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Review: Porsche Cayenne

The new Porsche Cayenne range has plenty of surprises on offer – including a 150mph hybrid

Reviewed by John Simister

This newspaper is not noted for its love of hefty 4x4s. And a Porsche Cayenne does seem, to many, to represent the breed at its least likeable: it symbolises excess, it must surely demolish roads and natural resources with equal zeal, and it is presumably driven by people with a strong "me first" streak.

So much for stereotyping. The fact is that a Cayenne is a remarkable bender of physics' laws, able to move with an agility and satisfaction hard to imagine until you have experienced it. Even Porsche, though, is feeling the environmental heat. So here's a new Cayenne, clearly derived from the old one but wearing a new nose, slightly longer in the wheelbase for more space, significantly lighter (by up to 185kg, depending on the model) and significantly less ungreen.

Least ungreen of all is the Cayenne S Hybrid. It is not the only new Cayenne whose CO2 output sneaks under the 200g/km "gas-guzzler" threshold (the latest diesel version does that too), but to do it while offering such surprising pace is an impressive achievement.

Cut now to Chichester, Sussex. It is busy, with many shoppers crossing its ancient streets. Surprise is flashing across their faces as they clock the Cayenne that has just crept up on them. Why? Because they heard nothing. This big beast of a car is making almost no noise because it is running on its electric motor alone, as hybrids can usually do – in this case at up to 37mph.

It can't go far like this – after a mile its engine is chiming in again – but briefly we have been driving a zero-emissions Porsche, and Chichester has been intrigued. As well as the 47bhp electric motor, the Hybrid uses a petrol V6 engine which is an Audi-sourced, supercharged engine of 3.0 litres and 333bhp. So once the V6 is running, this is one very lively hybrid. It will reach 62mph from a standstill in 6.5 seconds and carry right on to a potential 150mph, changing up through the eight-speed automatic gearbox as it goes.

One unusual feature of this particular hybrid is its "sail mode". If you lift right off the accelerator when cruising at speeds of up to 97mph (probably not in the UK, then), the engine switches off and disengages from the drivetrain so the car effectively freewheels. This saves the energy otherwise absorbed by the friction of moving engine components. Restarting of the engine is automatic, instant and completely smooth, as it is when stop-starting in traffic or switching from electric to combined power.

In fact the only slightly annoying, hybrid-specific characteristic is the unprogressive response of the brakes as the Cayenne comes to a halt after gentle braking, when regenerative braking (using the motor as a generator to help recharge the lithium-ion battery pack) changes to normal braking. You get used to it.

At £57,609 the Hybrid costs £3,917 more than the 400bhp, V8-engined Cayenne S and a hefty £13,431 more than the Cayenne Diesel, also a 3.0-litre V6. The Diesel (with an Audi engine again) is rather less rapid, but 7.8 seconds to 62mph and a 135mph top speed make it lively enough, and economy is comparable to the Hybrid's. And then there's the Cayenne Turbo, the pinnacle of the range with a 500bhp, twin-turbo V8 and a heady £81,589 price tag.

I tried the Turbo on the Goodwood racetrack. With all electronics set to the sportiest-possible calibrations, the Turbo steered like a good sports car, stayed flat in corners (thanks to an active anti-roll system), and powered down the straights with a wonderful V8 battle-cry. It felt balanced, planted firmly on the track, and able to drift to order in a way you just don't expect in an SUV. I had to remember to start braking earlier than I would in a sports car, though, for braking is where the weight shows the most.

A Porsche Cayenne is still an unnecessarily hefty and ostentatious car, but there is no denying that it's very good at what it does. The Diesel is the sensible one, the Hybrid is the heart-on-sleeve one. And the Turbo? It's mad, it's bad, and those hot Goodwood laps will stay with me for a long time.

The Rivals

BMW X5 xDrive40d SE: £46,310.

Just scrapes below 200g/km CO2 with its 306bhp, 3.0-litre turbodiesel. Has pace between Cayenne Diesel and S Hybrid. Capable, civilised, popular.

Lexus RX 450h SE: £43,175.

All Lexus RX SUVs are now hybrids, with a 3.5-litre V6 engine and two electric motors. Combined output 299bhp, CO2 an impressive 148g/km.

Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI SE: £57,470.

Mighty 5.0-litre turbodiesel generates 313bhp and a worrying 313g/km CO2. Close relation of Cayenne under the skin.

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