A few years ago, car aficionados had to get used to the term “Porsche hybrid.” After all, it’s often assumed that Porsches are high-performance road cars, and hybrids are high-tech fuel sippers for people who don’t really care about having fun while they drive.
But Porsche now makes hybrid versions of two models, the Cayenne SUV and the Panamera 4-door sport sedan. Both still perform well, and both get better fuel economy than their non-hybrid equivalents. It seems Porsche purists can be OK with some fuel saving technology to go along with the driving fun.
Now, there’s a new way to save fuel in a Porsche. The Cayenne Diesel is pretty much like the other versions of the Cayenne sport utility, with great acceleration, handling, and braking. But when you turn the key, you hear the distinct murmur of a diesel engine. Other than a slight lag right off idle before the diesel engine’s plentiful torque kicks in, you’d never know you were in a Porsche that’s not powered by gasoline.
So why a diesel-powered Cayenne? Fuel efficiency. Official EPA ratings are 19 mpg city and a rather remarkable 29 highway for a combined number of 23. The Cayenne S, with a gasoline V8 engine only manages 18 combined from city and highway numbers of 16 and 22, respectively. That gives the diesel an advantage of nearly 28 percent, with similar torque and drivability.
Yes, there’s the price of diesel fuel, which does tend to be more expensive than premium unleaded gasoline. But overall, a diesel can be a money saver in the long run. And if you like driving range, the Cayenne Diesel could go more than 750 miles on the highway, given its large 26.4 gallon fuel tank.
Diesels are slowly gaining acceptance in America, especially in European SUVs. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi all offer diesel power in at least one of their sport utility models, and so far sales have been strong. Buyers in the upscale arena have come to appreciate the advantages of a diesel, particularly their relatively low carbon output in rather large and heavy vehicles.
With Porsche, the Cayenne Diesel represents a real step in the performance direction. Diesel is not new to performance, however. Audi dominated Le Mans endurance racing for years with its diesel powered cars. And if you live in Europe, you can get one of Volkswagen’s sportiest cars with a diesel. Ever hear of a VW GTD? That’s the GTI but with a diesel engine under the hood. And it’s still a blast to drive.
For the way most people use a sporty SUV like a Cayenne, the diesel version is almost a no-brainer. Even though the engine is only a 3.0 liter V6, it makes gobs of torque with a lbs-ft rating of 406 at just 1750 rpm. That means that you can tool around all day long with the engine not turning over very fast but producing the kind of grunt that makes a fairly heavy vehicle like this feel pretty light on its feet.
And of course, the rest of the Cayenne Diesel is as nice as the gasoline powered version. (And boy, talk about a choice of versions. There’s the Cayenne, Cayenne S, Cayenne GTS, Cayenne Turbo, and Cayenne Hybrid.) The driving experience is a distinct combination of Porsche sports car and upscale SUV. Forget all the things you heard about diesel engines years ago. This one, like the others in modern passenger vehicles, is a marvel of smoothness and quiet.
You can get into a Cayenne Diesel starting at $55,700. That’s more than the entry level Cayenne with a gas V6 by about $7000, but it’s about $10,000 less than the Cayenne S with a V8, and $14,000 less than the Cayenne Hybrid. Considering the fuel economy and pulling power, the Diesel is the bargain of the lineup.
If you’re a purist, don’t worry. Porsche isn’t giving up on gasoline engine anytime soon. But before you dismiss the idea of a Porsche with a diesel engine, go and drive one. You might just be amazed at how well those two things go together.
I’ll see you down the road.\
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave