Review of: 2016 Porsche Cayenne AWD 4dr S E-Hybrid
2016 Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid: Plug-in performance
By Jil McIntosh
Mar. 25, 2016
If you want to get envious looks, drive down the street in a Porsche Cayenne. If you want to get strange looks, take it home and plug it into the wall.
My tester was the Cayenne S E-Hybrid plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Still relatively uncommon on our roads, PHEVs automatically switch between gasoline, electricity or a combination as with conventional hybrids, but with a twist. After being plugged in, PHEVs will run, fuel-free, on that stored charge. When it runs out, they revert to regular hybrid operation. Unlike a completely electric car, a PHEV will run even if it’s never plugged in, as long as it has gas in the tank.
While the general idea of a PHEV is to save fuel and reduce emissions, this is a Porsche after all. So the system works a little differently from, say, the plug-in versions of Toyota’s Prius or Ford’s C-Max Energi. While the S E-Hybrid can be an environmentalist’s dream when driven under the right circumstances, drive it hard and you’ll get the maximum sports-performance benefit from that gas-electric combo. The Cayenne used to be available as a non-plugged hybrid, but now the S E-Hybrid is the only electrically-enhanced model.
While the entry-trim Cayenne starts at $67,400, and the Cayenne S at $84,500, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid begins at $87,700. Porsche had loaded several options onto mine, including a Bose stereo, sport and premium-plus packages, lane departure warning, park assist and 20-inch wheels, for a total of $104,690 prior to freight and taxes.
Pros & Cons
- + Handling
- + Generous low-end torque
- + Interior design
- - Limited all-electric range
- - Value for money
- - Price of options
I’ve always liked the Cayenne’s smooth-yet-rugged looks, and the S E-Hybrid follows that styling, but with just a few touches to let others know that there’s a little more here.
For one thing, there are two filler doors: the driver’s side is for the electrical plug, while the passenger side accepts the required 91-octane gasoline. The other giveaways are raised badges with neon-green accents so bright they look like they’re backlit, along with matching green brake calipers that are a bit over the top.
The cabin also follows the Cayenne’s corporate design, with rows of buttons and toggles that make it look like an airplane cockpit (but which, once you figure out their positions, are actually quite intuitive).
While the instrument cluster contains the usual five pods, the filling’s a little different in some of them. There’s a gauge that shows if you’re running on electricity or gasoline, and one that shows how much charge is in the storage battery. The programmable pod, to the immediate right of the speedometer, can be configured to display the energy flow between engine and battery.
The Sport and Sport Plus buttons are in their usual spot on the centre console, alongside the settings for suspension damping and adjustable height. Unique to the S E-Hybrid are the E-Power and E-Charge buttons, with explanations to follow.
This is normally where I tell you all about the audio system and how well everything connects with a phone, but given the unusual functions of those “E-buttons,” I’ll use this space for them.
The S E-Hybrid plugs into a regular wall socket, on either 120V, which takes about eight hours to fully charge, or 240V, which reduces it to just over two hours. That gives you a maximum all-electric range of about 23 kilometres. The cord locks into the vehicle plug so passers-by can’t make off with it, and the vehicle won’t start if it’s plugged in, preventing any YouTube-worthy drive-aways.
The “E-Power” function is by default whenever you start up, allowing you to run on the battery alone, and at speeds of up to 125 km/h. However, this being a Porsche, putting your foot to the floor will override it and engage the gasoline engine to run in tandem with the electric motor for maximum power. You can shut off E-Power, saving the charge for later; Sport or Sport Plus mode will also deactivate it.
Most PHEVs have to be plugged in each time to get that window of electric-only driving, but the Cayenne’s E-Charge system can do it while you’re driving by harnessing the gas engine to recharge the storage battery.
It works best on uninterrupted stretches, and I activated it on the highway. After some 15 kilometres on gasoline, I racked up six kilometres’ worth of battery charge, which I then used on the highway by pressing the E-Power button. When it ran out I went back to charging, and built it up again for city streets when I got off the highway.
It’s a neat system, but it would be interesting to know if I actually saved anything, since the charging system puts extra load on the engine. Did that fuel-free segment make up for it, or would I have burned less overall if I’d driven on regular hybrid operation with no charging load?
The S E-Hybrid uses a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 that makes 333 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque, but when it and the electric motor operate together, you get a maximum of 416 horsepower, along with 435 lb.-ft. of torque that peaks at just 1,250 rpm. It’s all mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and like all hybrids, the engine shuts off at idle.
The gas-electric hybrid system automatically switches between the two as needed, but it’s not always as seamless as some other hybrids, especially when you’re driving it moderately. There’s a split-second lag from a stop while the system comes to life, and you sometimes feel a slight bump when the gas engine kicks in. The sharp handling and the adjustable suspension’s ability to go from smooth to sport are as impressive as in the non-hybrid versions, but buyers unfamiliar with plug-ins will find that, overall, there are differences in the drive.
This Cayenne wears two hats: it can be extremely frugal for everyday driving, but will still give you sports-model performance when you’re ready to kick loose. For a few days, I faithfully plugged it in and drove distances that were close to the fuel-free range, and piled on 230 kilometres using less than an eighth of a tank of gas. (I would have done even better, except it hadn’t been charged prior to my 40-km drive to bring it home.) But on the highway and during some let’s-have-some-fun mileage, the needle moved as quickly as on other Cayenne models.
Overall, during the week, I averaged 8.2 L/100 km. Natural Resources tags it as 11.3 in the city and 9.8 on the highway running on gasoline alone, and 5.0 Le/100 km when on electricity only.
Porsche doesn’t have a non-plugged hybrid for price comparison, but the E-Hybrid version is $3,200 more than the 420-horsepower Cayenne S. It isn’t cheap to be “green.”
Most automakers with PHEVs offer them alongside their hybrid siblings. Offer really is the appropriate word, rather than sell, because most people won’t pay the extra cash for that short battery range and very few actually go out the door. They’re often referred to as “California-compliance” cars, because they help automakers meet that state’s strict environmental standards, which allows them to sell everything else there. If Porsche must have a plug-in on its fleet, then offering it alone is probably the best strategy.
So should you plug in your Porsche? I have to admit there’s a certain novel satisfaction to doing just that, but you’re paying a considerable premium for that fuel saving, and there are some performance trade-offs that some drivers might find a little too un-Porsche-like. It all depends on the driver, but spend some time behind the wheel before you spend the cash.