Have the Germans managed it? Well hi-tech features promise much for drivers, while a Plug-in Hybrid version and efficiency improvements across the range claim to keep the green lobby at bay.
Porsche might well have finally figured out how to bring us a hybrid version of its large Cayenne SUV that will tempt users away from diesel engines. The Plug-in petrol/electric Cayenne ‘S E-Hybrid’ is good for 416bhp, features a much slicker hybrid drive system and is priced identically to the Cayenne S Diesel. If you can afford one, then the idea of a five-seat, 150mph Porsche that returns over 83mpg, emits just 79g/km of carbon dioxide and can cover around 20 miles on electric power alone may be tempting indeed. This is a car like no other.
Porsche’s Cayenne continues to set the benchmark when it comes to driving satisfaction in a large luxury SUV. Drive one on a racetrack and it’ll steer with a directness that no other car in this class can match, with an optional active anti-roll system on hand to make it corner like one too. At full chat, the petrol engines even sound suitably red-blooded. All that weight has to tell somewhere of course – and you certainly feel it under braking – but by and large, like it or not, this car represents an astonishing engineering achievement. Especially as the on-demand 4WD system combines with optional air suspension to create impressive off road prowess.
The improved MK2 model offers mainstream Cayenne S and Cayenne GTS petrol buyers a 3. 6-litre bi-turbo V6 to replace the previous 4. 8-litre V8, the more modern unit delivering extra efficiency and more power: there’s either 420 or 440bhp, depending on the variant you choose. The old V8 lives on in the 520bhp Turbo and 570bhp Turbo S petrol models at the top of the range. Most Cayenne users though, choose a diesel, either a 262bhp 3. 0-litre V6 unit or the potent 385bhp 4. 2-litre V8 of the top S Diesel. As an alternative to that car, there’s the petrol/electric ‘S E-Hybrid’ model, a car that delivers low running costs but still can make 62mph in under 5s, return over 83mpg, emit just 79g/km of carbon dioxide and cover around 20 miles on electric power alone
Plug-in petrol/electric hybrid technology is a key addition to the improved Cayenne line-up, enabling you to charge the car from the mains when you're not driving it. The old ‘non-plug-in’ Cayenne S Hybrid model's ancient nickel metal hydride battery has been replaced with a hi-tech lithium-ion unit with over five times the storage capacity. As a result, when you do set off, you'll have a decent electric-only operating range to play with. To be specific, you get somewhere between 11 and 22 miles, depending on speed and conditions - which is quite a step forward given that the original version wouldn't go much more than a mile or so before its engine cut in.
But the car isn't only about frugality. That battery boosts performance too, aided by a 95bhp electric motor that's over twice as powerful as before. What hasn't changed is the 333bhp Audi-sourced 3. 0-litre supercharged V6 petrol engine it's paired with, the two working together to create a combined system power output of 416bhp, accessed via four selectable operating modes - E-Power, Hybrid, E-Charge and Sport. Unless the temperatures below freezing or you've forgotten to charge the car up, you'll always be starting off in electric-only 'E-Power', in which near-silent guise the car is capable of an impressive maximum speed of as much as 77mph. When the battery range is used up or you need to use the kickdown for rapid acceleration, the car will automatically switch to petrol/electric 'Hybrid' mode, a setting you might also want to switch to early if, for example, you want to save the battery charge for some city driving later on in your trip. Mind you, that may not be necessary thanks to the clever 'E-Charge' option which can charge that battery as you drive. Finally, there's the 'Sport' mode which harnesses the power of the petrol engine with the full boost of the electric motor to spirit this 2. 3-tonne luxury SUV to 62mph in just 5. 9s en route to 151mph.
These days, the improved second generation Cayenne is quite a smart-looking thing but in the past, this car rarely has been. The MK1 model’s attempt to graft a Porsche 911 front end onto Volkswagen Touareg underpinnings never sounded like a good idea – and wasn’t. Since then, to be frank, the designers have struggled with the task of integrating all-terrain toughness with the brand’s trademark sportscar style. Still, the original second generation model showed the possibilities here and the facelifted version takes its lead from the company’s smaller Macan SUV in perfecting the possibilities of this design.
You notice this most evidently at the front end where a redesigned bonnet features shutlines now pushed right out towards the restyled wings. Piercing bi-xenon headlamps incorporate four-point LED daytime running lights and below them lie Macan-style airfins that more effectively cool the enormous engine bay.
Up front, you’ll find yourself sat in what is arguably the nicest driving environment in the luxury SUV sector. Cocooning you 911-style into the brilliantly supportive multi-adjustable leather or alcantara-trimmed sports seat is a button-heavy lower console section with a bank of chrome-trimmed switches that run down the transmission tunnel and create the intended wrap-around cockpit-like feel. It’s anything but minimalist, but the ergonomics are difficult to fault once you adjust to the layout and there’s a huge range of adjustment to enable even the portliest people to get comfortable.
Raising the now electrically operated tailgate reveals a boot that’s one of the very largest in the class, the 670-litre capacity giving you a massive 181-litres more space than you’d find in a comparable Range Rover Sport and, more surprisingly, 90-litres more capacity than you’d get in a Volkswagen Touareg.
This, we think, is a more credible Cayenne. For the few who’ll consider conventional petrol power in the S and GTS versions, the 3. 6-litre bi-turbo engine introduced is a less characterful but more sensible progression from the old 4. 8-litre V8. And the Plug-in technology of the ‘S E-Hybrid’ variant at last means that a petrol/electric version of this car makes some sort of sense. Not enough though, to prevent the majority of users from continuing to choose diesel power.
We understand that preference. And we also understand why for some luxury SUV buyers, there’s simply nothing else quite like a Cayenne. This was the model that opened up Porsche ownership to a whole new group of people. They’re not sportscar purists but they love the idea of sportscar technology being applied to make a real luxury 4x4 appeal to real drivers. Certainly it took the German brand some time to get this right, early Cayennes were rightly forgettable. But the lighter, faster, greener and better looking revised MK2 version is hugely impressive, in many ways the most astonishing car of its kind we’ve yet driven.
If you simply want a more cost-effective way to run a Cayenne, then the Diesel version provides it. That variant can’t match the ‘S E-Hybrid’ model’s performance though, it’s exemplary refinement or its hi-tech appeal.
This car’s appeal remains a devastatingly effective statement of its brand’s technological know-how, a glimpse into the future of just how efficient powerful luxury SUVs can be. Porsche-style.