Porsche Joins the Hybrid Party

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I’ve written many times recently about the fact that the auto industry is working hard to make its products more fuel efficient and more environmentally friendly. In just about every survey done by the industry and by web sites like Edmunds.com, a majority of people say they’ll be looking for a more fuel efficient vehicle the next time they purchase.
Pretty much every car company is looking to a future of improved fuel efficiency, even high-end luxury brands. After all, someone with the means to afford an upscale car may be just as concerned about consumption and the environment as a person who is buying an inexpensive car. In the luxury world, technology sells, and the technology of efficiency is a hot subject.
Porsche has gotten the message loud and clear, and is working to make its Cayenne SUV a more respectable member of the automotive community. (They’re doing things to eke an extra mile or two per gallon out of their sports car as well.) Available in Europe and some other parts of the world, there’s a new Cayenne Diesel with impressive fuel economy but still plenty of the power and performance that Porsche buyers expect.
Alas, there are no plans to bring the diesel model to the United States at this time. Porsche knows that the word “diesel” still has some negative connotations here in North America, so it’s sitting back and seeing how the market reacts to the new clean diesel models from its fellow German car makers BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
In the meantime, we will be getting a new version of the Cayenne with that magic word attached to it: hybrid. By about the middle of next year, the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid will go on sale and offer the fuel saving benefits of gasoline-electric hybrid technology in a new high-performance package. A car with the famous Porsche crest on the front just wouldn’t be right with something meek under the hood.
Porsche was able to share some technology with sister brand Audi, in the form of a supercharged V6 engine sourced from the S4 sport sedan. The Cayenne already shares a platform with the VW Touareg and Audi Q7, so borrowing some more parts to make a hybrid wasn’t that much of a stretch. The boosted V6 produces 333 horsepower, which by itself would move the stout Cayenne along nicely.
But one of the advantages of a hybrid powertrain is the ability to add to the gasoline engine’s output with some extra power from an electric motor. In the case of the Cayenne S Hybrid, that means 38 kilowatts of juice, which equals about 52 additional horsepower. Combined, the hybrid system delivers what is essentially V8 power but with V6 fuel economy.
Actually, the fuel economy of the hybrid model will be better than the regular V6, since the gasoline engine can take a rest when the car is stopped or conditions call for coasting. Part of Porsche’s hybrid system involves a special clutch that disconnects the engine from the electric motor at times. At lower speeds or when going downhill, the engine isn’t dragging on the electric motor, and at high speeds the electric motor isn’t being forced to spin outrageously fast as maximum speeds of over 130 miles per hour are reached.
All this translates to an initial combined fuel economy rating of 24 mpg, which beats the V6 Cayenne significantly, and beats the V8 Cayenne S quite significantly. Acceleration times should fall somewhere between those of the V6 and V8 models, as will the sticker price, although Porsche hasn’t announced that yet. An educated guess is that a Cayenne Hybrid S will sell for somewhere in the $60,000 range.
I only got a brief drive in a prototype model at a recent press event here in Los Angeles, but even in not-quite-to-spec form, the Cayenne S Hybrid felt fairly quick and sure-footed. Part of the appeal of the conventional Cayenne is that it’s almost over-engineered, able to handle off-road driving with the best 4x4s, even though it’s likely that very few of them ever actually go off road.
Most, if not all, of the Cayenne’s functionality is retained in the transition to hybrid power. The NiMH (nickel metal hydride) battery was designed to be slim enough to reside below the luggage compartment, so cargo capacity is essentially unchanged. Other than a graphic dashboard display showing what modes the system is operating in, you’d almost never know this was a hybrid vehicle. (Though the large “hybrid” exterior lettering and telltale electric motor sounds emanating from the undercarriage do tend to give it away.)
Porsche officials I spoke with are fairly excited about this new vehicle, even though they and the other European makers are a little late to the hybrid party. But even though this isn’t the first hybrid SUV or hybrid luxury vehicle on the market, they know that this one will offer something other hybrids can’t: the driving experience that is uniquely Porsche.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.

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