Porsche recently announced that the long-gestating Cayenne S Hybrid would be hitting European dealer showrooms in 2010, with a trip across the Atlantic sure to follow soon afterward. And it’s about time, as the Cayenne S Hybrid is not some neutered performance SUV that’s all about milking as many miles as possible off a gallon of gas. It’s about having fun with a fast car. The good gas mileage is incidental.
First of all, the reason for the long wait on a Cayenne hybrid was due to practical model issues. The current generation Cayenne is set to be replaced with the next gen platform in 2010, so it didn’t make sense to premier a hybrid model in 2008 or 2009, only to have to redesign the drive train to fit a new platform in a year or two. So, considering that there is a valid fiscal reason for the delay, we can’t fault Porsche for taking so long. Okay, now on to the good stuff.
Under the hood is a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine sourced from Audi that puts out 333 horsepower and 324 lb-ft of torque, which is mated to a 52 horsepower electric motor. The air conditioning and the power steering run off the giant battery pack so as not to hog any power from the engine. The car’s combined power ratings are 374 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 RPM (!), and once you get up to speed, the ratings dip back to what the gasoline engine puts out alone. Or do they?
By far, one of the most unique design features of the Cayenne S Hybrid is the ability to “sail,” as the Porsche designers call it. Basically, when you’re cruising along at highway speeds of up to 86 mph and you let off the gas, the engine will turn off. Once you put your foot back on the accelerator, the engine will get started again in only 300 milliseconds and the 8-speed transmission will seamlessly match your cruising speed to the correct gear on the fly. This seems rather complicated and intruding on paper, but Porsche’s engineers have perfected the idea to be almost unnoticeable, excluding the quiet of the engine being off. In fact, if you have the radio on a high enough volume, you probably wouldn’t even notice the switch unless you were looking at the tachometer as the revs dropped to zero.
“Sailing” is a fuel-saving concept that has been around for years, and a lot of engineers 1970s seriously considered implementing the technology following that decade’s gas shortage. The problem was getting it to be seamless. You’d definitely notice if the engine of a 1970s Buick cut out when you took your foot off the accelerator, and it’d take a lot longer than 300 milliseconds to get it started back up again. With the advanced computer controls now found in premium cars, like the Cayenne, however, it has become a mpg-boosting reality. Also, it gives drivers bragging rights over Prius drivers: “Oh, your Toyota doesn’t sail? Well, my Porsche can go highway speeds without using a drop of fuel.” Granted, the sailing won’t last for too long given air resistance (although it has been minimized for the new Cayenne), but since the car goes 0-to-60 mph in about 6.7 seconds, you’ll be far away before hearing a resonse.
All told, the fuel economy comes in at a combined 26 mpg. Until the car comes to the U.S., we’ll have to wait to get exact city and highway numbers (European standards have a 100 km driving cycle, then they measure the fuel consumed to meet that cycle, so their fuel economy is measure in liters per 100 km, and the Cayenne S Hybrid does 8.9 liters per 100 km). Considering that the current Cayenne models hover around the mid- to high-teens in mpg figures, depending on trim package, that’s fairly good. Also, carbon emissions have been dropped by a full 25% over other Cayenne models.
As you’ll notice in the pictures of the car, there are “Hybrid” badges and decals everywhere. Porsche hasn’t decided the exact layout of the vehicle, or its advertising campaign, but they are planning on having it be understated. Initial reports have placed the price of the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid at 90,000 Euros when it premiers next year in Europe, which translates to around $125,000. However, that number is far too steep for the American market, and straight currency conversions don’t work too well on cars (because of various tax structures, tariffs, etc.), so a more likely figure will be in the $70k range.