2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, Autos.ca

What would Sheldon drive?

If that super-geek astrophysicist on the hit show, Big Bang Theory, were to buy some wheels (that’s assuming he can drive, which he probably can’t), I’d bet the farm on it being a 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

Not because this green-tinged SUV goes down the road like a Porsche; or because it drinks about 20 per cent less fuel than the 4.8-litre V8-powered Cayenne S; or because it will dust off 100 km/h in a spritely 6.5 seconds.

No, Sheldon would choose the Cayenne Hybrid S because there’s enough technology crammed in here to impress even his know-it-all self. Plus it would be a terrific source for long-winded and smarter-than-thou techno-babble – of which he is so famous. It’s the veritable mother-lode of geek-speak.

We all know Porsche is an engineering company (what they’ve done with the 911 over the past 47 years is somewhat mind boggling), so it’s a given when the minds at Zuffenhausen set on creating a gas/electric hybrid premium sports utility vehicle – with an emphasis on sports – they’re going to face the challenge head on and come up with some unique solutions.

Whether or not the whole concept makes any sense is worth some debate. Ever stringent fuel economy and CO2 targets combined with certain market’s propensity (US mainly) for hybrid worship (although not necessarily purchase) are why the Cayenne S Hybrid exists: a niche within a niche. Indeed, other markets get a Cayenne diesel that returns about the same mileage.

Cayenne-resenting Porsche purest will get even grumpier learning the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid uses a direct-injected supercharged 3.0-litre V6 engine borrowed from the Audi S4 sports sedan. Rated at 333 hp and 324 lb-ft, it is paired with an eight-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission (not the twin-clutch PDK variety). Sandwiched between the two is a 34-kilowatt (47-hp) electric motor that’s good for 221 lb.-ft. of torque.

With a combined output of 380 hp and 427 lb.-ft. of torque at just 1,000 rpm, the Cayenne S Hybrid is certainly no eco-weenie. Driveability is a big part of the Porsche experience, and few sacrifices have been made here.

A 1.85-kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery lives under the cargo floor, but the system’s unique bit of hardware is a hydraulic multi-plate clutch between the engine and electric motor that disengages the engine, enabling it to shut down under light loads. Porsche engineers call the result “sailing”, which the Cayenne will do at speeds up to 156 km/h. Think of it as freewheeling. Lift off the gas at any speed and the tach needle swings down to the “ready” position and the engine decouples from the drive-train. At this point, the electric motor is acting as a generator, sending charge to the batteries.

On the highway with a slight downgrade, you’ll sail along until your foot brushes the throttle, at which time the tach swings back into action. I speak of the tachometer here because that is the only indication of the myriad mechanical and electronic functions that seamlessly perform these tasks in 300 milliseconds – there is no vibration or audible cue: quite uncanny.

As with all full hybrids, this Cayenne’s engine stops when coming to a rest.

Battery charging is accomplished in two ways. Following the usual hybrid script, regenerative braking, wherein the electric motor acts as a generator during deceleration, reclaims kinetic energy. The second process is unusual – and Sheldon would assuredly question the logic.

When the electric motor isn’t assisting with propulsion, it is being driven by the V6 in “generator” mode, sending charge to the batteries.

Sheldon would quip, “That’s just plain idiotic. Drawing power from the gas engine to run a generator, to charge a battery pack, to later drive an electric motor to assist said gasoline engine defies all logic.”

To which the even smarter Porsche engineers reply, “The power used by the generator constitutes a further load on the combustion engine, which is therefore able to operate at a more favourable load point with higher efficiency.”

If they say so.

Porsche claims the Cayenne S Hybrid will accelerate on electric power alone up to 60 km/h. E-Power mode allows more throttle travel before the gas engine fires up, and conversely, Sport Mode has the gas/electric combo putting out peak thrust with less pedal pushing. I found in E-Power mode, with a gentle right foot, I could cover quite a bit of ground in eco-silence.

Running this whole ball of wax is a computerized brain trust Porsche dubs Hybrid Manager. Sheldon would call it “sir”.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid is that it doesn’t really feel much like a hybrid at all. With the exception of the sensitive regenerative brakes which require a recalibration of your right foot, this Cayenne drives like there’s a strong V8 under the hood. Indeed, my wife drove into the city and back completely unaware of all the mechanical shenanigans going on below decks.

She liked it better than the Cayenne S with the 400-hp 4.8-litre V8 we recently tested because it had a markedly better ride – probably recalibrated here for the additional 175 kg of hybrid gear and its intended audience.

Step away from the technology and the Cayenne continues to impress. Completely redone for 2011, this second generation Cayenne is considerably lighter across the range, gains 41 mm in the wheelbase, loses it bulbous proportions and gets a vastly better interior with improved ergonomics and a design that draws from the Panamera sedan.

The larger LCD/Nav screen is now high on the console and angled up for better viewing. The broad centre console brings an array of controls easily to hand and the gauge cluster is now classic Porsche with a large central tachometer flanked by two smaller gauges on either side. Another notable improvement is the smaller and nicely contoured steering wheel. The whole execution has a bulletproof air about it that suggests timeless durability.

The front seats are excellent, delivering that magic combo of comfort and lateral support. Rear cabin space is more generous. The back seats now have a recline function and slide fore and aft over a range of 160 mm.

I had a chance to drive the “old” model Cayenne while I had this 2011 in my possession, and its interior looked really dated, especially at night.

While the Hybrid’s steering feel is lighter than in the V8 Cayenne S, it is still supremely accurate. And yes, path control and directional stability will be reassuringly familiar for those who appreciate Porsches.

Recent price adjustments have seen the 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid’s sticker drop from $80,800 to $77,500. The Hybrid asks a $4,800 premium over the 400-hp Cayenne S, which in the grand scheme of all-things-Porsche is a veritable drop in the bucket. Heck, the Sand Yellow paint job on my tester cost $3,590. The lovely full leather interior upgrade was $4,180, the air suspension $4,550, the 19-inch Cayenne Turbo wheels $2,230, and so it goes…

Now for the moment of truth: how does all this techno trickery translate to hard numbers at the gas pump? Official Canadian fuel consumption figures for the 2011 Porsche Cayman S Hybrid are 10.4 L/100 km city and 8.4 L/100 km highway. This is versus 13.4 city and 8.8 hwy for the V8 Cayenne S, and 12.9 city and 8.6 hwy for the base Cayenne V6 (3.6L) fitted with the 8-speed auto. Over several days of mixed driving with temperatures just above zero degrees C, I saw 10.8 L/100 km

For a fast, luxurious, great handling 2,240-kg all-wheel-drive SUV, that’s quite an accomplishment. Does this hybrid Porsche make sense? It will for those who buy them. And if you’re trying to calculate how long it would take to recoup the extra cost in fuel savings, don’t bother. That’s not the point.

The only Cayenne S Hybrid owner geeky enough to do that would be Sheldon.

Pricing: 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

Base price: $77,500

Options: $24,630 (Sand Yellow paint, $3,590: full leather interior black, $4,180: front and rear park assist, $1,250; air suspension w/self leveling, $4,550; ski bag, $470; exterior pkg in black, $180; 19-inch Turbo alloys, $2,230; Basic Package, $5,700; Bose Audio, $2,480)

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,085

Price as tested: $103,315

Specifications

Buyer’s Guide: 2011 Porsche Cayenne

Crash test results

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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