Porsche’s just warming us up for the main act. When the electrified show starts please don’t interrupt with your calls for a manual gearbox.
Even though the German carmaker openly (when you ask the same question five times) laments the fact that the world has thrusted electrification upon it, at least Porsche’s making the most of a bad situation. In Zuffenhausen hybrid tech is seen as a way towards more power, faster acceleration, greater performance.
The 918 Spyder hybrid hypercar needs no introduction, and at $1m a pop, made it acceptable to drive around in an electrified Porsche. Going around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in less than seven minutes completed the myth. And strangely enough, hybrid Porsches come well suited to our environment where hardly anyone cares about the environment.
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That’s because first of all hybrids aren’t about the environment — 2.35 tonnes of aluminium and lithium ion is not an efficient way of moving around 20 times less than that in flesh and bone and blood. But look, it’s got green brake callipers and green badge accents so it must care deeply about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.
The all-new third-generation Cayenne has already launched with conventional combustion-engined V8 and V6-engined models, but this latest Cayenne E-Hybrid model wheels went to test in South of France might make more sense than any other in the line-up. At least until the flagship Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid arrives, and therein lies the gist of the matter. Every Porsche model line is due to get electrified variants, and it’s an open secret that Porsche’s working on implementing hybridisation into all kinds of things including 911s. Instead of some kind of novelty, these cars are becoming the norm, the new standard.
Actually they’re becoming the most desirable, most expensive and most powerful cars in the range. If you walk into a Porsche dealership now and ask for a “full options” Panamera, as you do, the nice man in the pointy shoes will give you a 680-horsepower Turbo S E-Hybrid. Hybrids have come to mean the best that Porsche can do.
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In Europe, already, the shift is apparent with 60 per cent of all Panameras sold being hybrids. It’s not hard to imagine a similar scenario in our region one day soon, despite hardly any incentive to drive a lower-emissions vehicle. Okay, you do get free parking around Dubai for example, but it’s not going to help you with any tax write-offs.
Where we are concerned hybrids are about social status — this third-gen Cayenne E-Hybrid is for the early adopter, the kind of buyer who lines up around the block for a new iPhone. Speaking to Porsche reps at the launch in Austria, it seems the Germans merely had to take a look at the number of Teslas whirring around Dubai to justify their Middle East market launch. Anything that keeps the hybrid trend hot works in Porsche’s favour, and in that sense Tesla is an ally, going a long way in changing perceptions of electrified cars.
On its own, the new Cayenne E-Hybrid hardly needs any help. It’s a completely rounded SUV, requiring no acclimatisation — if you’d never driven a car before you wouldn’t question it. Press the right pedal, it accelerates without restraint with the 700Nm of torque mostly available from pretty much idle . Press the left pedal, it slows and stops without the lurch you get in plug-in hybrids with regenerative braking systems. Porsche has polished out the niggles I found even as recently as last year in a Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid around Cape Town where traffic exposed the grabby brakes. It’s all in the code, and the software keeps updating to the point now where driving this electrified Cayenne is no different to driving anything else, except when you have to pass a convoy of Dutchmen in caravans pulling trailers and you have a shrinking opportunity to do so. Then the Cayenne E-Hybrid is very different to almost everything else, with instant e-boost and alarming mid-range grunt.
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This unprecedented change taking place in Zuffenhausen right now as the company celebrates its 70th anniversary is seen on the faces of the men and women who are driving it — many, many new faces. Fifteen years ago Porsche had 12,000 employees. Now the company has over 30,000, and a huge chunk of that goes to work every morning creating next-generation electrified Porsches. Like they did with the 911 all those years ago since 1963, the Germans aren’t rushing development and are tweaking every aspect of Porsche’s hybrid cars as they evolve. This is the company that refused to launch an electric vehicle because although the Mission E was ready, battery technology wasn’t ready for the Mission E, but it will be next year when Porsche launches the company’s first ever all-electric sports saloon.
And even if Porsche would rather just build flat-sixes all day long, this hybrid argument cuts mustard — it feels pretty neat perched up in something so opulent wielding 462 horsepower while burning less petrol than the Twingo over the lane.
In real life driving conditions — rain and cold along the French Riviera — you can quite conceivably do 35km in zero-emissions mode, although Porsche says perfect conditions allow the big SUV to eke out as much as 44km. Without engaging the 3.0-itre turbocharged V6 combustion engine the electric motor will silently power the car to a maximum of 135kph. Give it a ‘kickdown’ and the car will recognise your intent (maybe it’s an emergency manoeuvre on the highway) and instantly put all the power down to the wheels. Then you’re free to go, to 253kph.
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Considering most commutes fall within that 40km mark this luxury SUV could cost you nothing to run over time, particularly if you have somewhere to plug it in at either end of the drive. As standard you get a universal charging plug, but with an optional on-board charger you’ll do the job twice as fast.
The batteries themselves are no bigger or heavier than before, while storing 30 per cent more energy — at 138kg the battery pack is about as heavy as a four-cylinder engine, placed within the wheelbase low down in the frame of the car’s MLB architecture, the same one as the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, and new Volkswagen Touareg.
Porsche rates the combustion engine at 340bhp, but it never dominates the experience because you’re either playing the hypermiling game trying to see if you can hit the claimed 44km zero-emissions range, or you’re boosting for an overtake and the hybrid gush of power outshines the engine with all this instant electric torque.
The steering is quick and precise in this 4,918mm long car, and the relatively small diameter steering wheel helps to shrink the Cayenne E-Hybrid a little around you, at least psychologically. With 300kg extra to lug around compared to a conventional Cayenne, the E-Hybrid should be a bit of a boat, but on summer tyres in wet Europe it tracked like you’d expect something with a Porsche crest on the bonnet to do. With that seamless transition between drive techs and a lot of lazy torque to bank on, you don’t need to mess too much with the eight-speed automatic transmission. In S+ mode the throttle is significantly more responsive and the whole car jumpier, ready to lurch forward at the tiniest push of the accelerator.
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With active air-suspension and Sport Chrono as standard, as well as rear-axle steering and limited slip differential, this thing is assured everywhere and only intimidating when you find yourself arriving too quickly into a narrow corner — it’s a wide car at two metres. With the massive kerb weight at the back of your mind (still 400kg lighter than a Land Cruiser…) and basically two engines on board (Porsche Bimotore would have been a good name) the brakes nevertheless do the job well. You can stick to the standard cast iron discs, but as in the Cayenne Turbo you have the option of tungsten-coated brakes or carbon ceramics all highlighted by acid green callipers.
Other available features include a head-up display for the first time in a Cayenne, and massaging seats which might come in handy if you choose the optional 22in wheels. Even the 21s on our tester let a lot of road vibrations through so 20in wheels seem to be the one Goldilocks would pick.
As a trendsetter on UAE roads the Cayenne E-Hybrid is hard to beat because there’s little to compete with it — early-adopter types won’t cross shop conventional cars, so really the Cayenne is going up against stuff like Teslas. Or more likely other combustion-engined Cayennes in the third-generation line-up, in which case they’re fighting a losing battle. This is probably the pick of the bunch.