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Porsche's initial slate of plug-in hybrids gave its performance-oriented trims a serious power boost, but not everybody's interested in feeling green to the tune of 670 horsepower. Now, the automaker is bringing its PHEV parts to lower trims, and the combination of a smooth electric motor and a potent-but-not-too-potent gas engine results in a model that's more luxury car than peak performer.
Some people like to use hybrids to let you know they're thinking about the environment, while others are content to just roll around town without making a fuss. My 2021 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid tester usually sports lime green accents to denote its PHEV status, but for the low, low price of $0, Porsche strips away the frippery, leaving two very small E-Hybrid badges and nothing else. It's no different from any other Cayenne on the road, and I think I prefer it that way. Bright green doesn't really work well with Moonlight Blue Metallic ($800), anyway. This car also wears a set of upgraded 20-inch wheels ($1,720), but they look plenty proportional to the vehicle and leave plenty of room for tire sidewall.
The interior isn't any different from that of a nonelectrified Cayenne, either, which is not a bad thing. Build quality is top-notch, and this tester's all-leather interior ($4,180) puts the soft stuff in just about every place my hands will ever land. The seats are supportive without being grabby, and visibility is solid in every direction. My only real complaint is that the gloss-black panel around the shift lever, which contains most of the "buttons" in the car, is prone to putting finger grease on display for all to see.
Storage is pretty on par for a German luxury SUV. The cup holders won't hold oversized Nalgenes, but the door pockets pick up some of the slack. The center armrest cubby will take up most tchotchkes, and there are a few extra hidey-holes in the second row for kids to stash their toys or devices. The trunk is comparatively small at 22.7 cubic feet of storage, some of which is taken up by the charging cable; that's a bit less than the standard Cayenne's 27.2-cubic-foot cargo hold, and a fair bit less than the BMW X5 PHEV's 33-cube boot, but it will still hold a few suitcases, a family's worth of groceries or several bags of mulch.
Range is one of the primary reasons why many consumers still hesitate to adopt electrified vehicles. For 2021, Porsche introduced a larger battery for its plug-in hybrids, expanding capacity from 14.1 kilowatt-hours to 17.9 kWh and pushing its EPA-estimated electric range from 13 miles to 17 miles. That lags behind the BMW X5 xDrive45e's 24-kWh battery and 30-mile range, but it should still cover some people's commutes, or at least a good part of them. With a light foot, it's plenty easy to stay within reach of the feds' estimates.
Some plug-ins don't give drivers the full configurability to run electricity when and how they want it, but the Cayenne E-Hybrid does. In the car's settings, there are four different modes that involve the electrified bits. E-Power runs on battery alone until it can't, while Hybrid Auto blends gas and electricity as efficiently as it can. But it's the last two settings that give it flexibility: E-Hold will maintain the charge at a set level, while E-Charge will charge the battery as you drive down the road. You can add some juice while cruising at highway speeds, where electricity has to work the hardest, and shut down the gas side once you hit the off-ramp.
The Cayenne E-Hybrid's powertrain is no slouch, but in my experience, it's best enjoyed when cruising with luxury in mind, not performance. A 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 puts out 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque on its own, but combined with the electric motor, that output rises to 455 hp and 516 lb-ft, enough for a sub-5-second sprint to 60 mph. The electric motor provides more than enough juice to leap away from a stoplight, with some lights at the bottom of the tachometer letting me know when I'm digging deep enough to engage the electric motor. It'll definitely hustle about, and its eight-speed automatic transmission is content to swap cogs with haste, but when I drive in a more relaxed manner, I find a car that's as content and sedate as any other luxury vehicle.
My tester also packs an option that I'd recommend to anyone seriously considering the Cayenne E-Hybrid: air suspension. This $2,170 upgrade turns the SUV into a surprisingly peppy pillow, cruising over roads of any quality and returning very little to the cabin. It will stiffen appropriately in Sport and Sport Plus modes, but again, this car is at its very best when it's left in its most relaxed modes. Just sit back and enjoy the near silence.
If you've read some of Roadshow's other Porsche PHEV reviews, you'd find a few complaints about the brakes, and how they don't blend friction and regeneration all that well. Thankfully, that appears to be limited to Panamera variants, as the Cayenne E-Hybrid's left pedal is dummy-simple to modulate without any jostling as the system doles out deceleration.
Overall fuel economy is better than the Cayenne, but it won't knock your socks off. The gas V6 alone will return about 21 mpg combined, and most trips with a balance of city and highway driving returned a figure closer to 25 or 26 mpg. That's ahead of the standard Cayenne's 23-mpg-highway estimate, but only a bit. It's still a large SUV with all-wheel drive and an above-average amount of power.
These days, nearly every Porsche comes with the same in-car tech, which is great, because it's easy to use. The Porsche Communication Management infotainment system lives on the 12.3-inch dashboard display, and I'm a big fan of it. A configurable home screen can display a half-dozen things at once, and it can be changed to show less or more depending on my tastes. A convenient dock on the left side lets me swap between menus quickly. Apple CarPlay is included, and although Android Auto is not yet on board, it will finally make its appearance in a model year or two. Device charging comes by way of USB-C ports in the center armrest cubby, and this Cayenne E-Hybrid includes an optional wireless charger ($690), as well.
Porsche's base safety tech is pretty light, but what's there is the stuff that I think folks want the most. Automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, non-adaptive cruise control and parking sensors are included with every Cayenne E-Hybrid. Blind-spot monitoring will set you back $950, lane-keeping assist is $1,300 and adaptive cruise tacks on another $2,000. Dropping $3,610 grants access to Porsche's InnoDrive tech, which will combine the aforementioned systems, keeping the vehicle in its lane and following the pace of traffic. As far as hands-on systems go, it's pretty par for the course.
I hope you didn't expect a Porsche to be inexpensive, even an entry-level model like the Cayenne E-Hybrid. This SUV starts at $83,150, including $1,350 in mandatory destination charges. My tester carries the aforementioned options, along with a $6,740 Premium package that bundles ambient lighting, a Bose sound system upgrade, keyless entry, a panoramic roof, LED headlights, more adjustable seats and blind-spot monitoring. All in, the Cayenne on my driveway will set a person back $101,650.
Comparison shopping with the BMW X5 xDrive45e can be a little rough, considering it has more cargo space, a larger battery and better range with a starting price of $66,395. The X5 xDrive45e is less powerful, and the Bimmer's 7,200-pound tow rating is a smidge behind the Porsche's at 7,700 pounds. Mercedes-Benz builds a GLE-Class PHEV with a honkin' 31.2-kWh battery, but as of this writing, you still can't buy it in the US, despite it being built here. Hmm.
The 2021 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid rides a pretty fine line between being a luxury-forward family vehicle and a proper Porsche performer, with a bit of a bend toward the former. It's cushy and easy to drive, with a plug-in hybrid powertrain that offers plenty of flexibility in how electricity is both accumulated and distributed. For those looking to ease into electrification, this is a good place to start.