By Thom Blackett for Cars.com
For most every task in life, there are at least two methods of approach. Ask Donald Trump to build you a new home, for example, and the result will be something drastically different than what you’d get from one of Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer squads. Not necessarily better, but different, and designed for clients on opposite ends of the spectrum. The same holds true in regards to hybrid vehicles, a fact documented by the $19,800 Honda Insight and $106,035 Lexus LS 600h L.
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid would also fall in that latter category. Just like the original Cayenne SUV stirred the ire of Porsche purists, the development of a questionably eco-friendly SUV might shake things up again. We’ve driven it, and have some specifications that should help quell fears.
Classified as a full hybrid, the 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid uses the same supercharged V-6 engine as the 2010 Audi S4, but it’s paired with a 38-kilowatt electric motor, a nickel-metal-hydride battery located under the cargo floor (with no corresponding loss in cargo volume) and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Put it all together and you have a powertrain boasting 374 horsepower, 406 pounds-feet of torque, a tow rating comparable to other Cayenne models, and a zero to 60 mph time of about 6.5 seconds. Oh, and fuel economy that Porsche suggests will reach a combined 27 mpg. By comparison, the V-8-powered Cayenne S delivers slightly more horsepower but much less torque and a combined fuel economy of 15 mpg.
As luck would have it, Porsche invited us to experience this supercharged hybrid during a brief drive around some swanky parts of Los Angeles. The surplus of torque made for quick, easy acceleration, and thankfully, this particular hybrid didn’t actually feel like a hybrid. Most hybrids use continuously variable automatic transmissions that are sometimes slow to react as you nail the gas pedal at a green light; the Cayenne’s eight-speed gearbox gets things moving quickly without all of the CVT’s linear-revving fuss.
Another hybrid annoyance — regenerative brakes that cause a dragging sensation every time you lift off the accelerator and press the left pedal — has been fine-tuned. You don’t feel all of the hybrid components working, but you can keep apprised of what’s going on by checking out displays in the gauge cluster and instrument panel.
In terms of driving feel, a new electrohydraulic power-steering system actually delivers better feedback in the hybrid than the traditional unit found in the Cayenne Diesel we also tested on the same route. Our loop didn’t allow us to test Porsche’s claims of traveling up to 32 mph on electric power alone or coasting up to 86 mph without any assistance from the gas engine.
Porsche expects the S Hybrid to comprise about 5 percent to 10 percent of all Cayenne sales when it goes on sale in 2010. Pricing has not been announced, but expect the Hybrid to slot above the $60,000 Cayenne S. Finally, company officials have confirmed that the Cayenne S Hybrid’s technology will also power an upcoming Porsche Panamera Hybrid model.
After our brief encounter, we’re not sure the world really needs a hybrid Porsche SUV, especially given the availability of rides like the diesel-powered BMW X5. Then again, we didn’t think there was much need for a Porsche SUV to begin with, and sales figures have clearly proven us wrong.