2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid first drive review: Porsche’s case for electrification

An air of practicality sweeps over Porsche these days. It’s not unlike the strong winds coming off the Mediterranean Sea on the warm spring day when I find myself behind the wheel of a 2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid pushing toward the French coast from hilly Provence.

This warm, humid breeze stirs up nearly fluorescent pollen in the trees while providing a slight respite from the sun’s baking heat. One big difference is that the dark storm clouds tainted with diesel emissions, not to mention a scandal that loomed over Porsche, appear to have diminished.

Distant rain clouds in France are a more pressing concern as I thread my way through Citroen hatchbacks toward the Mediterranean, making the most of the Cayenne’s turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 and the electric motor it’s paired to.

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The automaker has high hopes for this latest variant of the third-generation Cayenne in Europe, where nearly two-thirds of Panamera sedans sold have the same gasoline-hybrid powertrain underhood. Porsche won’t sell the Cayenne E-Hybrid in the U.S. until early next year, a period we’d advise patiently waiting out.

Technology on the march

Where the outgoing Cayenne S E-Hybrid had a sporty “S” in its name, its 416 horsepower didn’t quite live up to the task. For 2019, the S nomenclature vanishes, and we’re not sure why because power increases to a combined output of 455 hp and 516 pound-feet of torque. Porsche gets to those numbers through some fuzzy math: the 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 gas engine checks in with 335 hp and 332 lb-ft, while the electric motor supplies 134 hp and 195 lb-ft.

The old Cayenne S E-Hybrid’s electric motor furnished just 95 hp and its 10.8-kw battery paled in capacity versus the 14.4-kw unit in the new E-Hybrid. The S E-Hybrid felt like a stopgap; the new one doesn’t.

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The 2019 E-Hybrid shuttles power to all four corners with immediacy, something remarkable for a 5,000-pound vehicle. Since the electric motor doesn’t need to spool up, power is instantaneous and Porsche quotes a believable 4.7-second 0-60 mph sprint.

Mind you, that’s a couple of ticks faster than the Cayenne S, and eight tenths of a second faster than the S E-Hybrid, which only lasted two model years before giving way to this new and improved model. The E-Hybrid’s roughly $ 81,000 base price also undercuts the Cayenne S by about $ 3,000.

Winds of change, indeed. Now, the Cayenne E-Hybrid is the one to have.

Despite the Porsche’s impressive performance, Mother Nature wins this round: the dark clouds have caught up to me and soon heavy rain pours.

The Cayenne E-Hybrid’s powertrain doesn’t even notice, and the automatic windshield wipers wake up to clear the view ahead. In the Cayenne, Porsche uses a conventional 8-speed automatic transmission with a torque converter rather than the Panamera E-Hybrid’s dual-clutch setup. The automatic suits the Cayenne’s multi-faceted nature well: a wide spread between gears for highway loping but plenty of choices for snappy response on a twisty road.

On this Wednesday in May, France is between holidays—a rare back-to-work moment for a country that relishes time away from work. Nobody told the tourists in their lumbering campers. They plod along even slower in the rain, and the Cayenne E-Hybrid’s powertrain adapts to the situation, even if I don’t.

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For Europe’s congested urban centers that restrict cars running on combustion engines, the Cayenne’s drive mode selector can be set to hold onto the 14.1-kwh lithium-ion battery’s full electric charge until it’s needed for emissions-free driving. It’s called E-Hold, and Porsche quotes about 27 miles of electric-only driving range and a maximum speed of about 70 mph, but those figures were determined using a European standard rather than the EPA’s. Look for a lower range when the E-Hybrid comes to America, perhaps 20-23 miles.

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