THE new Cayenne E-Hybrid drives like a diesel, minus the dirtiness, doubt and din. Porsche's petrol-electric plug-in SUV seems virtually dedicated to persuading people to ditch diesel, the kind of engine preferred by buyers of large SUVs ... even those from premium brands with a performance image, such as Porsche.
In Australia, about 60 per cent of Cayenne customers choose diesel, says Porsche Cars Australia's Stephanie Weiser.
Porsche's engineers have given their hybrid hardware a big upgrade for the latest models. The new plug-in Cayenne uses the same component set as the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid launched last year.
This teams a 3.0-litre turbo V6 with a strong electric motor, an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. The combination delivers great pulling power and good fuel efficiency, just like a diesel.
But owners will never have to touch a filthy diesel bowser nozzle or spoil shoes from walking through slippery service station forecourt diesel spills.
It's now almost three years since the Dieselgate scandal broke, tarnishing the efficient and eco-friendly image of the fuel and the reputation of Volkswagen, the company caught cheating on emissions standards. Porsche, along with Audi and Skoda, is part of the VW Group.
In many markets around the world consumers are turning their backs on diesel as a result. There's no such problem with the Cayenne E-Hybrid.
This Porsche's powertrain is also more pleasant to drive than a diesel. Its engine idles smoother and quieter than even the best diesels. The V6 spins happily to more than 6000rpm, where diesel engines typically run out of puff at much lower revs.
Working with the lively V6, the electric motor adds some sparky briskness to the way the Cayenne E-Hybrid takes off and climbs hills. Yet because the engine is happy to rev high, this SUV's drivetrain can feel, and sound, quite sporty - its 0-100km/h time is a quick
The Cayenne E-Hybrid can also run in pure electric mode. With its lithium-ion battery pack fully charged, the 2300kg five-seater can drive 40km-plus without starting its fossil-fuel engine.
Its lithium-ion battery stores 11 kWh of usable energy and takes about eight hours to charge from a normal power socket.
It's hidden under the floor of its spacious cargo compartment where you'd expect to find the spare wheel - the Cayenne E-Hybrid doesn't have one. It also has a slightly smaller fuel tank than the non-hybrid version.
Running on electricity, the hefty Porsche is lively enough to keep up with city traffic, though its top speed in "E" mode is limited to 135km/h.
When the battery pack is low on charge the E-Hybrid switches to "Hybrid Auto" mode, with the engine starting when needed to provide power, and shutting down when possible to save fuel.
Using a dial mounted on the steering wheel the E-Hybrid driver can switch between those modes, plus Sport and Sport + for more enthusiastic driving. Electric is the default start-up mode (if there's sufficient charge in the battery pack).
From the driver's seat, it's easy to forget the constant swapping between power sources that propels this Cayenne. It's simply powerful, smooth and quiet.
Quick it may be in a straight line but the Porsche feels ponderous through corners. The steering is very direct but its sporty speediness is out of place in something too high and heavy to be truly agile.
The optional air suspension is jiggly at low speed on rough roads but smooths out the bumps well at highway speeds.
Still, as a high-riding luxury wagon, the E-Hybrid works well and it's both special and spacious inside. The up-to-date interior technology introduced in the new third-generation Cayenne is an improvement, especially the big centre screen and decluttered centre console.
Porsche Cars Australia will import the E-Hybrid with quite lavish specification and a $135,600 price tag. Deliveries will begin in July, a month later than the petrol counterparts.
The E-Hybrid costs almost $20,000 more than the basic V6-powered Cayenne but it's $20,000 cheaper than - and very nearly as quick as - the high-performance Cayenne S.
Porsche plans to add a diesel to the Cayenne line-up in the future. Meanwhile, the new
E-Hybrid is a vastly superior alternative.
Electric motors produce maximum torque - pulling power - from the moment they begin to spin. The motor used in the Porsche is slim enough to slide between the vehicle's engine and transmission. While max power isn't super high, it delivers 400Nm. This is more torque than the companion 3.0-litre V6 turbo.
PORSCHE CAYENNE E-HYBRID
WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km
SAFETY Not rated
ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 turbo, electric motor; 340kW/700Nm combined
0-100KM/H 5.0 secs