It’s now more than 20 years since the Porsche Cayenne was launched to howls of outrage from purists.
Those defenders of tradition were horrified that the world’s greatest sports car maker should sully its name by building a hulking, high-riding SUV.
Now everyone, including even Ferrari and Lotus, has at least one SUV in the pipeline and Porsche’s first five-door model has been vindicated as a canny business move that predicted the surge in SUVs.
Over the years it has also been vindicated as a “proper” Porsche. It’s not lightweight and nimble in the way a Cayman is but over three generations and thanks to the genius of Porsche’s engineers it has proved that the “sport” in sports utility vehicle isn’t always redundant.
It has also proved that plug-in hybrids can be fun, although that’s in part to the presence of a 335bhp 3.0-litre V6 under the bonnet of the current model. That’s linked to a 100kW electric motor and between them they give this “regular” Cayenne E-Hybrid a healthy 456bhp and 516lb ft. If that’s not enough, the Turbo S E-Hybrid has an extra 237bhp at its disposal.
The standard E-Hybrid feels plenty potent enough, sprinting from standstill to 62mph in just five seconds as it transmits all that power to all four wheels via an eight-speed transmission. There’s a rear-bias in everyday use but the system can quickly redistribute power to whichever axle needs it most.
Testing that 0-62mph time will do your economy no favours but driven sensibly, Porsche claims the Cayenne E-Hybrid will do 85mpg and cover 25 miles in all electric mode. To help achieve that there is a host of drive modes - from E-Power to Sport+ - each with its own distinct character.
E-Power has a very obvious resistance to the throttle to help keep the car in EV-only mode as much as possible. It’s a neat feature that encourages more sensible driving but doesn’t leave the car feeling ponderous. Hybrid slackens this a little to allow more mixing of electric and petrol for fuel efficient but responsive driving but Sport and Sport+ remove this artificial block entirely to fully unlock the hybrid arrangement’s potential, which is fulsome.
Give it a shove in either of the two Sport settings and this 2.3-tonne five-door beast takes off like a car half its size thanks to the instant torque of the e-motor. Like other Porsches, the Cayenne features the sport response button which unlocks the whole lot for a 20-second burst - ideal for a quick overtake without having to dial through the different modes.
Of course, going fast in a straight line is one thing but the Cayenne’s real driver appeal is in the almost supernatural way it tackles corners. All versions of the hybrid come with Porsche’s Active Suspension Management while our test car added the optional adaptive air suspension. In combination, they allow this tall and top-heavy SUV a degree of body control that’s hard to fathom. Tip it into a corner and there’s none of the heave or lean you expect, it stays virtually flat and composed under pretty much any provocation, whilst offering levels of grip and feedback that do the iconic crest proud.
It’s a similar story under heavy throttle or braking and a fitting testament to the level of engineering that’s gone into making this a properly sporting SUV. And that freakish control doesn’t come at the expense of ride quality, with the dampers soaking up broken B roads, potholes and anything else with remarkable comfort.
Away from interesting roads, the Cayenne’s manners are similarly refined, with a composed ride and hefty sound insulation that mean long motorway miles will disappear with ease. That’s aided by the space and comfort offered by the Cayenne’s well-appointed and stylish cabin. The rear legroom is reasonable rather than remarkable but four adults can travel in comfort, with all the luxuries they can ask for and plenty of room for their luggage in the 645-litre boot. The fit and finish is rock solid throughout and only the cluttered arrangement of buttons on the centre console count against it.
Our test car’s interior was finished in a particularly fetching black and Bordeaux red two-tone leather, which was a near-£3,000 option on our Platinum Edition car. This special edition sits above the standard E-Hybrid and offers a styling pack that adds a platinum-coloured satin finish to exterior trim elements and the 21-inch alloys, plus a brushed aluminium interior finish and an optional exclusive “Crayon” exterior colour. It also bumps up the specification with standard fit dynamic LED headlights, a panoramic roof, Bose surround-sound system, ambient lighting and eight-way adjustable sports seats.
All that adds up to a list price of around £77,000 but more importantly, the Cayenne’s dual nature adds up to an SUV that matches its comfort and practicality with dynamism and performance. It’s not as green as some hybrids or as sporty as two-door Porsche but as an all-rounder its breadth of ability is truly impressive.
Turns out those Porsche bods did know what they were doing all those years ago.
Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid Platinum Edition
Price: £77,330 (£86,765 as tested); Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, petrol and 100kW electric motor; Power: 456bhp; Torque: 516lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 157mph; 0-62mph: 5 seconds; Economy: 76.3-85.6mpg; CO2 emissions: 75-83g/km; EV range: 25 miles