Trying to embrace a Hybrid future

THIS week I have been rather fortunate to have had the use of a 2019-specification Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid as my daily driver and it has been quite the revealing experience.

As someone with four vehicles on my own personal fleet with engines totalling 24 cylinders and 15.5 litres of most definitely non-eco friendly gas-burning fun, this was my first experience with something designed not only with driving enjoyment in mind but the environment as well.

I’ll be straight up: I’ve never particularly like Hybrids. They’ve ruined the sound of Formula 1 and they add unnecessary weight to road cars which, in fact, is counter productive given weight is the number one enemy of economy.

However an open mind is required in these changing times in the automotive landscape, so with that in mind I dived in.

The Cayenne is Porsche’s big SUV and as well as being the most popular model of the current Porsche range, is arguably also the tool that allows the mad Germans to continue pumping out the 911 in all of its glorious incarnations despite the odds of them only becoming less politically correct in this health-and-safety conscious world in which we all coexist.

However, Porsche being Porsche, adding hybridisation to the Cayenne is not just a cynical marketing exercise designed to pander to the environmentalists in the world.

Porsche is a Sports Car company, arguably the sports car company, so anything they do has performance in mind, even if it’s enhancing a 2,295 kilogram SUV more likely to run to the designer shops in the trendy suburbs rather than attack the Nürburgring.

Of course, because it’s a Porsche it could do that well, too. I drove a Macan, Porsche’s mid-sized SUV, for a week earlier this year and I was amazed at how something that sat so high and carried so much weight above its beltline could attack a series of corners so well.

The Cayenne is little different: like every Porsche it shrinks itself as best as possible around the driver and with a ride, even on the softest setting, that is geared towards sport rather than plushness, corners are no problem. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a 911 and sometimes its weight and girth are impossible to hide completely. But a well driven one has the chance to embarrass more credentialled sports cars in most conditions.

What’s more, it’s quick. Not just quick for an SUV, but quick for pretty much anything. The combination of turbocharged V6 and the on-demand shove from the electric motor means a massive thwack of torque is available almost instantly and while power is great, it’s Torque that allows you to overtake, to win the traffic light drag race and punch out of intersections much quicker than you expected. Sorry, officer.

While Porsche make a point of advertising the fact that the E-Hybrid has low rolling-resistance Michelin Eco tyres and a combined fuel economy number of 3.4 litres per 100km (good luck getting that yourself, though), what they have actually done is use the bits that make a car more ‘green’ to enhance the performance.

As far as I can tell, the E-Hybrid is the kind of car you consider purchasing not because you’re an eco-warrior, rather when you inevitably get sick of any tree-hugging environmentalist friends you may have banging on about how your love of cars is damaging the earth.

Only, you know for a fact that a deranged third-world dictator is more likely to ruin the world rather than your lovely old Holden you use twice a month.

The Cayenne offers the best of both worlds. When you arrive at your next meeting at a free-trade eco bar for your monthly catch-up over green shakes made from chia seeds and the tears of a baby giraffe, you can tell them all about how good for the world your new car is.

“Look,” you’ll beam, pointing at the flashes of electric green badges, bright green brake callipers and the plethora of ‘E’ badges adorning the car. “I’ve got a hybrid. That’s right.. a HYBRID.” (It’s important to emphasise the last part to make sure they truly know that you, too, are saving the world).

“This car only makes 78 grams of carbon per kilometre which is a third of the non-hybrid version.. and have you seen how many ‘e’ logos it has? That means it’s very green indeed. And I can do 40 kilometres on the battery before I even have to start the engine! Imagine how many trips to the Chia seed shop I can make before I have to put fuel in!”

Your eco-loving, planet saving friends will of course be highly impressed and will move on from talking about the polar ice caps melting to something else, like the impending doom from an asteroid strike or something equally pleasant.

You can then use the extra 400 newton meters of grunt that the electric motor delivers, coupled with the 450 torques provided by the turbocharged V6 to get from standstill to 100km/hr in five seconds, leaving your greenie friends in a cloud of distinctly black rubber and very much in your wake. And this will make you feel good.

You’ll feel even better if you purchase the top of the line V8-powered E-Hybrid, which has more power than a V8 Supercar, 900 Newton Metres of Torque which, and this is a fact, will actually change the rotation of earth when you accelerate from zero to 100km/hr in about the same time as a GT3. I haven’t driven it yet but I would very much like to know what that feels like in a car that weighs 2.5 tonnes.

Porsche, in their usual genius way, have used hybridisation to enhance the traditional petrol motor to add performance, add sustainability and make the people complaining about something that should be the least of their worries move on to something else.

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s exactly what motorsport is doing at the moment and has been for some time.

Formula 1, even though they have done a truly terrible job of marketing it and the cars do sound flat as a tack, currently have the most efficient internal combustion engines ever produced and the most effective battery hybrid systems yet invented to supplement that power. LeMans racing has been pioneering that kind of tech for ages, IndyCar will introduce a hybrid element soon and even the BTCC are planning to introduce a KERS-style system to their cars by 2022.

The current push of battery-fuelled road cars and electric racing series are hugely concerning for old-school fans like me who want the noise, the sound and the visceral nature of 1980s Formula 1 cars – not the silence of Formula E.

The Cayenne E-Hybrid is a perfect road-going example of a company using ‘eco’ technology to improve the credentials of the existing internal combustion powerplants to boost both performance and their broader credibility in a changing world.

So while Porsche are pushing into the world of battery-powered vehicles – they just launched the Taycan and entered the aforementioned Formula E Championship – in reality it’s likely that the Cayenne E-Hybrid’s driveline is the real future here.

It marries the soul of a petrol-powered car with the eco credentials of EV cars to not only pacify the environmentalists, but add enormous performance as well.

If that is the future of road cars and racing cars alike, perhaps it’s not a bad thing at all – much like the Cayenne E Hybrid.

Now.. about that V8 version?

Richard Craill

Working full time in the motorsport industry since 2004, Richard has established himself within the group of Australia’s core motorsport broadcasters, covering the support card at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix for Channel 10, the Bathurst 12 Hour for Channel 7 and RadioLeMans plus Porsche Carrera Cup & Touring Car Masters for FOX Sports’ Supercars coverage. Works a PR bloke for several teams and categories, is an amateur motorsport photographer and owns five cars, most of them Holdens, of varying vintage and state of disrepair.

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