2015 Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid First Drive
A People-Moving, Stuff-Carrying, Electric-Driven (Well-Heeled) Urbanite's Dream
Silence. Well, almost silence. A triumvirate of faint sounds invaded my space at 80 mph: a low whine from the 95-horsepower synchronous electric motor; the tick of a Sport Chrono set on a leather-bound dash; a hum from four low-rolling-resistance Michelin Latitude Sports contacting ephemeral swathes of autobahn. Past my hands, at dead center, the tachometer's needle sat lifeless.
Finally, a gap in traffic. The pavement was too immaculate, too beautiful, too unrestricted by German law to not indulge in a balls-out sprint. My right foot could not flatten any farther or quicker. At 80 percent of full throttle, a clutch divorcing the motor from the 333-horse, 325 lb-ft 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 re-engaged, prodding the engine to life, and in a two absurdly quick downshifts, my steed hit speeds that would be felonious in America. The calmness and smoothness of the 5,000-pound SUV's movements belied the thick emerald forest flying madly by. It seemed almost too laborious for the digital speedometer to call out our pace: 75 mph … 93 mph … 125 mph. The increments of speed were shown in chunks, not acute splits.
Ahead, maybe a half mile, an ocean of LED brake lights glowed. Lifting off the throttle brought about a gentle resistance from the powertrain; it was one part speed curtailer, one part power producer. Without any effort on my end, the Cayenne instantly converted its forward momentum into energy to be stored by its onboard 10.8-kW-hr lithium-ion battery. The center display showed an animated reverse power flow that initiated at the engine, motor, and permanent, rear-biased, all-wheel-drive system and led toward the electric power supply. Tiny glowing arrows indicated where the energy was headed.
As my Cayenne slowed to below 85 mph, pure electric drive once again sprang to life. Tick-tock. The hum loudened. The tachometer needle stopped. An absence of engine noise returned as the Cayenne glided atop die Autobahn, not a drop of premium-grade imbibed. A dim din of gears being selected reared below my right hand, as if its internal combustion engine (ICE) were hard at work. Of course, such wasn't the case.
I had fully experienced E-Power, one of the E-Hybrid's four drive modes that, if there's enough juice in the battery, will always have the Cayenne's powertrain reverting to zero-emission motivation. (The Cayenne automatically starts in E-Power if there's sufficient battery charge.) Another mode, Hybrid, engages when E-Power is switched off, and it has the 382-volt electric drivetrain boosting the V-6 with every throttle depression. E-Charge mode heightens the regenerative processes used by the V-6 (the engine acts as a generator in this setting) and braking system to recharge the battery. Sport/Sport Plus largely do away with fuel economy while lending substantial crispness to the throttle, steering, and gearbox, and they combine both electric and ICE power sources to produce the maximum 416 horsepower and 435 lb-ft output, up from last year's 380 horses and 428 lb-ft.
The motor and gearbox are transplants from last year's venerable Panamera S E-Hybrid. But to compensate for the Cayenne's additional poundage, higher capacity -- and in greater abundance -- 28 Ah cells within the same size battery case were installed. (The Panamera's battery size is 9.4 kW-hrs.) They allow the sport/ute to drive 22 miles at 85 mph on electric power, given the ideal charge circumstances.
But that's not all. Plug a fully depleted Cayenne into a 240-volt German-spec power outlet, and in around 3.5 hours it will regain 100-percent charge. (Europeans will have an optional 7.2-kW charger mode if plugged into a higher voltage connection, which can recharge the depleted battery in less than 90 minutes.) No plug? No problem. By using regenerative braking and E-Charge mode, Porsche quotes 80 percent charge recuperation in 30 minutes or so of combined city and highway driving.
Even though the autobahn -- and my behavior on it -- hardly took full advantage of the parallel hybrid's fuel-efficiency characteristics, the Cayenne maintained its battery's charge for about half of my two-hour Frankfurt-to-Stuttgart run. A substantial portion of the drive was accomplished in E-Charge to regain some energy that I had quickly expelled. On the next day's high-speed, multi-cornered Sport Plus jaunts through desolate forests, the S E-Hybrid upheld the range's reputation as an astute hustler and agile mover despite its large dimensions and heftiness. Steering feel proved lackluster in feedback; then again, this is an SUV. And it's a hybrid. The world's first luxury plug-in SUV, Porsche says, mind you.
A year ago the hybrid Cayenne offered no all-electric drive function, nor was there any plug-in capability. It also used a nickel-metal hydride battery and a weaker 46-horsepower electric motor. Owners of this year's model can flap steering-wheel-mounted paddles controlling a retuned eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic (same unit as before). They can also view their hybrid's charge levels and efficiency figures in real time via the Porsche Car Connect mobile app.
Inside, redesigned hybrid-specific instruments occupy the area behind an available Sport Design Multifunction steering wheel; a power meter replaces the traditional speedometer; and a battery charge status indicator takes over the space where a fuel tank level gauge would otherwise sit. The needles, of course, are sprayed in Porsche's recognizable E-Hybrid livery, the distinct and catchy Acid Green.
The cabin is furnished with the usual Cayenne appointments, but the driver's feet will feel touchier and at times stiffer feedback from pedals. Such tactility stems from the hybrid drive's regenerative calibrations but becomes a nonissue in a short time. If they've spent any amount of time inside a Panamera S E-Hybrid, distinctions in refinement between the siblings are clear. The sedan is smoother in electric-to-ICE transitions, and vice versa. Its cabin is quieter, too -- likely a result of the extended tinkering time engineers had with the Panamera. (It was introduced more than a year ago.)
The EPA's data crunchers quote the hybrid's combined fuel economies at 47 mpge while using electric power and 22 mpg on ICE power, with an estimated single-tank range of 480 miles. That represents an improvement, albeit minimal, against last year's 20/24/21 city/highway/combined rating. Still, if long-distance or highway commuting is the norm, buyers should really consider the 2015 Cayenne Diesel (20/29/23) and its 607-mile single-tank range.
Nonetheless, the S E-Hybrid will almost certainly be the Cayenne that fuel-conscious city dwellers will appreciate most. If not for its near-silent electric-only gait, its plug-in versatility, or its highly respectable fuel economy, then, it will be adored for its genetic predisposition to be as much fun on the autobahn as it is on a favorite backcountry road. Its hood does bear the Porsche crest after all.