Porsche's Cayenne E-Hybrid Is an Ideal Compromise

It's not the Porsche you want, but it's probably the best one for your life.

porsche cayenne e hybrid phev plug in
Will Sabel Courtney

If you love cars — hell, even if you simply like cars — odds are good you've fantasized about being behind the wheel of a Porsche. Maybe it's thoughts of hurling the 919 Hybrid or 962 around Le Mans, or cruising down Highway 1 in a 356, or pulling up to prom in a 911 GT2 RS or one of a million other variations on the theme. Porsches are the sorts of cars that lend themselves easily to all sorts of dreams.

I can almost guarantee, though, that you haven't fantasized about driving the Cayenne E-Hybrid.

On the off chance you have dreamed about driving Porsche's spicy pepper of a crossover, odds are good it was something like the insane Cayenne Turbo GT, or the first-gen Cayenne GTS with the manual gearbox, or the rally-spec Cayenne S Transsyberia. A plug-in hybrid SUV that sits in the midst of the lineup, though? Probably not.

But don't let the Cayenne E-Hybrid's comparative lack of sex appeal fool you into thinking it's in any way unworthy of the Porsche name — or a bad car. Far from it. In fact, after spending a week behind the wheel, I'd say there's a strong case to be made that, for most of us, it's the best Porsche for everyday life.

The Cayenne E-Hybrid is the most affordable way to get this kind of power in a porsche

Granted, Porsches aren't muscle cars; their virtues stretch well beyond simple raw horsepower and torque. Still, Porsches are often known for packing a punch; the Taycan Turbo S delivers up to 750 hp in launch control, for example, while the 911 Turbo S delivers 640 — and both use their power to do 0-60 mph in 2.2 seconds.

The Cayenne E-Hybrid's combination of a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 and an electric motor mounted ahead of the eight-speed automatic join forces to create a combined maximum output of 455 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. That, for the record, is more than any 718 Boxster or Cayman, and more than any new 911 that doesn't have Turbo or GT3 in its name. The closest contender is the Taycan 4 Cross Turismo, which technically beats the Cayenne E-Hybrid's pony count by 14 horses — but only when launch control is engaged, and only for brief spurts. (For continuous use, it tops out at 375 horses.) To unquestionably beat this SUV's power, you'll have to level up to the $110,720 Taycan 4S with Performance Battery Plus or the $116,050 Panamera 4S E-Hybrid.

If you're looking to compare it against other sporty SUVs, you'll still likely need to pony up to match or beat the Cayenne E-Hybrid. If you want a Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class that can outdo the Porsche's stats, you'll have to go all the way to the $115,000 GLE 63 S. If you'd rather cross-shop against BMWs, you'll have better luck; the $83,795 X5 M50i's 523 hp and 553 lb-ft easily whip the Cayenne E-Hybrid's output. Then again, the Bimmer only gets 16 mpg in-town and 22 mpg on the highway, whereas...

The Cayenne E-Hybrid gets decent fuel economy

Ask the EPA, and they'll tell you the Cayenne E-Hybrid gets the energy use equivalent of 46 miles per gallon when using battery power and gas together, and 21 miles per gallon combined when using the gasoline motor alone. But much as the feds' testing of the Taycan's range seems drastically conservative, their data on the PHEV Cayenne seems a bit...cautious.

Even with the battery at an effective zero percent, I saw nearly 25 miles per gallon overall along six hours of highway driving with four adults and their luggage aboard — even while averaging speeds of around 75 miles per hour. Even with the battery depleted enough to offer zero claimed miles of EV range, the Cayenne still leans on its electric motor from time to time, letting the engine power down for brief bursts every chance it can.

With a full charge, of course, the Cayenne E-Hybrid can travel around 25 miles on electrons alone (Porsche claims 31 miles, but it was a bit less in my experience), even at speeds of up to 83 miles per hour. Depending on your route and driving style, you could use this Porsche for your daily drive to and from work for months without using gasoline.

One of the advantages of a PHEV over a pure EV, in theory, is that you likely don't need specialized charging infrastructure; plug it into the outlet you already have in your garage when you get home at 6pm, and by 8am the next day, you should have enough power for the daily commute. My attempts to charge the E-Hybrid on 110-volt outlets — the only ones available where I was staying — proved that idea better in theory than in practice, however. 12 hours of charging only delivered 13 miles of claimed range.

Indeed, it may not be quite as eco-friendly as a power outlet fed by a wind turbine or solar panel, but the quickest way to charge the Cayenne E-Hybrid is to use the gas engine as a generator. Dial up Sport or Sport Plus mode and drive normally, and the SUV will add nearly a mile of electric range for every mile you cover.

porsche cayenne e hybrid
Will Sabel Courtney

This Porsche is still fun to drive (as you'd expect)

With a curb weight of almost 5,200 pounds and the high center of gravity that comes with increased ground clearance and a crossover driving position, the Cayenne E-Hybrid doesn't exactly slice up turns like a Boxster. Still, by the standards of 2.6-ton SUVs, it's an absolute pleasure to drive. Like every new Porsche, the steering is direct and crisp, with little play and a decent amount of feedback; compared to the remote, loose steering racks of most sport-utes, it's a revelation. The adaptive dampers button down nicely when pressed into Sport or Sport Plus modes, helping keep the heavy body settled in turns.

Thanks to the help of the electric motor, there's little sense of waiting on turbo lag; hit the right pedal and it takes off with enough verve to startle the unsuspecting at any speed. And when

You can't argue with the space and capability of an SUV

We car enthusiasts may complain about the ubiquity of SUVs and pickups and the diminishing ranks of sedans and station wagons, but there are plenty of reasons crossovers and trucks are so popular that go beyond the simple animal reasoning of "tall car feels safer."

Sure, a Panamera can also seat four adults comfortably, and deliver more thrills per mile all around — but the Cayenne can vault over curbs, plow through snow and deeper water and take potholes without complaint in a way that a Panamera can't. Much as we might want the more entertaining car, we need the one that can get us where we need to go whenever and wherever.

And, in the specific case of the Cayenne, it's also more affordable than the sedan equivalent. Add in the versatility of the E-Hybrid powertrain, and you wind up with an exceptional all-around vehicle...even if you're not likely to wind up dreaming about it once you hit the Casper.

The 2021 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid

Base Price / Price as Tested: $83,150 / $101,650

Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 + electric motor + 17.9-kWh battery; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive

Horsepower: 455

Torque: 516 lb-ft

EPA Fuel Economy: 46 mpg-e in electric mode; 21 mpg combined overall

Seats: Five

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