Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Driven: Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

A sporty SUV with a petrol/electric drivetrain, Porsche's Cayenne S Hybrid is sure to appeal to some - we're just not sure who.
This year might well mark the 50th anniversary of the 911, Porsche’s lithe sports car, but it is the Cayenne, a heavy brute of an SUV, that has long been its best-selling model. And, as painful as it might be for some to hear this, that’s deservedly so, for the Cayenne is a deeply impressive motor car.
When it was first launched in 2002, it built upon the trend, set by the original BMW X5, that big, heavy SUVs needn’t drive like commercial vehicles.
Not only that, but it has always had genuine off-road credentials. Porsche might be more market-savvy than ever before, but the Cayenne is proof that it still engineers vehicles to compete with the very best.
Those early Cayennes used a big V8 petrol motor, which was great for performance, but rather heavy on fuel. A smaller V6 joined the range later, followed by a diesel and then, in 2011, this car, the Cayenne Hybrid. It was Porsche’s first attempt at a petrol/electric vehicle and gave the German manufacturer a tool with which to muscle in on the eco-friendly SUV niche
However, with two very capable diesel models now in the Cayenne line-up, it’s hard to determine where the S Hybrid fits in. In theory, that “S” in its name denotes it as fast rather than frugal. Good thing too, for it’s not particularly economical (the 333bhp supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine and 46bhp electric motor combined give an EU Combined test cycle figure of 34.4mpg).
Nor is it the fastest SUV off the blocks (0-62mph takes 6.5sec, which although brisk, is slower than the diesel S model). What’s more, it’s almost 300kg heavier than a base model Cayenne and, at £61,882, more expensive than both the top-spec diesel and the petrol V8. And it can’t be about CO2 emissions either, because, again, the diesel (albeit the basic version) trumps the hybrid there too. And, finally, to confuse matters further, if you’re planning on going off-road, the Hybrid and diesel models don’t get quite such a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system as the petrol ones.
On paper at least, it’s very hard to determine why you’d choose a Cayenne S Hybrid over any other model in the range. But what about in real life, out on the road?
Let’s not pretend that this is a bad car, because it’s not. Indeed, the only reason anybody could complain about a vehicle that is this smooth and effortless to drive would be because they’re regular motor was a Rolls-Royce. But nor is the Hybrid quite as good from behind the wheel as other Cayennes, sometimes taking too long to find the right ratio in its eight-speed auto ’box to make a speedy overtake, and just occasionaly giving away the fact that it’s carrying all that extra mass. The regenerative braking gives an odd feel to the pedal, too, although you do eventually get used to it.
On the plus side, it devours motorway miles and, when you get to a town, there’s the novelty of cruising silently on electric power (up to 37mph). The drivetrain itself is unobtrusive, switching seemlessly between petrol, electric and hybrid modes (save for when you perform a hill start, when the power delivery can be a bit all or nothing), and there’s an excellent stop/start system.
There other impressive feature is a “coasting” mode, whereby lifting off the throttle disengages drive from the petrol engine allowing you to roll serenely along at anything up to 97mph. It might sound like a gimmick, but you’ll find it happening a lot, perhaps because the Hybrid’s mass helps it to gather momentum on even the smallest of downward slopes. If it did anything to help fuel economy it would be even more impressive, but even with a lot of coasting we failed to match the 34mpg Porsche claims.
What to make of the Cayenne S Hybrid, then? Some, I’m sure, will hate the very thought of it, but they are perhaps missing the point. It is a vehicle for those who want an SUV’s high driving position and imperious image, combined with the notion that they are somehow helping the planet. And in that sense it is pretty successful. What we shouldn’t do, however, is pretend that this Hybrid is about saving money at the pumps or when time comes for a new tax disc. If running costs are your top priority then go for the diesel. Or better still, don’t buy an SUV.
The Cayenne Hybrid is by no means a bad car, but I do wonder if it borders on being pointless given the strength of the rest of the range. For our money (and yours too, if sales figures are anything to go by), the best Cayenne is the one with a diesel engine under the bonnet.
Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
Price from: £61,882
Price as tested: £76,543