Remember the outcry from the Porsche aficionados back when the Cayenne was launched in 2002? Sacrilege, they bawled. A travesty. A shame on the name.
But history shows that the idea of a luxury SUV from a lauded maker of high-performance sports cars – pushed enthusiastically by the then CEO Wendelin Wiedeking – was a masterstroke riding the early wave of popularity of the versatile vehicles. At the time, Wiedeking predicted that every owner of a 911 would probably want an SUV in his/her garage, too, for more functional family activities. That SUV should be a Porsche, he figured.
Though not the prettiest SUV of the day, the Cayenne proved to be a winner; a dynamic standout among a growing number of mainly clunky crossover four-wheel drives. And with profits flowing from the Cayenne and then the Macan funding the revered sports cars, opposition to the trucks faded rapidly.
Today, less than two decades later, the Porsche SUVs comprehensively outsell the sleek sports models. And somehow Porsche’s reputation as a purveyor of fine sports cars remains not remotely sullied.
Porsche continues to explore new limits with its products, bowing belatedly to the curious hump-backed coupe SUV trend last year when it added this variant to the existing Cayenne SUV wagon range to take on the likes of the BMW X6, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe and Audi Q8.
The arrival of the flagship 2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe halos the Cayenne Coupe line-up, a petrol V8/plug-in electric motor combo powertrain offering up the twin benefits of shattering performance and giddying fuel economy.
The $292,700 price (plus on-road costs) puts it way more expensive than the BMW, Audi and Mercedes competition, flinging it upwards towards the rarefied air of luxury performance rivals the Maserati Levante Trofeo ($330,000), Bentley Bentayga V8 ($334,700) and Range Rover V8 Autobiography Dynamic ($346,170).
Porsche doesn’t expect many Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrids to be sold, but those very exclusive owners will certainly have bragging rights in key areas.
So, will they be crowing about the overall fuel consumption, a rather brilliant 4.4L/100km? Nah, probably not. Not many Porsche aficionados are paid-up members of The Greens. Maybe this will change later this year when the Taycan electric car arrives.
Porsche owners tend to bang on about chest-beating acceleration figures and impressive output.
The selling hook for the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe is this: it is the most powerful and fastest Cayenne yet, shoved along by a 4.0-litre biturbo eight-cylinder holding hands with a plug-in 14.1kWh lithium-ion battery and 100kW electric motor. Its combined power output of 500kW and mind-blowing maximum torque of 900Nm give it all the artillery to rather violently sling it from 0–100km/h in 3.8 seconds and reach a top speed of 295km/h.
We already know this turbo V8/electric hybrid powertrain combo from the Panamera saloon. But the Cayenne Coupe gets an eight-speed torque-converter unit instead of the Panamera’s dual-clutch transmission. We understand why, because the result is slick shifting at low speeds and, on the other hand, all the speed you want in sporty modes. Drive is transmitted to all four wheels via an active Porsche Traction Management distribution of propulsion between the rear and front axles. On road, and off.
With its commendable towing torque, regular E-Hybrid versions of the Cayenne wagon are already selling well – accounting for about one-quarter of range sales. It has handily slipped into the space vacated by the Cayenne diesel, which has been dispatched to the knackery in disgrace.
But Porsche reckons the select few buyers of the different Coupe Turbo S E-Hybrid will be stumping up their hard-earned to get the stonking performance that comes with the flagship of the range.
“It’s for people who want the best of the best; an uncommon car,” said Porsche Car Australia’s marketing chief Toni Andreevski, adding that along with earth-shaking performance, the plug-in E-Hybrid has a practical side: its 45km range on purely electric power allowing owners to get to the office and back, or handle the daily school run, between overnight charges. And that fuel efficiency is almost unbelievable for such a beast.
The battery can be recharged at home overnight in 6–8 hours.
To chase the target of being a totally convincing all-rounder, the flagship uses a brace of innovative chassis systems to overcome the huge task of taming the abundant grunt and a high-riding 2535kg to chase mesmeric sporty car agility, effortless long-distance comfort, and a generous level of off-road competence. No simple achievement.
Coupe or wagon? Porsche has done a reasonable design job with its slightly longer and wider Cayenne Coupe, though for many this is an acquired look.
Side by side, the two look different enough. Only their bonnets, front doors and front guards are alike. A more raked front screen, falling roof line, different rear doors, fatter rear guards and that curvier tailgate are obvious. An evocative and no doubt effective adaptive boot spoiler gets excited when you’re moving beyond 90km/h, extending up 135mm.
The coupe SUV genre usually lands us with compromises in rear head room and cargo space, but in this case Porsche has not had to make major concessions. Only two rear seats, though, but with enough knee room and head room. Still, unless you’re light on children or pals, we’d be ticking the no-cost-option rear three-seat bench.
The four-model Cayenne Coupe range broadly takes the same specifications and gear as its wagon sibling, with standard additions of a few sportier features – Power Steering Plus, 22-inch alloys, and Sport Chrono drive select with mode dial.
Standard gear includes adaptive LED headlights, LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, rain-sensing wipers, a handy power-operated tailgate, blind-spot monitoring, surround-view cameras, plus front and rear parking sensors.
Safety systems include eight airbags, all the usual stability and traction stuff, and forward-collision warning. The autonomous emergency braking system is a little rudimentary, as it doesn't bring the Turbo E-Hybrid to a complete halt. You pay extra for the more sophisticated protection via adaptive cruise control.
The interior of the test coupe is a glorious mix of cool elegance and joyously smart, with tasteful quality surfaces and clever design. The overriding impression is of class and durability
Those up front will revel in brilliantly adjustable and supportive 18-way power-adjustable front sports seats with heating and a bold DJs-like fabric seat insert redolent of certain ’70s 911s. There’s nice-to-touch leather trim, four-zone climate control, and glossy black trim.
Most of the design and features around the dash and centre console are familiar, having been seen in the Cayenne wagon. The 12.3-inch touchscreen and navigation system, wireless Apple CarPlay (no Android, though), 710W Bose sound with 14 speakers, and digital radio are up to the minute.
The screen has excellent resolution and intuitive finger pinch-and-zoom attributes. With many features a tap away, there is some complexity that will be overcome with experience.
The Sport Chrono drive-mode selector cycles through the obligatory Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual alternatives, optimising suspension, engine and transmission to satisfy the driver and conditions.
The Turbo S E-Hybrid also extends selections to E-Power and three hybrid modes. With juice in the battery, E-Power means the vehicle runs exclusively on electric power at speeds up to 135km/h. Great for commuting, and it moves the big unit very easily – while the charge lasts. Driving mainly on the highway during our test, the Turbo S E-Hybrid’s battery emptied quite fast.
E-Hold prevents any current being drawn from the battery and is designed to maintain the current level. E-Charge brings on the petrol engine to charge the battery system to 100 per cent. Drinking some fuel, of course. And Hybrid Auto cleverly adapts to either electric or combustion.
Incidentally, real-world fuel consumption in mixed but mainly highway use is closer to 10–11L/100km.
The gauges in front of the driver are a beautifully clear white on black, which can be absorbed at a glance. A carbon interior presentation is part of an optional so-called Lightweight Sports Package (LSP), which also includes a sports exhaust system, 22-inch GT Design alloys, heated sports wheel with Alcantara rim, and a carbon roof. Deep breath – the LSP retails for $20,270.
It’s practical enough, too, with four-zone climate control, privacy glass, tyre pressure monitoring, wine holders in the doors, two cupholders in the console, and the lidded bin/armrest hides a pair of USB-C ports (two more in the rear). A pair of 12V outlets nod to the Cayenne’s SUV role.
The Coupe Turbo S E-Hybrid looks very nicely specced, until you riffle through the options list to see what it doesn’t get standard. Head-up display (all of $3070 extra), lane-keep assist ($1220), Matrix LED headlights with Porsche Dynamic Plus light system ($3210) and night-view assist ($4650) were some options included on our test coupe, pushing the ask to $334,620 plus on-roads.
The acceleration figures hint that the Turbo S E-Hybrid is a straight-line rocket. Unforgettable, indeed, is the immediate whack between the shoulders when you hit the accelerator, and the electric motor's torque makes its presence felt. It moves the heavy SUV instantaneously and almost viciously.
Cruising along a freeway or pleasant country road is an altogether pleasant way to travel. It strives valiantly when you get playful.
Weight, though, is never a fillip to dynamics, and we learn that a profusion of standard chassis tech can’t turn an SUV into a surgical sporty thoroughbred. There is a penalty to pay for the Turbo S E-Hybrid being 335kg heavier than the Coupe Turbo version.
During hard driving when pitch and roll are possible, the air suspension system switches to higher spring rates to stabilise the body's movement. The adaptive suspension is capable of achieving different spring rates depending on demands.
The electromechanical roll stabilisation, called Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), adjusts the torsional rigidity of the anti-roll bars on the front and rear axles in milliseconds to actively stabilise the vehicle's body. Not that the driver senses it, but Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV Plus) combines a fully variable rear differential lock with targeted braking interventions on the inside rear wheel when cornering. Porsche says steering behaviour and precision improve along with traction.
The electronic shock absorber system called Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) also plays a role. It actively and continuously controls the damping force for each individual wheel depending on the condition of the road surface and drive-mode choice.
All the different electronic systems combine impressively. The Turbo S E-Hybrid behaves bloody well, but not perfectly. Giving it some right boot in Sport or Sport Plus, and calling for the Turbo S E-Hybrid to change direction near the limit, introduces some front-end push on entry that without fuss eases into power-down oversteer on exit.
A nice bit of twerking…
The test Cayenne also scored the optional rear-axle steering ($4300). Here, the axles steer in opposite directions at speeds of up to approximately 80km/h for improved agility and easier low-speed manoeuvring. Then at higher speeds, both axles steer in the same direction, bringing even greater driving stability, say, when switching lanes on the freeway at a high cruising speed or jinking through a series of snaky corners. The system also reduces the vehicle’s turning circle from 12.1m to 11.5m.
The variable-ratio electromechanical power-steering system is up to the demands of physics, too, delivering the right weighting and feel for all situations, and most importantly at higher speeds.
Overtaking is helped by the handy Sports Response button on the wheel. Push it and you are rewarded with 20 seconds of the best of hysterical urge the power plant can offer.
The exhaust accompaniment is memorable, too, burbling so contentedly around town, but then erupting into amazing growls under acceleration and gorgeous crackling on lift-off. That optional sports exhaust is worth the splash.
The 22-inch alloys fitted with 285/35 fronts and 315/30-series rears help steering sharpness and traction, but even with the air suspension, there is a hit on ride comfort with the big low-profile rubber. Maybe it might be smarter to specify no-cost-option 21s.
The desirable ceramic composite brakes are excellent, but sometimes less so. Internally ventilated rotors (440mm diameter with 10-piston fixed calipers at the front; 410mm diameter with four-piston fixed calipers at the rear) give stopping performance rarely matched in a rig like this. But the pedal loses its excellent feel when the E-Hybrid is getting about with electric power only. It’s the one negative effect of regenerative recharging.
SUVs are supposed to be functional and versatile. So, how does it measure up in a practical way?
The Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe loses some cargo area to the equivalent Cayenne wagon, but still conjures up 500L with the seats in place and 1440L with the seat backs flattened. It has no collapsible spare like the Cayenne wagon line-up, instead getting tyre sealant and compressor. Best of luck out back o’ Bourke.
Those wanting a Cayenne for towing will appreciate Porsche's Trailer Stability Management system being standard, and braked towing capacity is 3000kg (unbraked is 750kg).
Importantly, Porsche offers just a modest three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, although owners of the Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe also have eight years/160,000km battery protection. Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km.
Any way you judge, the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe is not a sports car. But it is a fascinating exercise in bringing a multitude of disparate elements to the banquet with powerful sporting overtones and a luxurious presentation.