SUDBURY, Ontario—If you’ve ever visited northern Ontario, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the Big Nickel monument in Sudbury. The 30-foot-tall coin is the city’s way of letting folks know, yeah, the Sudbury Basin is the second-largest producer of nickel ore in the world. No big deal.
From the basin four hours north of Toronto, Sudbury’s nickel gets shipped everywhere and winds up in everything, from jet engines to furnaces—even to hybrid car batteries. The Porsche Cayenne we drove there would have been powered by a nickel-hydride battery, in fact, were it a five-year-old S Hybrid model.
But, unfortunately for Sudbury, when Porsche debuted its next-gen S E-Hybrid Cayenne in 2014, the automaker switched to a lithium-ion battery, with more than six times the energy capacity – 10.8 kWh – of the old nickel one.
Like the Big Nickel, the new 2017 Cayenne S E-Hybrid makes a statement: it’s Porsche’s way of letting folks know, yeah, we’re all about being on the cutting edge of technology. No big deal.
The Cayenne S E-Hybrid is the spitting image of its gasoline-powered sibling, which is to say it’s handsome. While we weren’t big fans of the first-gen Cayenne, the revisions made to this year’s model are all for the better.
Ours came in a gorgeous deep-blue-purple Purpurite Metallic colour, a $3,590 option, with black interior. It contrasted perfectly with the neon-lime accents – the quickest way to tell you’re looking at a Cayenne E-Hybrid – on the brake calipers and behind the badging.
The Platinum Edition trim ours came in adds wheel arch extensions to wrap around the slick 20-inch RS Spyder Design wheels. Overall it makes for one very attractive package that legitimately earned a 90-second stare from one passerby.
There’s little to complain about inside the Cayenne S E-Hybrid. Platinum models get eight-way power adjustable front seats with Alcantara inserts with seat heating—that last bit’s important when you’re braving Ontario’s frozen north. The split rear bench was equally as comfortable, and we got no complaints regarding legroom from the passengers stuffed back there.
Instrument panel layout was superb: one of the gauge faces worked as a mini-nav screen, which was handy, while another gave you a read-out on how much battery power was being consumed or recaptured, via braking, for example. The controls along the center stack were all where they should be, and a console-mounted “E-Charge” and “E-Power” button let you easily switch from hybrid battery charging to discharging.
The bird’s-eye-view ParkAssist is the best such unit I’ve found in any luxury SUV, instilling a close-quarters confidence that makes backing in anywhere a breeze.
The only slight against the Cayenne’s interior may have been that not all features were super-intuitive. The adaptive cruise control, for example, worked seamlessly, but it took a while to figure out how to work it. It didn’t help the snow kicked up from the highway kept blocking the camera and sensors, rendering it unusable.
Overall, though, the inside of the Cayenne S E-Hybrid was an almost-perfect place to spend a long road trip; the drive was comfortable, even over eight hours of driving, and the panoramic glass roof made for a great view of the stars in the clear skies over Highway 69.
My expectations regarding the Cayenne’s performance were not high, it being a high-riding SUV and all, and before I got behind the wheel I was already mulling over different ways of saying “it’s no 911, but, on the other hand, at least you can road trip it.”
That story angle was tossed out the window almost as soon as I left the parking lot where I picked it up and got on the gas pedal. The 435 lb-ft of torque delivered by the combination gas-and-electric drivetrain move you out without hesitation, and can get you to 100 km/h from a stop in fewer than six seconds.
Braking performance was equally impressive, as was handling, so suffice it to say flashbacks to my seat time in the 2017 Porsche 911 range ’round Mosport last summer happened more often than I expected. The Cayenne S E-Hybrid is like a 911 you can road trip.
The power comes on thanks to a 333-horsepower 3.0-litre supercharged V6 and a 95-horsepower electric motor that combined offer 416 horsepower. It routes that through an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission and limited-slip center diff, and then on to all four corners, where 275-mm-section pieces of all-weather rubber put it to the ground.
Stopping duties are handled by six-piston-caliper ventilated discs up front, with four-pistons clamping down on the rear.
We didn’t get a chance to plug in the 10.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that lives under the rear of the trunk floor, but Porsche claims with the 7.2-kW charger and access to a high-voltage outlet, it can be topped up in just 90 minutes.
If you exhaust its 18 to 36 km or e-range once you’re road-bound on a hours-long slog up snow-blown highways, though, the only way to get that juice back is by flicking that E-Charge switch and watching your fuel economy falter 20 percent. We instead ran mostly on fuel alone, and returned real-world numbers only a little worse than Porsche’s advertised (combined) 10.6 L/100 km (22 mpg).
Perhaps more impressive than all of those numbers is just how seamlessly the two halves of the drivetrain worked together. The advantage Porsche’s earned in being one of the first plug-in hybrid SUV manufacturers to market shows—and it explains how they’ve stayed on the cutting edge of technology.
The one sore spot for prospective buyers may be the Cayenne S E-Hybrid’s price. It starts at $87,700, but sees a bump to $92,100 for the Platinum Edition. Optioned-out, our tester came to $111,200. Ouch.
That’s well above the cash you’ll dole out for all of the hybrid’s rivals, from the BMW X5 xDrive40e to the Volvo XC90 T8 to the Mercedes-Benz GLE550e.
That said, the Porsche also boasts some of the best on-paper numbers of the lot (save for the Benz’s slightly quicker zero-to-100 km/h) so while you’re paying the most, you’re arguably also getting the best.
Porsche knows the Cayenne S E-Hybrid is not going to sell in any big numbers, but that just feeds the argument it’s a sort of an undercover flagship model.
With sports-car-esque driving dynamics but long-hours-road-trip comfort, it strikes a balance few other vehicles in any segment do. Its sexy-but-conventional packaging stands out but doesn’t give away its hybrid-tech underpinnings.
In other words, as I said from the start, the 2017 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid is simply the company’s way of making a statement: yeah, we’re all about being on the cutting edge of technology. No big deal.