When we named the Porsche Cayenne Sport/Utility of the Year, we expected and received a fair amount of blowback over the price. True, we conceded, the Cayenne isn't cheap, but at a starting price just under $50,000, or about the same as a loaded Ford or Chevy SUV, the Cayenne is still attainable for normal folks, and what's more, it's the best all-around vehicle in its class.

Whether you're attacking the perfect canyon road, climbing a rutted trail or driving to the mall, the Cayenne did it all. On road, it offered top-notch ride quality, handling that would embarrass more than a few sedans, impressive power and plenty of comfort, convenience and hauling capability. Off-road, its height-adjustable air suspension and sophisticated all-wheel drive equipment made it just as capable, if not more so, than all but the toughest truck-based SUVs currently on the market.

Sure, it aced our tests, but would it translate to the ownership experience? Editor-at-Large Angus MacKenzie and I made it our mission over its 12-month stay to find out. MacKenzie went first, driving the canary yellow Cayenne S Hybrid he'd ordered on long road trips across the American west. Bounding down arrow-straight highways, charging through twisting canyons and climbing up dusty trails, he found the big Porsche all but unflappable. Soon after, he handed it off to me and I took up the cause. Determined to weed out its faults, I threw every test I could think of at it.

I can’t get over how cool it is to “sail” down the freeway at 70 mph with the engine off in the Cayenne S Hybrid.

I started with efficiency. At the time, there was no Cayenne Diesel offered in the U.S., so our S Hybrid was the last word in Cayenne efficiency. It's an impressive piece of hardware, offering 380 horsepower and 427 pound-feet of torque combined, good for a 5.6-second zero-to-60 mph time and a 14.3-second quarter-mile, making it the third-fastest hybrid we've ever tested. More impressive is its ability to "sail," coasting at any speed with the engine off. In my daily commute, I found I averaged 15.4 mpg with the engine off 46-percent of the time according to the onboard telemetry. Out on the highway, I averaged just under 22 mpg and saw a best of 23.2 mpg, with the massive 26-gallon tank taking me as far as 552 miles between fill-ups. Not bad for a vehicle weighing 5200 pounds that does a sub-six-second zero-to-60 mph time, and certainly better than any other Cayenne available at the time.

The fuel economy sorted, I started pushing it harder. In the middle of a road trip, more than 400 miles from home, I pumped the air suspension up to its full 10.5 inches of clearance and attacked the same muddy, rutted slopes I'd taken on in a Ram 2500 Power Wagon a few years earlier. The Cayenne spun its wheels a bit as the computer determined which of the street performance and fuel economy biased tires had grip, but it made it up the hill just fine.

Done in the mud, I dropped the suspension back into its low setting, put the chassis and drivetrain in Sport, and tore up the canyon road leading down out of the mountains. Not only was the Cayenne S Hybrid confident and fun to drive in polar opposite situations, but despite the workout and the 4000 feet in elevation change, it returned the second-longest range on that tank of fuel.

Having proven its mettle in likely the toughest stuff a Cayenne S Hybrid will ever see, I switched to the more mundane. After realizing it had no roof racks, I put an eight-foot Christmas tree I'd just cut in the back and drove it 350 miles home to Los Angeles. The tree unloaded, I filled it up with five people, three snowboards, two pairs of skis and bags of cold weather gear and headed back up into the mountains for some night skiing. A few weeks later, I'd drop the seats and fill it to the brim with moving boxes and haul my brother's stuff 150 miles to his new place. The only capability I wasn't able to test was its towing capacity, though we've towed with other Cayennes in the past, so we know it's got the goods.

In 12 months, the Cayenne never failed us. It asked for two oil changes and basic services, it wore out one set of tires and we had a software update performed on the drivetrain computers, but it otherwise demanded no repairs. If we were to complain, it would be about the high price of servicing, but that comes with the luxury performance vehicle territory. From its reliability to its cargo hauling, canyon carving, off-roading and road-tripping expertise, the Porsche Cayenne was every bit the Sport/Utility of the Year we thought it would be. MacKenzie once remarked to me that the Land Rover Range Rover Sport was the best single vehicle on the market because you could drive it across Africa and still get front-row valet parking at the club. I'd argue that the Porsche Cayenne fits that definition just about as well.


2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
Service life 12 mo/26,909 mi
Base price $68,675
Options Premium Package Plus ($11,650: air suspension, rearview camera, heated and cooled seats front seats, heated rear seats, Lane Change Assist, rear side sun screens), Burmester High End Surround Sound System ($5690); Sand Yellow Paint ($3140); 20-in Cayenne SportDesign II Wheels ($2730); XM Satellite Radio ($750); Trailer Hitch ($650)
Price as tested $93,285
Problem areas None
EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Econ 20/24/21 mpg
Avg fuel economy 19.9 mpg
Maintenance cost $1096.21 (2-oil change, inspection; 1-cabin-air filter)
Normal-wear cost $2532.05 (4 Michelin tires, installation, allignment)
3-year residual value* $38,250
Recalls Resecure headlight (AC01)
* Automotive Lease Guide

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Engine type Supercharged 90-deg V-6, alum block/heads, plus AC electric motor
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 182.8 cu in/2995 cc
Compression ratio 10.5:1
Battery type Nickel-metal hydride
Power (SAE net) 333 hp (gas), 47 hp (elec), 380 hp (comb)
Torque (SAE net) 324 lb-ft (gas)
295 lb-ft (elec)
427 lb-ft (comb)
Redline 6600 rpm
Weight to power 15.6 lb/hp
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.27:1/2.26:1
Control arms, coil and air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil and air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 13.3-16.7:1
Turns lock-to-lock 2.6
Brakes, f;r 14.2-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 9.0 x 20-in, cast aluminum
Tires, f;r 275/45R20 110Y
Michelin Latitude Sport
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 114.0 in
Track, f/r 65.2/65.7 in
Length x width x height 190.8 x 76.3 x 67.4 in
Ground clearance 8.7 in
Apprch/depart angle 26.5/25.0 deg
Turning circle 39.1 ft
Curb weight 5202 lb
Weight dist, f/r 52/48%
Towing capacity 7716 lb
Seating capacity 5
Headroom, f/r 39.6/38.9 in
Legroom, f/r 41.0/36.5 in
Shoulder room, f/r 58.9/56.1 in
Cargo volume (beh f/r) 59.7/20.5 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 1.8 sec
0-40 3
0-50 4.2
0-60 5.6
0-70 7.5
0-80 9.6
0-90 12.3
0-100 15.8
Passing, 45-65 mph 3
Quarter mile 14.3 sec @ 95.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 106 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.88 g (avg)
MT figure eight 26.0 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1600 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
Basic warranty 4 yrs/50,000 mi
Powertrain warranty 4 yrs/50,000 mi
Roadside assistance 4 yrs/50,000 mi
Fuel capacity 26.4 gal
Energy cons, city/hwy 169/140 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 emissions 0.90 lb/mile
Recommended fuel Unleaded premium
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