Road test: Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

Owning a big, powerful car is definitely not PC in these green car-buying times. Porsche's solution for green-conscious SUV owners is this hybrid version of their second-generation Cayenne.

A first for Porsche, I tried this £70,597 S version for a week to see how green it actually is and whether it offers an alternative to the established Lexus RX400h as a green SUV.
The second-generation Cayenne gets off to a good start in the looks department. Like the original it could never be called a beauty, but this car is definitely more attractive and seems less bulky than the last car.

At the front, the nose seems smoother and more Porsche-like. It still has a mouthy front airdam, but both the headlights and driving lights seem better integrated.

From the side the latest Cayenne seems sleeker and less chunky. I particularly like the way the large LED rear lights cut into the rear quarters.

Move to the back of the Cayenne and the styling is again dominated by the rear light clusters. Curving their way across the boot, other rear design features include the deep rear bumper and the sporty-looking twin rear exhaust pipes.

Sadly, the Cayenne's long nose and short rear does cause visibility problems at both the front and back. It's worse at the front, as the way that the nose falls away means you can't see where it ends. Thankfully, front and rear parking sensors are fitted as standard giving confidence when manoeuvring or parking in tight spaces.

The Cayenne Hybrid is powered by a 333hp 3.0-litre V6 supercharged engine shared with the current Audi S4, this is combined with a 47hp electric motor. Emissions of 193g/km and 34.4mpg fuel consumption figures are quite impressive considering the performance.

I can't think of any other SUV that can grip or attack corners like the Porsche, this is despite its 2240kg weight and height. Whilst it might have a hybrid badge on the side, it still drives like a proper Porsche and is fun. It's a shame then, that the electric power assisted steering is not more responsive, lacking in feel.

The optional 19-inch Cayenne Turbo alloy wheels fitted to the test car didn't really fill the Porsche off-roaders big arches in the same way a set of 21-inchers would, but the upshot of smaller wheels and the optional air suspension are a reasonably refined ride.

Possibly the coolest feature of the Cayenne's hybrid drivetrain has to be what Porsche calls 'sailing'. If you lift off the throttle, the engine is disengaged, leaving just the electric motor working, so you effectively cruise along on electric power.

It's both strange and scary when this happens for the first time and you need to think about the road conditions, but it's fun rolling along watching the screen telling you how long you've travelled at zero emissions and feels very un-Porsche.

Build quality is excellent, as you'd expect for a car costing in test car form over £70,000. The plastics, metal finishes and optional leather trim feel luxurious.

Still, the mechanicals are proven and the latest Cayenne should follow the last and uphold Porsche's reputation for reliability.

This Porsche hybrid might be powered by a 3.0-litre V6 supercharged engine, but it's disappointingly hushed, even under heavy acceleration. This engine seems to gives its best in the mid-range, but acceleration is reassuringly swift and if you select the sport mode you get engine braking.

The automatic gearbox is smooth enough, but progress is made jerky by a less than smooth clutch and maybe eight gears are too many? Still, this gearbox does have to contend with two ECUs working out whether to use petrol or electric power.

Considering its weight, 62mph comes up in an impressive 6.5 seconds and can run on to a top speed of 130mph. With all this performance I wish the brakes had more feel, sometimes they almost seem like an on/off switch!

The latest Cayenne is 48mm longer, with a 40mm longer wheelbase. As such, there's plenty of interior space both front and rear. Even with the rear –mounted battery pack, the 580 litre boot is competitive.

Our test car was in S trim, which included alloy wheels, cruise control and climate control. It also had plenty of options including £2,380 of air suspension and £2,137 of Porsche Communication Management system.

So what did I think of the Cayenne Hybrid and would I buy one if I could afford it? Despite the impressive mix of performance and economy it would have to be a no. The diesel version of the Cayenne is cheaper, offers similar fuel economy and when I drove it at launch last year it seemed smoother.

Still, if it was the choice between the Cayenne and a Lexus RX, I would buy the Porsche.

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