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    2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid First Drive Review | Green, but not unseasoned

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    MONTPELLIER, France — By now, most Porschephiles accept the existence of the rolling cash cow that is the Porsche Cayenne. Count us among them: Crossovers and SUVs sell, and building cars is a business. The success of the Cayenne, Macan and Panamera has allowed Porsche to continue to build cars like the 911 GT3 RS, Cayman GT4 and the 918 Spyder. But it's not just enough to play dress-up with a Porsche badge. A Porsche needs to feel special, too.

    In spring, the South of France is a wonderful place to sample the the third-generation Cayenne E-Hybrid and the second generation of the plug-in hybrid variant. The sunny resort towns are just kicking into gear, and the fields and farmland of the countryside are filled with poppies and mulberry trees. The roads are fairly relaxed, straight and filled with Peugeots and Citroens ripe for overtaking. You couldn't showcase a new 911 or Cayman well here, but it's a great place to get a feel for a big, powerful and extremely quiet Porsche.

    Despite missing the S moniker this time around, the new model is faster and more powerful than the outgoing Cayenne S E-Hybrid. The single-turbo 3.0-liter V6 makes 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, and there's also an electric motor mounted between the engine and eight-speed automatic transmission adding 134 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque between 100 and 2,400 rpm. All in, the Cayenne E-Hybrid makes 455 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, up 39 horsepower and 81 pound-feet over the last model.

    Thanks to the electric motor, peak torque is available at just 1,000 rpm, helping propel the Cayenne E-Hybrid to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. That's 0.7 seconds quicker than the outgoing hybrid and 0.2 seconds quicker than the 440 horsepower Cayenne S. The increased performance comes in part from a larger capacity lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the rear. Reserves are up roughly 30 percent to 14.1 kWh, giving the Cayenne E-Hybrid 27 miles of electric range on the European cycle (which, it should be noted, is very different than U.S. mileage ratings). When Sport or Sport Plus mode is selected, the extra juice from the battery improves acceleration.

    There are six drive modes in total — four selectable from a knob on the steering wheel and two more from a menu in Porsche's slick and handsome infotainment system. E-Power mode (always selected on start-up) provides full-electric driving; Hybrid Auto mode combines both powertrains for the most efficient driving; Sport and Sport Plus use the electric motor and battery to provide peak performance. The last two are only accessible through the infotainment system, but are the least likely to be used: E-Charge mode uses the engine to recharge the battery; E-Hold mode will hold the battery's charge.

    Hybrid Auto mode takes into account battery charge status, topography, and speed limits. If a destination is entered into the navigation system, the Cayenne E-Hybrid can adjust battery usage based on the suggested route. For example, the battery will charge when driving on the highway where it's less efficient to use electric driving.

    Additionally, there's a Sport Response button in the center of the selector knob that essentially acts like a boost button from a video game. Press it and the Cayenne E-Hybrid (or any Sport Chrono-equipped Porsche) shifts into max-performance settings for 20 seconds. The transmission downshifts, the accelerator responds quicker, and the battery is drained for max output. A countdown timer on the right instrument cluster screen shows just how much time remains. It makes passing those slow-moving French hatchbacks a breeze. We just wish there were a bit more noise from the engine. Porsche knows how to tune a V6 exhaust note, but the Cayenne E-Hybrid is just too quiet.

    In nearly any drive mode, power comes on quickly and smoothly, especially off the line. The engine is responsive, and the transmission never has to hunt; there's ample power when you need it. It's only in pure-EV driving that things feel sluggish. Without any gas assistance, it takes the Cayenne E-Hybrid nearly 7 seconds to hit just 40 mph (no 0-60 mph time is available). That's fine in a city, but it's not enough for highway merging or passing. Luckily, even in E-Power mode, pressing the accelerator past the kickdown point will automatically kick on the gas engine for maximum acceleration.

    Despite weighing 600 pounds more than a Cayenne S, at 5,060 pounds total, the E-Hybrid's Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) do a wonderful job of keeping the Cayenne flat and composed in a corner. There's no mid-corner wallowing or awkward floating. There's ample grip, too, thanks to staggered front and rear rubber. It's not quite as precise or nimble as the regular Cayenne, but it's still a joy to drive.

    The $1,620 rear-axle steering system does a fantastic job of virtually shrinking the Cayenne. Aided by firm and accurate steering, the E-Hybrid turns in easily and can be precisely positioned in a corner. At low speeds, the front and rear wheels turn the opposite direction, shortening the wheelbase. At high speeds, all-four wheels turn the same direction to help with stability. It's totally discreet and a must-have option if you plan to drive a Cayenne with any real anger.

    Unfortunately, the Cayenne E-Hybrid doesn't seem to know how to relax. The firm suspension and enhanced chassis management are great when moving through corners, but the ride quality can be a bit harsh when just cruising, even in the E-Hybrid's softest setting. There's only so much Porsche engineers can do to counteract the extra weight from the battery. The braking, too, has some issues. It's light years ahead of the outgoing model, and overall stopping power is great thanks to cast-iron rotors with six-piston calipers up front and four-piston calipers out back (done up in Porsche's wonderful acid green color), but at low speeds they're grabby, making it hard to come to a complete stop smoothly.

    Seen from outside, there's not much to distinguish the E-Hybrid from other Cayennes. The front fenders and rear hatch both feature "E-Hybrid" badges. Those, along with the Cayenne badge, are all outlined in acid green. Of course, Porsche offers acid-green accent or model-logo deletion as a no-cost option. Without the badging, the only real tell is the extra door on the left-rear fender that houses the charging port.

    Inside, things are equally subtle. The needles on the tachometer and Sport Chrono dial are both acid green. There are some additional readouts on the instrument cluster and infotainment screen concerning battery range and state of charge. Similar readouts in the infotainment screen can be accessed with a new hybrid button on the center stack.

    Like the regular Cayenne (and Panamera for that matter), the E-Hybrid eschews a sea of buttons in favor of a slick looking panel with illuminated controls. The panel does click, but it's not quite as easy-to-use as traditional hard buttons. Ultimately, we prefer this to having everything deeply hidden in some touchscreen menu.

    The Cayenne does have a few new optional features. This is the first Porsche model with available 22-inch wheels, though none of the test vehicles were available with these. We're sure they look great but will almost certainly make ride quality worse. The Cayenne also comes with Porsche's first head-up display. It comes with a variety of full-color readouts, including speed, lap time and lap number and navigation directions. Again, none of Porsche's test vehicles on this drive were equipped with a HUD.

    One option these models were equipped with is Porsche's InnoDrive adaptive cruise control. The system goes beyond traditional camera and radar-based systems by reading the road ahead using the Cayenne's navigation system. It can automatically slow down for turns, intersections or the countless roundabouts we passed on the drive route. It works well most of the time, but it errs on the aggressive side and can head into a turn or roundabout uncomfortably fast. Porsche says the system was actually dialed back based on feedback.

    Charge times vary based on the Cayenne's onboard charger and the electrical source. If you plan to simply trickle charge using the included Porsche Universal Charger, don't bother upgrading the onboard charger — you won't see any benefit, and it'll take you 7.8 hours to fill up. If you have Porsche's wall-mounted dock installed in your home, you can charge the Cayenne in just four hours thanks to a 230-volt 10-amp supply. With the $840 upgraded onboard charger, Porsche's dock reduces charging times to just 2.33 hours.

    A smartphone app or the navigation system can also find both free and paid charging stations. Using a Porsche ID account and the Porsche Charging Service, customers can pay for charging at public stations without having to sign up for individual services like ChargePoint. In each state, Porsche is offering a single guaranteed price for all connected charging stations. Pricing does vary state-by-state and not every state is currently set up with the service. Customers can view real-time data on availability, plug type and charging power.

    Starting at just $80,950, the E-Hybrid is $3,000 less expensive than the Cayenne S. Standard equipment on the E-Hybrid includes multi-zone climate control and the Sport Chrono package — an $1,130 option on the Cayenne S—, though performance options like Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus aren't available. Like any Porsche, the à la carte options can quickly add up. With enough will, it's possible to nearly double the base price of the Cayenne E-Hybrid with features like $1,560 stainless-steel skid plates, a $7,000 Burmester audio system, $660 Bordeaux Red seat belts and a $140 fire extinguisher.

    While it may win out among stablemates, the Cayenne E-Hybrid doesn't compare so favorably to the base MSRP of some of the competition. The Volvo XC90 T8, BMW X5 xDrive40e and Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e all undercut the Cayenne E-Hybrid by at least $13,000. The thing is, that's the case with every Cayenne competitor. In the end, the Porsche offers more performance and a better driving experience than anyone else. You buy the Cayenne because it looks, feels and drives like a Porsche.

    The E-Hybrid Stacks up well against a comparably priced Cayenne S. Out of the box, the E-Hybrid is quicker and more fuel efficient (final EPA ratings haven't been released), even if the extra weight means it isn't quite as nimble. Unlike the Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, you're really not paying extra for the efficiency compared to the gasoline model. If you want something sportier, Porsche does offer the Panamera with the E-Hybrid Powertrain, but it's $20,000 more expensive than the Cayenne E-Hybrid.

    There's a sharpness and directness to the Cayenne E-Hybrid that you can't find outside the Porsche lineup. In terms of driving dynamics, it blows most other hybrid SUVs out of the water. No competitor rides or handles well as the Cayenne, since most are preoccupied with maximizing efficiency. The Porsche does those things with a sub-five second 0-60 mph time and 27 miles of electric range. Few vehicles at any price can offer a more well-rounded package.

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