2015 Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid review: The SUV that shouldn't, but does

Brett Berk
Contributing Editor, Autos
1 / 33
2015 Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid

In Germany, as elsewhere in the world, pet parakeets occasionally escape (or are “liberated”) from their cages or from importation quarantine pens. These tropical birds should not be able to survive in the harsh winter, and with their foreign upbringing and acid-green plumage should make excellent prey for local predators. However, somehow, they’ve not only survived, but thrived. On the grounds of a riverfront castle we visited southwest of Frankfurt, flocks of them flapped, squawked, and clustered in the sycamore trees like one of Tippi Hedren’s more vibrant PTSD flashbacks. Anyone who thinks something this colorful cannot be menacing has not spent long enough in the company of clowns.

We stood amidst this avian plague in a break from driving the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid and it occurred to us that the new vehicle — the third plug-in hybrid in the manufacturer’s ever expanding range — was very similar to the feral parrots. It behaves in a way that it shouldn’t, but it succeeds. Also, it has acid-green brake calipers.

For those unfamiliar with the mutating nature of the Cayenne lineup, the $76,400 S E-Hybrid slots in, in terms of price, right around that of the $74,100 Cayenne S, meaning that it stickers above the $61,700 Diesel but below the $113,600 Turbo. Interestingly enough, the same pattern follows for performance, with the Diesel at the bottom (0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds), the Turbo at the top (0-60 in 4.2), and the S and SE-Hybrid duking it out between, racing to 60 in a very respectable 5.2 and 5.4 respectively. The Hybrid thus earns the “S” designation in its name.

The way it gets to these specs, while delivering (projected) fuel economy that beats the pants off all of its siblings — think combined EPA ratings about 30-percent better than the Cayenne S and 15-percent better than the diesel — is what makes it such an, ahem, odd bird.

Click image for photo gallery

First, instead of using a detuned version of the Porsche four-door family of twin-turbocharged 90-degree V-6 and V-8 engines, it nabs a 3-liter, 333-hp supercharged V-6 from the Audi bin, making it perhaps the first supercharged factory Porsche. It then couples this with a 95-hp electric motor, mounted between the engine and transmission, providing it with a quoted, and marginally math mysterious total of 416 hp. (The motors actually produce their peak power at different points in their range, so this is Porsche’s estimate of their greatest combined output overlap.)

The real weirdness, as in the Panamera Hybrid, comes in how often the electric motor, throughout three of the four selectable drive modes, seems to be powering the vehicle on its own. Though a full charge — accomplished by plugging into the slick elliptical Porsche Design charging station you have installed in your garage, of course  —is expected to yield only 21 miles of pure electric driving in E-Power mode, the on-board regenerative systems available in Hybrid mode seem to increase this significantly. Braking delivers energy back to the battery, but so does coasting, wherein the engine decouples itself under low load and acts as a generator. We did a lot of city driving, but even when entering the highways or on two-lane roads during our 100+ mile route, our tach was pegged at zero with extraordinary frequency.

You can also place the vehicle in E-Charge mode, where “excess” power from the engine is used to recharge the battery. Punch the Cayenne into this mode for a half-hour or so, and there’s no need to worry about finding a charger. It may merit a 20% fuel economy penalty, as spin from the gas motor generates electricity, but this is a great option in anticipation of making a silent, carbon-free arrival someplace worthwhile -- like a city with heavy emissions entry tax or your kids’ competitive private school, or making a silent carbon-free exit from someplace like your husband’s house or the apartment of the guy with whom you’re having an affair.

If you want to thrash Ford Mustang EcoBoosts at stoplights, try Sport/Sport Plus modes, which sharpen responses from the steering, throttle, and transmission, and deliver full power from both sources. As noted above, these rips just about match those of the regular “S” model, which seems even more improbable when you look at the spec sheet and realize that the Hybrid makes slightly less power, produces only slightly more torque, and carries nearly 600 lbs more weight.

Given these mysterious Darwinian leaps, if you’re in the market for a stylish, sporty, luxurious, leather-lined, mid-sized Porsche SUV we see no disadvantages to ponying up the extra $2,300 that will get you into the hybrid. It’s cooler and rarer and far smarter, and it has colorful pincers. Get one now before it realizes that it’s more intelligent than you, escapes into the wild, and forms a feral flock.