2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid review:

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

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Starting at $67,700
  • Available Engine Hybrid
  • Body style SUV

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.1 Overall
  • Cabin tech 6
  • Performance tech 9
  • Design 6

The Good The mix of supercharged engine and electric motor gives the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid respectable power and the best city fuel economy of the Cayenne lineup. Handling comes up to Porsche sports car standards.

The Bad The cabin tech interface is not well integrated with the car, and there is no voice command. Audio sources are minimal.

The Bottom Line The 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid offers the performance you would expect from a Porsche, and better fuel economy. But the cabin tech isn't up to the level of a car in this price range.


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2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

Continuing a relationship between Porsche and Volkswagen that goes back to the first Beetle, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid shares a lot of DNA with the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid, perhaps too much. The cars are built on the same platform, and get the same hybrid power train. The Cayenne S Hybrid looks like a Porsche, but is it different enough from the Volkswagen?

Two areas where the cars differ are suspension technology and cabin electronics, but the Porsche doesn't win in both categories. You would expect a Porsche, even a Cayenne Hybrid, to have superior handling, and it does, feeling light on its wheels as it slips through corners like a dancer.

But despite luxury cabin appointments such as a leather-wrapped dashboard, the Cayenne Hybrid's electronics are somewhat mixed, lacking a unified Porsche identity and seeming shoehorned into the dashboard. Porsche's reliance on Volkswagen for its navigation software further obscures the distinction between the two cars.

Stealth hybrid
Maintaining a quiet elegance, the Cayenne Hybrid takes no great pains to advertise green-ness. The only indication of its electrification is a small hybrid badge, in cursive Porsche script, adorning the fenders. The back of the car proclaims something much different, sporting big, dual tailpipes.

Those style cues point out that the hybrid system in this car is really more about achieving power, with only a modicum of extra fuel economy. The EPA rates the Cayenne Hybrid at 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, not dramatically high numbers, although a decent step up from its brethren, which show city numbers in the midteens. In a course of city, freeway, and mountain driving, CNET's review car turned in a solid 21 mpg.

A badge on the engine proclaims the hybrid power train and the supercharged engine.

That sort of mileage isn't bad, considering the Cayenne Hybrid's power. Porsche slips an S into its model name, which is wholly deserved. The 3-liter direct injection, supercharged V-6, combined with the electric motor, push horsepower up to 380, while torque comes in at a whopping 427 pound-feet. That gets the Cayenne Hybrid to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, according to Porsche, just a half second slower than the V-8-powered Cayenne S.

Behind the wheel, the Cayenne Hybrid steps lively, a mashed accelerator delivering thrilling, and smooth, acceleration. Amid the mass of buttons on the center console, one labeled Sport makes the throttle more sensitive, putting power more quickly on tap.

But next to the Sport button sits one labeled E-Power, this button making the Cayenne Hybrid remain in EV mode as long as the electricity in its 288-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack holds out. The Cayenne Hybrid takes advantage of this electric power reserve to shut its engine down at stoplights, accelerate at low speeds using its electric motor, and do what Porsche calls "sailing" when coasting on the highway.

In that last mode, the engine shuts down at speeds up to 99 mph when you take your foot off the accelerator. A little bit of accelerator pedal in this mode, and the engine will stay off, the electric motor giving it the boost called for. But it is next to impossible to maintain freeway speeds on a level road in EV mode, and ascents will definitely require the gas engine to kick in. Drivers will have to get used to seeing the tach needle bounce up and down as the engine turns on and off.

This screen shows how long the car has been 'sailing.'

With Sport mode off, the transmission reaches for its highest reasonable gear, keeping the engine humming below 2,000rpm to save gas. With eight gears to choose from, this transmission has an easy time finding its more efficient ratio.

In Sport mode and driving aggressively, fourth is often the power gear for the corners. Nicely molded paddles on the steering-wheel spokes control manual gear selection, but manual gear changes take place with the typical hesitation of a torque converter. If Porsche had really wanted to differentiate this car's performance from the Touareg Hybrid, it could have opted for a more sport-oriented transmission.

But Porsche put more effort into the Cayenne Hybrid's handling. The car may seem to be cruising through the turns, but a glance down at the accelerator shows it doubling recommended speeds with no strain. Inside-wheel braking, an electronic cornering technology that lightly brakes the inside wheel in a turn, helps the Cayenne Hybrid negotiate the curves.

All-wheel drive also lends a hand, as it vectors torque across the rear axle to twist the outside wheel a little harder. With these technologies, the Cayenne Hybrid takes the turns almost too easily; it doesn't feel like a down and dirty canyon carver. Contributing to this feeling is the steering wheel, which turns too easily, lacking engagement with the road. Porsche seems to have tuned the power steering for a luxury feel.

Controls set the air suspension between Comfort and Sport modes.

An air suspension only helps the Cayenne Hybrid in a small way in the turns. It offers Sport, Normal, and Comfort settings, the first lowering the car and tightening the suspension. But it does not actively counter sway. For an SUV, an active suspension like that found on the Acura MDX makes a big difference in the turns.

With the suspension set for Comfort, the Cayenne Hybrid feels like it is riding on marshmallows. The suspension smoothes out most road imperfections, but vibration from particularly rough pavement still gets communicated to the passenger compartment.

Maps by VW
Cabin tech comes into the Cayenne Hybrid largely in the form of the optional Porsche Communications Management unit, a head unit that incorporates navigation. Plastic buttons that look a little downscale for the Cayenne Hybrid adorn the faceplate, and it also uses a touch screen for input. Competitors in this class, such as Audi, use more integrated interfaces, better designed for use on the move.

But the Cayenne Hybrid benefits from its Volkswagen association by offering the same high-quality maps seen in Audi models. The maps show hills and valleys in topographic detail, and buildings in major metropolitan areas are rendered in 3D. This system would also show traffic, although the lack of an active satellite radio subscription in CNET's car disabled that function.

The navigation system comes as part of the Porsche Communications Management option, a discrete head unit.

The LCD shows other useful information, such as hybrid-specific data. One screen indicates how much time the engine has been running in EV mode, and another shows how power is flowing through the car.

The LCD shows the phonebook for the car's Bluetooth phone system, populated by copying the contact list from a paired phone. This screen is especially important, as the Cayenne Hybrid lacks a voice command system. Other cars in this segment allow voice command for making calls, entering destinations, and selecting music, but Porsche is strangely slow in adopting this feature.

A big help, though, is an LCD in the instrument cluster, just to the right of the tachometer. With buttons on the steering wheel, the driver can choose to view most cabin tech functions, including phone status, a map, or a current audio track. The placement of this gauge puts cabin tech information close to the driver's line of sight.

Porsche offers a small set of audio sources in the Cayenne Hybrid: an iPod connection, a USB port, and an auxiliary input. There is no capability to rip CDs to the car, nor does it support Bluetooth audio streaming.

The standard Bose audio system, with 14 speakers and 585 watts of amplification, produces excellent audio quality. Instruments come through distinctly and bass is reasonably punchy. But Porsche takes it up another notch with an optional Burmester audio system, using 16 speakers and a 1,000-watt amp, which should satisfy audiophiles.

In sum
The 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid sits in an odd place in the Cayenne lineup. It offers near the performance of the Cayenne S, but the Cayenne Turbo still does better. Its fuel economy is better by only a few mpg than the Cayenne S or the base Cayenne. As such, the Cayenne S Hybrid doesn't make a compelling argument for itself, except for buyers who must have a hybrid, but still want Porsche handling.

The cabin tech is the Cayenne S Hybrid's biggest problem, as it does not feel up to the level of Porsche's luxury brand or the car's price. Whereas brands such as Audi and BMW work to fully integrate the interface into the car, the electronics in the Cayenne S Hybrid feel like an afterthought.

Tech specs
Model2011 Porsche Cayenne
Trim S Hybrid
Power trainSupercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, 1.7kWh nickel metal hydride full hybrid system
EPA fuel economy20 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy21 mpg
NavigationHard-drive-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone supportOptional
Disc playerMP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player supportiPod integration
Other digital audioUSB drive, auxiliary input
Audio systemBose 14-speaker, 585-watt system, Available Burmester 16-speaker, 1,000-watt system
Driver aidsBlind-spot detection, rearview camera
Base price$67,700
Price as tested$86,110

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