Payne: Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid Tesla-fighter is different shade of green
Tesla Inc. has set the luxury world on fire, challenging establishment automakers with compelling, all-electric products with Apple-like design simplicity. No one has been able to match them — not the Jaguar i-PACE, not the Audi e-Tron, not the Cadillac ELR.
But maybe the solution isn’t beating Tesla at its game. Maybe it's providing different answers for a different customer. The 2020 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid SUV is the antithesis of Tesla.
Playing in the same price ballpark as the $86,190 Tesla Model X SUV, the $81,150 Cayenne plug-in boasts similar performance and range but in a more practical, more conservatively styled package.
This vehicle that doesn’t wow with gull-wing doors — but with high IQ scores in industry dependability rankings. Tesla is a brash newcomer that wants to throw out the rule book, while Porsche has built respect over decades of racing success. Their games are as different as Federer and Nadal. Old school vs. new age.
I spent some time with Cayenne to see what it’s got.
The E-Hybrid is Porsche’s third generation hybrid — a commitment on par with Honda’s Insight (the first hybrid on our shores in 1999), and nearly equal to the fourth-gen Toyota Prius. These guys know hybrids, and, like the Japanese, Porsche has priced the E-Hybrid competitively with its regular Cayenne lineup (unlike the premium hybrid pricing of some other brands).
Cayenne E-Hybrid comes with old school, de rigueur virtue signaling — phosphorescent Acid Green “E-Hybrid” badging on the its flanks and tukus, as well as radiant green brake calipers. Less flashy customers can choose white or yellow calipers as part of Porsche’s typically dizzying array of options to personalize your car. But I like the Acid Green as a way to bring flavor to Cayenne’s vanilla design.
Cayenne has come a long way since its first ungainly attempt to translate Porsche 911-like, sports-car styling to a five-door ute. The new gen exudes masculinity even as it’s still one of the most conservatively styled SUVs out there.
That’s in stark relief with the Tesla Model X with its unmistakable egg shape, big hips and signature gull-wing doors. Interestingly, E-Hybrid comes at a time when the sleek, all-electric Porsche Taycan sedan has debuted as a direct competitor to the Tesla Model S sedan.
Cayenne’s conservative approach is in keeping with its appeal to luxury shoppers who want a quick green machine, but without the sacrifices of the full-electric lifestyle.
Own a Tesla and you’ll only visit service stations to buy newspapers. So, too, the Cayenne E-Hybrid. Plug it in overnight and Porsche claims 20 miles of electric juice for local commutes. Make that, plug into a 240-volt, Level 2 outlet and you’ll get 20 miles. Invest $2,000 for Level 2 installation, because a 110 volt-wall is terribly inconsistent.
On my 110-volt garage outlet I got seven miles in nine hours of charging. Ugh. Welcome to the uncertainties of the electric frontier. Fortunately, the gas engine will recharge the battery while driving for more, pure EV opportunities.
Turn the Porsche’s old-school dash key — on the left just like Porsche race cars of old — and the E-Hybrid defaulted to E-Power mode, allowing fully electric driving around town. Porsche achieves this with a bifurcated throttle. Let me explain.
Maintaining moderate throttle, I could drive on an electric charge over 70 mph on local interstates. A digital instrument gauge flanked the Porsche’s center tac, allowing me to monitor the range on E-Power. Bury the throttle for a quick maneuver and you’ll feel a noticeable detent in the throttle as it grabs the gas engine for help.
Stay on the shy side of the detent and the V-6 never engages. EPA says that 20-mile charge actually only translates to real-world 13 miles traveled. I can vouch for that. Such eggshell driving, of course, denied me the instant torque thrill of electric cars. Mash the throttle in a Model X and you’re suddenly Han Solo in a Millennium-Falcon, light-speed blur to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds.
The downside of that thrill is massive range suck. Drive Up North and Tesla drivers will get their own eggshell time as the charging network thins out. Model X promises 353 miles of electric range at perfect, 55 mph driving — but access your inner Han Solo (or travel at over 70 mph) and range plummets.
That’s where plug-in hybrids like Porsche shine. Combined gas-electric range is an impressive 430 miles. And with gas stations everywhere, there’s no range anxiety even when you want to have fun — which is often in this rhino in tennis shoes.
The E-Hybrid is built for speed.
The 5,000-pound beast (400 shy of the Model X) matches the Tesla from 0-60. Thank the standard Sports Chrono package and its cool, steering-wheel-mounted Sport Response button (just like a 911), which allowed me to instantly switch from egg-shell E-Power mode to face-flattening Sport Plus mode. Hold on, honey!
Sport Plus accesses the full, combined gas engine/electric motor output of 455 horsepower, 516 pound feet of torque, which ignores the throttle detent and launches you straight to the moon.
With its instant torque, the electric motor effectively acts like a supercharger on top of the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, eliminating turbo lag. The car rockets off the line as the 8-speed auto tranny fires off quick shifts, and Sport Mode adds appropriately louder exhaust note theme music.
Around 180-degree cloverleafs the rhino remained remarkably flat, its all-wheel-drive digging in as I fed more throttle. This confident handling translates to twisty roads Up North as well. The Model X, its battery creating a low center of gravity, is no slouch in the cornering department either.
Old-school Porsche is the rare brand that can match new age Tesla for engineering curiosity. Ogle the Model X’s graphics and big console tablet. Cayenne E-Hybrid is an airline cockpit by comparison, with a button for everything from volume to shock damping to radio source. Or you can use the touch screen to explore the ute’s myriad setups.
On basic tech items, however, Porsche noticeably lags. Voice commands are a Stone Age behind Tesla, and my $90,000 E-Hybrid mule was naked of driver-assist items like blind spot-assist and adaptive cruise control that are standard on $25,000 Nissan Sentras. Adaptive cruise is (cough) $6,250 extra.
Such shortcomings will be deal-breakers for new age EV buyers. But for luxe shoppers who just want a taste of EV with their Porsche DNA, Cayenne E-Hybrid is your answer.
2020 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 5-passenger SUV
Price: $81,150, including $1,250 destination charge ($91,220 as tested)
Powerplant: 3.0-liter turbo V-6 combined with AC motor and 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery
Power: 455 horsepower, 516 pound-feet of torque combined
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.4 seconds (Car and Driver); towing capacity, 7,716 pounds
Weight: 4,950 pounds est.
Fuel economy: EPA 24 city/ 26 highway/ 25 combined
Highs: Hybrid long range; Sports Response button take me to the moon
Lows: Lack of standard safety assist features; infotainment tech lags competitors
Overall: 3 stars
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.