2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid: Drive Review

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Very few people think of Porsches and trailer hitches in the same sentence. We didn't, until a recent weekend, but our Porsche had one.

It also had all-wheel-drive and ground clearance of more than 10 inches, when the suspension was raised to its maximum height to clear our rock driveway, better known as "the streambed."

We weren't testing a classic rear-engined 911 coupe, nor a canvas-roofed Boxster sports car. Instead, we were driving the highest-volume Porsche, a hulking sport-utility vehicle that pairs performance with SUV virtues like towing and high ground clearance.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

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In fact, we were driving the first hybrid-electric vehicle Porsche has built and sold. At least, the first one since around 1900, when young engineer Ferdinand Porsche designed the "Semper Vivus" series hybrid (recently recreated by Porsche) that led to a small run of Lohner-Porsche production hybrids a century ago.

Getting good gas mileage

For a fast, heavy five-seat sport utility, the 2011 Cayenne hybrid has decent EPA ratings: 20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and a combined rating of 21 mpg.

That's an improvement on the 16 city, 23 highway, 19 combined that the base Cayenne with a 3.6-ilter V-6 and the eight-speed Tiptronic gets, and considerably better than the 15 city, 22 highway, and 17 combined delivered by the fire-breathing Cayenne Turbo with its 500-hp turbocharged V-8.

So what'd we get in the real world? Over a 619-mile trip that covered both Manhattan streets and the lovely two-lane roads of upstate New York--climbing numerous hills in the center of the state and then coasting right back down again--our Porsche hybrid gave us a startling 27.7 mpg overall.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid road test, Catskill Mountains, NY, August 2011

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid road test, Catskill Mountains, NY, August 2011

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For amusement, on one 3-mile stretch from our house all the way down the hill, we were able to keep the car entirely in electric mode once the engine switched off after warmup. That briefly boosted our mileage for that segment to 39.2 mpg.

It's not relevant to the broader test, but hey, when's the last time a Porsche has gotten almost 40 mpg under any circumstance?

We didn't drive aggressively (we'll save that for the real Porsche sports cars), but we also didn't particularly maximize mileage. In other words, the hybrid system really does help increase the gas mileage of this heavy SUV.

VW Group hybrid

The 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid uses the Volkswagen Group hybrid system, as does the 2012 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid with which the hybrid Cayenne shares much of its running gear and a basic platform.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

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The engine is a 333-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged and direct-injected V-6, paired to Porsche's standard eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox. Between the two is a 34-kilowatt (47-hp) electric motor with a clutch on either side.

The electric motor can power the Porsche alone, under certain circumstances; it can add torque to the engine output, improving performance without increasing fuel consumption; or it can recharge the battery pack through regenerative braking.

Unlike twin-motor systems from Toyota and Ford, however, it can't do those things simultaneously. It can only do one of the three at any given time.

"Sailing" at high speeds

Porsche has tuned the Cayenne S Hybrid to allow it to run solely on electricity--which it calls "sailing"--at speeds as high as 97 mph. The engine disengages, the motor clutches into the drivetrain, and it alone turns the rear wheels under light loads for distances of as much as 2 miles.

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