First drive review: Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid plug-in petrol-electric hybrid tested

First drive review: Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid plug-in petrol-electric hybrid tested

Third generation of the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid

You will need to look really closely but what you’re looking at is the third generation of Porsche’s controversial SUV, the Cayenne. Well, not so controversial anymore. Now that Bentley and Rolls-Royce are also making SUVs, with Ferrari soon to join the party. And compared to those visually… err… arresting SUVs boy does the Cayenne look fantastic! We are testing the Cayenne E-Hybrid and I particularly like the full-width taillamp treatment. This is the single-biggest visual differentiator to the earlier generation Cayenne including the Cayenne Hybrid, along with the motorsport-inspired elements to the lighting. The four-spotlight DRLs in the LED headlamps for instance were first seen in the rear view mirrors of Audis, Ferraris, Astons, Corvettes. And other race cars as the Porsche 919 Hybrid blitzed to victory at Le Mans – the first by a petrol-hybrid at the endurance classic. And the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid we tested in the South of France also draws learnings from the Le Mans hybrid program as also the 918 hybrid supercar. So it has great provenance.

30 per cent more capacity on e-powertrain of Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid

The E-Hybrid system in the new Cayenne hybrid is a parallel hybrid with the electric and combustion engine directly feeding the drivetrain. The motor is a permanent-magnet synchronous motor, based on the one first seen in the 918 supercar. The electric engine has been converted from an internal rotor to an external rotor architecture. This is claimed to enable greater power density and good controllability for spontaneous responsiveness.

The fluid-cooled battery sits in the boot and has eight cell modules with 13 prismatic lithium ion cells in each. Weighing 138kg it is no heavier than the one in the previous Cayenne E-Hybrid. But it has 30 per cent more capacity at 14.1 kilowatt hours. All thanks to the cell capacity going up from 24 Ampere hours to 37 Ampere hours. The power output of the electric motor is rated at 134bhp.

Volkswagen Group’s new MLB architecture

Underpinning the new Cayenne is the Volkswagen Group’s new MLB platform. It is also used on the Bentley Bentayga and Audi Q7 but with two crucial differences. The first is this is the short wheelbase MLB with 100mm less in the wheelbase than the Q7. Though it is still longer and wider than the outgoing Cayenne with ample rear leg room (but no third row of seats). The second is the infinitely variable torque split front to rear and left to right is provided via a ‘hang-on’ type electronically controlled multi-plate clutch. Not the Torsen on the other two. This is claimed to offer quicker response and better performance – both on and off the road. This is an example of the independence Porsche gets to forge their own engineering path in divergence to Group cost targets.

On the dynamic front the Cayenne E-Hybrid gets Porsche Active Suspension Management as standard. Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control is optional along with electric rear-wheel steering. The optional three-chamber air suspension has seven different ride heights. It is allied to four off-road modes of Gravel, Mud, Sand and Rocks.

Beautifully done interiors

Sliding behind the ‘wheel puts you in the mood for enthusiastic driving. What with that big analogue tacho front and centre in the speedo console, just like every single Porsche. Flanking it are high-resolution screens that are massively customisable with a night vision camera, navigation maps and even a g-force meter, while the rest of the cabin is utterly stunning. The centrepiece is a massive 12.3-inch touchscreen with 4K-like resolution and near-zero physical buttons. The fascia now has pressure-sensitive switches that are jet-black and nearly invisible when not in use. This lends a high-tech air to the cabin. The exterior of the eHybrid is distinguished by the acid green outline on the badges as well as the brake calipers.

Electric driving range of 44km

Keep the E-Hybrid plugged in for 7 hours and 45 minutes and you get a pure electric range of 44km from the batteries. A realistic range of around 34km. And no matter how many electric or plug-in hybrid cars you’ve driven, rolling away in absolute silence is still very cool. The Cayenne eHybrid always defaults to electric when you start off. You do get good enough acceleration to keep up with fast-moving traffic.

“No matter how many electric or plug-in hybrid cars you’ve driven, rolling away in absolute silence is still very cool”

This being Porsche, there’s also an E-launch function where you keep the brake pressed and accelerator depressed till the pressure point (not all the way down, else the V6 kicks in) and you get a full electric launch with 0-100kmph taking 6.3 seconds while top speed is 135kmph before the petrol V6 kicks in.

A performance hybrid

Backing up the batteries is a 3-litre turbocharged V6 motor in the nose of the Cayenne that makes 335bhp and combined with the electric motor kicks out a total system output of 455.5bhp. Of even greater significance, especially for those who enjoy the prodigious torque of diesel motors, is the 700Nm of maximum torque – which peaks at just above idle thanks to torque-fill from the e-motor. What you are looking at is the horsepower of a petrol motor with the torque of a diesel!

Both the powertrains combined give the Cayenne E-Hybrid a 0-100kmph time of 5 seconds flat and a top speed of 253kmph. That’s really fast. You also get the option of a sports exhaust to get the petrol engine to sing throatily through the quad exhausts, the Sport-Chrono package is standard and measures your lap times and there’s the option of massive 22 inch wheels and ceramic brakes. None of the namby-pamby kill-joy nature of hybrids here. The Cayenne is a sports-SUV, and the eHybrid definitely goes like a sports-SUV.

Boost strategy inspired by 918 supercar

There are four driving modes accessed via the Manettino-like dial on the steering wheel. These are Electric, Hybrid Auto, Sport and Sport Plus. The Cayenne E-Hybrid always defaults to Electric. In the hope of course that you plug in the Cayenne at every opportunity to juice the batteries.

The Hybrid Auto mode lets the Cayenne’s brain calculate the best strategy for efficiency based on the driving profile, battery charge status, the terrain (via navigation) and speed. The distance to the destination from the navigation is also taken into account. This ensures you make the best use of the electric range. And if you want to charge the batteries for the last bit of your run in the city to be purely electric you have an E-Charge button, plus an E-Hold that will maintain the batteries current charge state. And then you have the sport modes.

In Sport mode the battery’s charge is kept at the minimum required level. This is to provide sufficient boost for when you shove the accelerator into the firewall. In Sport Plus mode the batteries charge faster (throwing fuel economy out of the window) enabling more frequent and longer periods of full boost and max performance.

Cayenne E-Hybrid goes (nearly) like a sports car

The way the Cayenne defies physics while going round corners is an old story. This third-generation SUV only enhances that reputation of being the best driver’s SUV. It’s absurd, the kind of speed you carry through bends, the air suspension and PDCC working wonders in terms of body control even with the g-force meter registering 1-g. And when you run out of grip the Cayenne’s electronics doesn’t shut everything down unlike in other SUVs. Instead it starts shuffling torque to steer the Porsche towards the apex. Exiting corners with vigour you feel it hunkering down on its rear wheels with a faint hint of oversteer, rather than dreadful understeer to drive you off the cliff and into the Mediterranean. There’s also the helm that is precise and well-weighted. Together with the rear-wheel steering it makes the Cayenne fabulously responsive and eager. The steering is so quick and the front end so darty that a heavy right foot very early in the corner will require a dab of counter steer. There’s a naughty side to this 2-tonne SUV. An agility and a feedback loop that you just do not expect in something so vast.

“It’s absurd, the kind of speed you carry through bends, the air suspension and PDCC working wonders in terms of body control “

If there’s one area that could do with better feel it is the brakes. Though a marked improvement over the regenerative brakes on other electrics and hybrids it is still difficult to drive the Cayenne eHybrid smoothly in stop-go traffic what with the artificial feel of the brake pedal.

Still want that diesel?

Why do we buy diesels? Running costs, obviously. Though it has narrowed over the years there is still a significant enough difference in the cost of fuel. The lower fuel consumption of diesel engines makes it lighter on the pocket. Even to people spending a crore on their car. Or SUV. But what if a petrol motor can match the running costs of a diesel? Would you then bother with the grumble and clatter of a diesel?

That’s what the Cayenne E-Hybrid is all about. Now inter-city driving, like Mumbai-Pune will not, deliver the kind of efficiency (or range) that a diesel will. But for the most part of your driving (that is within the city) the E-Hybrid will actually deliver the same running costs as a diesel – more in fact because Porsche quotes a fuel efficiency of 31.25kmpl. Plus you have that giant performance for the weekend drive to the hills.

The Cayenne E-Hybrid is to be launched in India this September. It will not be priced at much of a premium to the diesel – which may not come at all in any case – and that makes Porsche’s newest SUV a very interesting proposition.

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