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Assessed in isolation, the 2018 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is an impressive large, luxury SUV. Viewed as a window into the future, it’s also another step and an exciting pointer to the efficiency and performance potential hybrid power can unlock in the 911 sports car when the time is right. While hybrids aren’t usually exciting or engaging, Porsche’s recent efforts have shown the future is a lot brighter than you might have thought.
In Australia, 60 percent of all Cayenne sales have historically been the diesel variant. Now, one in four Panameras sold is a hybrid. And, if you take a look at the numbers and assess the drive experience, you’d be hard pressed to recommend the diesel Cayenne (when it arrives) over this extremely impressive hybrid.
You can read our pricing and specification guide for more details on the new Cayenne Hybrid. The short of it though is pricing starts from $136,500 before on-road costs. Some of the standard equipment differs between Europe and Australia as you’d expect. For example, at launch we tested vehicles with 21-inch wheels, but in Oz a 19-inch rim is standard with only 20s optional.
The Cayenne Hybrid is powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine, which generates 250kW and 450Nm. Then there’s the electric motor, which adds a maximum of 100kW and 400Nm. Porsche claims total combined output at 340kW and 700Nm. An eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic is standard along with Sport Chrono. The gearbox is of the torque converter variety, so smooth you’ll hardly ever even notice it’s there, even when you’re driving with gusto.
While the Cayenne was initially credited with keeping the Porsche brand afloat, it’s become an even more vital cog in an ever-expanding model wheel as time has gone on. The mad rush to SUVs globally has served the Cayenne - and Porsche - well, with Australia a microcosm of global trends.
Porsche has always said the Cayenne needs to be as capable as it is luxurious, deliver very much a Porsche experience from behind the wheel, and appeal to the family buyer with flexibility. Given those mandates, the high-tech nature of the hybrid drivetrain makes sense too, in the sense it's a large SUV that consumes fuel at the rate of a much smaller vehicle.
The Cayenne Hybrid itself isn’t quite so simple though – no less than six drive modes are part of the equation. You’re going to make me list them all aren’t you? Sport, Sport Plus, Hybrid, E-Power, E-Charge and E-Hold are the various modes. They each do what they sound like they might do, with Sport Plus using the petrol engine (duh) but also a boost from the electric motor for extra performance. Complexity is often part of the luxury SUV path though, certainly in 2018 and beyond.
As such, the cabin experience as either driver or passenger is premium. It’s comfortable as you’d expect, but it also possesses that hewn-from-stone Porsche feel, beautiful switchgear that is well laid out, premium displays, exceptional trim and stitching. The Cayenne does it all so well.
The new, larger 12.3-inch touchscreen is positioned perfectly and is clear at all times, though there is some reflection and glare coming off the gloss black feature covering the switchgear on the console. Porsche’s external camera system is excellent, clear, broad and useful, and the general feel of every control is one of solidity. We’ve written it before, and it’s pertinent to mention here again: there are a lot of controls and switchgear, but Porsche has somehow made it look as minimalist as possible.
Like the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid we had through the CarAdvice garage recently, you can tackle your commute of 20km each way with pure electric power and never use any fuel if you wish. E-Power is the default mode each time you start the Cayenne Hybrid. For plenty of people in the inner city, that’s a real-world commute too, so despite the shortish range, it is relevant to a lot of buyers. The 44km electric-only range is an achievable real-world claim and there’s something strangely satisfying about creeping around town in near silence.
Despite the complexity of the powertrain, the tech that makes it work and associated drive modes, there’s something refreshingly normal about driving the Cayenne Hybrid. There’s nothing imposing or strange, even though you can tell it’s a heavyweight, certainly heavier than a garden-variety Cayenne.
The only thing that takes any getting used to is the brake pedal feel - a common factor in all hybrid vehicles, where hungry brake systems have been set up to harvest as much extra power as they can, thus affecting the feel at the pedal. You quickly become accustomed to it though, and the Cayenne is an easy SUV to drive smoothly.
The transition from electric motor to petrol power is near imperceptible too. In fact, if you didn’t hear it happen, you almost certainly wouldn’t notice - it’s that smooth. I guess that’s part of the Porsche package, but it’s nonetheless impressive that Porsche has managed to execute the technology in such a seamless way.
As we left the centre of Montpellier, twisty country roads beckoned (as did Sport Plus mode) and the Cayenne is more suited to them than most. The steering is fantastic, direct, sharp and perfectly weighted, but the brakes also work well at enthusiastic speed, setting the big SUV up to tackle the corner. There’s balance and poise too, you can certainly feel the weight, but the Cayenne is never ungainly.
Buyers will likely never drive their Cayenne in such an ungraceful manner, but it’s capable of being pushed rapidly if you really want to. I did - briefly - but then I decided on a more sedate cruise, to better feel the hybrid system at work. The air suspension of our test example resulted in a comfortable ride too, although there is some tyre/road noise in the cabin when the petrol engine isn’t masking it.
The battery is a 14.1 kWh unit and with a standard 10-amp charger, you can fully recharge it in less than eight hours. Step up to an optional 32-amp charger though, and it takes only two and a half hours. What’s most interesting is the way the Cayenne can harvest charge in E-Charge mode, which you can select via the central screen.
The power reserve (E-Hold) mode is clever too, if you have a long run down the freeway and then you know you have 15km to roll through the city for example, you can set the system to save enough energy to cover the 15km on electric power when you get there. Clever - and it works too.
The emergency braking system was a little on the annoying side. It’s designed to stop the Cayenne if it reads danger approaching. Three times, the system intervened and stopped the Cayenne - pretty violently and unnervingly it has to be said - in situations where there was no danger ahead. Twice at a roundabout, and again as we rounded a bend lined with parked cars. It’s probably life saving in some instances, but it was pretty annoying when it happened on those occasions.
In many ways, the 2018 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is a jack of all trades - an extremely competent all-rounder. If you want to be hyper-critical though, it isn’t technically brilliant at any of them. It’s heavy, so it isn’t super fast, and the 44km electric range will raise the ire of some. It is however an impressive and praise-worthy reflection of Porsche’s future ambitions and it’s very much a product of its time.
We’re in this strange no-man’s land between the history that has brought us to where we are now, and the future that is taking us ever further away from it. In that sense, the Porsche Cayenne is spot on the money. Most SUV buyers don’t drive them like they stole them, so the fact there will be a faster Cayenne than this doesn’t really matter in a practical sense. In the same way stop/start has become an accepted method of using infinitesimally less fuel, hybrid technology like this is the next step forward. And Porsche is taking that step with confidence.