Porsche purists blasted it, but the Cayenne sport-utility vehicle probably saved the brand. With an all-wheel drive SUV, Porsche had a vehicle to sell in China and Russia, where newly wealthy buyers want prestigious Western brands, but many roads aren’t good enough for sports cars. It’s now Porsche’s best-selling model.
Large, heavy, and remarkably fast, the Cayenne hardly qualifies as green, especially since the diesel version sold in Europe isn’t likely to make it to the States. But for 2011, a completely redesigned Porsche Cayenne range now includes a hybrid, which carries the performance “S” name. The 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid is rated by the EPA at 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 21 mpg. That’s not bad for a vehicle that sprints from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, tops out at 150 mph, and competes handily in luxury, comfort, and off-road ability with the definitive luxury SUV, the 2011 Range Rover
We won’t even mention the gas-mileage ratings of the base 300-hp V-6, optional 400-hp V-8, and top-of-the-line 500-hp Cayenne Turbo S models.
The Cayenne S Hybrid combines a 333-horsepower, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine, a new eight-speed automatic transmission, and a 34-kilowatt (47-hp) electric motor that sits between engine and transmission. It’s a simpler system than Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, which uses a pair of motor-generators and acts as a continuously variable transmission. The VW Group system used by the Cayenne Hybrid (and the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid too, by the way), can either add torque to supplement the gas engine or recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack via engine power or regenerative braking, but it can’t do both at the same time.
One driving characteristic unique to the Porsche hybrid is a mode the company calls “sailing,” in which the engine turns off and the electric motor alone powers the vehicle under light loads at high speeds—above 70 mph in some cases. But an advantage to the single-motor system is that the 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid sounds like a “regular” car, with the automatic transmission shifting in the normal fashion. That’s the same logic Hyundai used when it designed a similar system for its first-ever Sonata Hybrid, and it makes the hybrid Porsche almost forgettable, except when the engine switches off at stoplights or on the road.
The new 2011 Porsche Cayenne is remarkably versatile, with excellent handling on road and racetrack, married to surprising off-road capability. It’s a few hundred pounds lighter than the outgoing model, and compared to its predecessor, the lines are marginally more svelte. Inside, the instrument panel and console resemble those of the Porsche Panamera four-door luxury sedan, giving it more of a coupe feel, with matte-finish metallic trim. Back-seat space and cargo room are no more than average for the class, and there’s no third-row option, but you don’t buy a Porsche SUV for the same reasons you buy, say, a Chevrolet Suburban.
All-wheel drive is standard, as is air suspension that can raise the ride height several inches for demanding off-road driving. The options list is long and expensive, including high-end audio systems, a panoramic sunroof, wheel and tire options, and a raft of luxury, appearance, and technology upgrades. The 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid carries a base price of $69,000, making it far pricier than the base V-6 Cayenne (starting at around $50,000) though not at the stratospheric heights of the $150,000 Cayenne Turbo S.
For more details, see the full review of the 2011 Porsche Cayenne on our sister site, TheCarConnection.