According to the Canadian Automobile Association, it costs more to own and operate a hybrid automobile than one with a conventional gasoline powertrain. Yes, fuel economy is better, and operating costs are probably lower with a hybrid, especially if you’re a high-mileage driver, but if you factor in the initial purchase price, depreciation, insurance, finance costs, and repairs, a hybrid doesn’t make a lot of sense from an economic point of view. It can take years to make up the cost difference between a hybrid and a conventional automobile – if ever.
No real surprise there. Despite our best efforts, it costs money to be green, and until manufacturers can bring environmentally responsible cars to the people without it costing an arm and a leg, hybrids and electric cars will remain on the fringes, mainly purchased by those with pockets deep enough to accommodate their environmental conscience and tree-hugging zealots.
How then to explain the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid? In a nutshell, this vehicle doesn’t make any sense.
For starters, it’s more expensive than the base model – about half again as much; secondly, fuel economy isn’t that great: 10.4 L/100 km in town and 8.4 on the highway. Yes, that’s better than the non-hybrid, but still below other comparably-sized SUVs on the market. Third, it doesn’t have the performance of its V8 stable-mate, despite costing more. Fourth, looking at the big picture, it’s still an environmentally irresponsible SUV and, finally, although it has all the right equipment and talks the talk, it’s unlikely to be taken off-road in a serious way. Not to mention, if it’s like many other hybrid SUVs, you take your chances if you try to tow something heavy with it.
That doesn’t mean it lacks the usual Porsche attributes. Power is delivered more than handily by a supercharged V-6 engine in tandem with a 47-hp electric motor, and the Cayenne Hybrid is no slouch when it comes to getting somewhere in a hurry. Porsche is claiming a 0-100 km/h time of just over six seconds, with an electrically governed top end of some 240 km/h and total output of both the engine and electric motor is 380 hp with a respectable 428 lb-ft of torque.
Like some other hybrids on the market – the Infiniti M35h for example, the Cayenne is more about performance and less about fuel economy and emissions. Seriously, now, can you see a typical Porsche owner driving this vehicle in the same way as, say, a Prius owner?
Anyway, power is delivered to all wheels via an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, with full-time four-wheel-drive. The electric motor will propel the Cayenne Hybrid solely on battery power during low-speed manoeuvres and for short distances – parking or cruising the mall, for example – but its main function seems to be as a power supplement when the V-6 needs a bit more grunt on the highway or while overtaking another vehicle.
The Cayenne Hybrid does have an automatic start/stop function. While you’re stopped at a light, for instance, it’ll shut the engine off without turning off various accessories. Pretty common fare in the world of hybrids, as is its automatic recharging system. Battery pack is nickel-metal hydride and Porsche claims it will last the life of the vehicle.
And being a Porsche, it has all the usual modcons. Full leather interior, power rear tailgate, XM radio, a huge power sunroof, front, side, side curtain and driver’s side knee airbags, and on and on. But, just for the sake of argument, most of this stuff is also available on models like, oh, the Acura MDX, Volkswagen Touareg, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander. For considerably less money.
My tester also had extras like 19-inch wheels and tires ($1,780), park assist ($1,250) and self-levelling suspension ($4,550). This latter feature is pretty slick and will allow you to increase your ground clearance while in motion. You can also order a lane departure warning system, heated windshield and a bunch of other goodies.
Of course I enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the Cayenne Hybrid. It’s comfortable, powerful, roomy, prestigious and very useable around town. But, again, so is just about everything else in this segment, including the base Cayenne V-6, which will run you about twenty grand less and is only slightly slower. You have to ask yourself: is being able to get up to highway speed a second or two faster and enjoying marginally better fuel economy worth that additional $20,000?
As a rule, I love everything that comes out of Zuffenhausen, but from the beginning, I’ve never understood the Cayenne and a “performance” SUV with a hybrid drivetrain is, in my books, an oxymoron. And when it’s priced over $100,000, as is the case here, I have to ask: what’s the point?
2011 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid
Type: Luxury SUV
Base Price: $77,500; as tested: $100,525
Engine: Supercharged, 3.0-litre V-6 with 47-hp electric motor
Horsepower/torque: 380 hp/428 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Drive: Full-time four-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): 10.4 city/8.4 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Volkswagen Touareg TDI, Acura MDX, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Mercedes ML350 BlueTec, Lexus RX450h, Audi Q7 Diesel, BMW X6 Hybrid, Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
- Heated seats and heated steering wheel are standard on the Cayenne in Canada.
- An incorrect photo was used on this story to illustrate the 2011 Cayenne Hybrid, it has been replaced.
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