While we do have some issues with the Cayenne’s hybrid traits, some of our other annoyances are completely separate. For starters, it’s extremely odd that on this level (and price) of SUV there is no keyless access, nor is there a push button ignition. Plus, the key slot in the dash just looks cheap and unfinished. But perhaps the worst part (and we’re not kidding here) is the shallow cupholders. They do such a poor job of keeping a coffee cup in its place that we won’t be surprise when someone files a lawsuit after getting doused with the latest over-heated Starbucks blend. It happened to us… twice.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

As for the rest of the interior, you’ll feel like a fighter pilot behind the wheel, with the near excessive number of buttons – not to mention the overall layout. Two long and angular rows of black keys run down the center console, divided by tiny bits of shiny metal. A similar layout is used for the center section up top, just ahead of the sunroof.

The cabin itself is nice, although a bit underwhelming from a luxury perspective in comparison to the Panamera. Then again, it’s important to remember the price here. This isn’t a six-figure machine, far from it, and starts at just $68,300 ($78,200 CDN).

THE VERDCIT

The Cayenne S Hybrid is quite alone in the marketplace. For starters, most buyers aren’t likely to look at one of the German diesel luxury SUVs. The BMW X6 ActiveHybrid is certainly more thrilling, though it lacks any functionality beyond a coupe and actually isn’t very fuel-efficient. And for the Lexus R450h, it offers better fuel economy at a much lower price, but isn’t at the same level in terms of cache.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

That being said, does Porsche have a winner on its hands here? Certainly. The automaker is the first to capitalize on the concept of a functional yet sporty utility hybrid. Plus it has something else people love even more… a Porsche badge.

LOVE IT
  • Improved fuel economy
  • No loss of functionality, little trade of in performance
  • Small price premium for the Hybrid
LEAVE IT
  • Driving experience could be smoother
  • Brakes lack progressive Porsche feel
  • No keyless access
  • Shallow cupholders

Related Reading
2011 Porche Cayenne S Review
2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid Review
2009 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Review
2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class Review

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