2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid review:

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

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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
Model 2011 Porsche Cayenne
Trim S Hybrid
Power train Supercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, 1.7kWh nickel metal hydride full hybrid system
EPA fuel economy 20 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 21 mpg
Navigation Hard-drive-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Optional
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio USB drive, auxiliary input
Audio system Bose 14-speaker, 585-watt system, Available Burmester 16-speaker, 1,000-watt system
Driver aids Blind-spot detection, rearview camera
Base price $67,700
Price as tested $86,110

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