We planned to take some photographs for his blog along a particular alleyway I knew in Tribeca; he wanted to show off a knee-length camel coat and Oliver Peoples sunglasses paired with a pristine pair of Adidas Originals sneakers. We also wanted to throw a car in the mix, something more distinctive than a sedan but nothing so flashy as to overshadow the coat. Thanks to my day job, I did have a couple different cars for him to choose from for the shoot.
Discretion forbids me from naming the other models we decided against, but suffice it to say a coal-colored Porsche Cayenne with garnet interior was perfect for the job. Its brake calipers—which are painted the kind of brilliant green usually reserved for budding spring leaves—sealed the deal. They showed through the Cayenne’s 21-inch rims like the top edge of a well-placed pocket square along the chest of a dark suit.
Alternative to Diesel
This car is freshly interesting because of what has been happening with the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. I have always considered hybrid power trains as mildly intriguing but more of a band-aid than a remedy for the fossil-fuel problem. Give me clean diesel or fix the problem altogether with pure-electric power à la Tesla, I thought. I still think that to some extent, despite recent events. But I also understand that hybrid power has an important place in today’s automotive market.
Porsche certainly thinks so. It has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars and more than a decade into creating its superb 918 Spyder (MSRP: $845,000—before upgrades) and hybrid Panamera. And it has created this SUV: a $77,200 gasoline/electric plug-in hybrid that gets 47 miles per gallon in combined efficiency and will hit 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. (The one I drove around Manhattan for a week cost $100,850 with options.)
The car has an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode and four-wheel drive. Its supercharged front-engine gets 333 horsepower that, combined with the 95 hp produced by the permanent-magnet synchronous AC electric motor and 10.8-kwh lithium-ion battery pack, earns a 416-hp combined power rating. Top speed is 151 miles per hour.
There are four drive modes.
All that means that when you drive the Cayenne e-Hybrid, it feels like a Porsche. It jumps like a Warmblood as you move past first gear; the more you flog it, the more eager it seems. The regenerative brakes lack the abrupt on/off action of some other hybrids—a true blessing.
But it does hesitate a hair moving forward from a standstill. The automatic start/stop function still annoys at stoplights, even though it’s in what seems like every luxury car these days. Electric-only mode gets only 14 mpg before switching to the gasoline side. The height of the ride (nearly 3 inches taller than, say, a $52,500 Audi Q5 hybrid) means the car does not embrace corners in quite the warm hug you might want.
Yes, it’s fast. And you could buy a BMW X5 diesel ($57,700) or a Mercedes GLE diesel ($52,500) or maybe even, soon, the lightweight Jaguar F-Pace and electric Tesla X ($80,000) and get equal or better driving results. Really.
But that's a little beside the point. The appeal of this car is that it makes you feel good about your immortal soul, not your pocketbook or your racing credentials. The Cayenne is ubiquitous among a certain set—wealthy suburban families, Ivy moms, Connecticut and Pacific Palisades professionals. If you must have one, this is the one to elevate your earth-loving cred above that of your friends.
The Full Porsche Treatment
Rest assured, when you drive this thing, everyone will indeed know you have been saved by the blood, as it were, of eco-technology. The Cayenne S e-Hybrid has verdant-lined badges along its back and sides; it has those electric-green brake calipers and matching dials along the dashboard and front gauges.
Thankfully, too, the front and rear ends of the car have been sharpened over previous years to look a little less odd. The lateral grin of the grill is wider than ever; the rear air intakes have been widened to balance the standard running LED and bi-xenon headlights at front. Cayennes have always looked more reptilian to me than the puppy-dog Audis and gray-suit BMWs that populate the road. This one follows the trend.
The tall, slightly oblong shape has never excited me, but the $4,000 supple red leather interior (red seat belts cost another $650) almost makes up for that. Everything, from the hand-holds on the doors to the center console and rear head rests, is coated in it. The $1,200 roof rails, $3,965 21-inch 911 rims, and $315 sport seats are also smart additions to soften and round out the look of the Cayenne.
I also frequently used the $2,000 air suspension to jack up the car even higher off the ground. It does negatively affect handling and fuel efficiency, but I needed something to take the edge off those Tribeca pot holes, and that seemed like a way to do it.
How to Get a Full Charge
As you may have gathered, this is a plug-in machine. It has an optional on-board charger with 7.2 kw, which reduces charging time to 1.3 hours for a full charge. Or use the standard Porsche universal charger with charging dock that comes with the rig and get a full strength battery in about three hours. No plug? The regenerative braking and e-Charge mode get the thing to 80 percent strength after 30 minutes of combined city and highway driving.
These times are important to know when selecting between driving modes: Selecting “E-Charge,” for example, means the battery is charging while you drive (i.e., you’re running on gas). This increases fuel consumption by about 20 percent, according to Porsche, though it presents an interesting trade-off. In “E-Power” mode, the Cayenne uses the single electric motor, but it won’t go faster than 80 mph.
Just Like the Others
Apart from a slight difference in sound and vibration, the car shifts imperceptibly between electric and hybrid mode. And once you’re inside, it has all the benefits of all the other nonhybrid models of Porsche’s best-seller: door-side storage compartments with bottle holders, storage pockets on seat backrests, a cooled glove compartment, a storage compartment in the center console, and a drawer beneath both front seats.
The $4,100 infotainment system includes two 10.1-inch touchscreens placed on the backrests of the front seats, a DVD player and routers that allow you to use the Internet on a dedicated browser. It also has wireless Bluetooth headsets for watching movies in the back.
Seven-hundred-dollar “soft close” doors that use a mechanism to automatically secure all four doors and the $1,120 heat- and sound-blocking privacy glass in the windows are expensive options but worth the splurge if you really want to complete the rear as an adult automotive cocoon. Yes, three adults will fit comfortably on the back ventilated and heated seats.
Here’s the point: The Cayenne S e-Hybrid has a do-gooder psyche, and that’s a good thing. It looks like a regular car, even with those acid-trip badges and brake calipers, and it’s livable as a regular car despite its green intentions. It doesn’t force that holier-than-thou hybrid stuff down your throat.
In fact, it is possible to get inside and even drive this car without even realizing it’s part electric—I had garage attendants doing it all week. All they admired were those hot red seats and cool green dials. I don’t blame them.