Nothing in the modern automotive world should come as a surprise any more.
Today, Toyota sells more Hiluxs to Australians than all of Holden’s models put together, the Pikes Peak hill climb record is held by an electric Volkswagen, Mitsubishi Australia still sells 300 examples of the 12-year old Lancer per month and, if current trends continue, the manual gearbox is likely to die out before the Lancer. Whatever next?
Over its 88 years, Porsche certainly hasn’t fought against the tides of change and virtually epitomises the ‘diversify or die’ mantra, landmarked in more recent years by the switch to a water-cooled 911, the introduction of SUVs and, perhaps most significantly, electrification.
In each case and many others, the German car maker has faced initial widespread criticism for technological and brand direction changes, only for the naysayers to return with tails firmly between the legs and glittering reviews.
That’s why we are so excited to snatch the keys to a Cayenne E-hybrid for the next six weeks.
For starters, the Cayenne in ‘standard’ combustion-only form (of which there are three variants) is a resoundingly impressive large SUV, with sublime handling characteristics, classy cabins and sharp styling, and its defining feature promises to impress as well.
While we’ll be keeping an eye on all those already established qualities, our main focus will be on the unique drivetrain.
In isolation, a hybrid-powered Porsche is intriguing in both a technological and historical context but, as it effectively takes the place of the now-discontinued diesel, there is a third element under the spotlight for the Cayenne E-Hybrid and another burden for it to bear.
In simple terms, the hybrid version uses the entry-level Cayenne as it basis including its 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine, eight-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive system.
However, to that commendable platform, the E-Hybrid adds a 100kW electric motor slotted between the engine and gearbox, a 14.1kWh lithium-ion battery in the boot and a charging socket.
That’s right – the E-Hybrid is a plug-in, which means, given the correct circumstances, owners have the potential to kick their fossil fuel habit.
But Porsche is adamant to shake the perception that hybrids are just about efficiency, economy, saving fuel, saving the world, and saving face. While there certainly is a borderline altruistic motive to the E-Hybrid system, the company is highlighting its ability to boost performance too.
The manic 918 Spyder supercar and Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid hyper sedan have unequivocally started a trend of ballistic plug-in Porsches, but now it is the turn of a large SUV to continue the bloodline and all that it represents. That, perhaps, is a harder stunt to pull off.
Its vital statistics appear to be impossibly opposed. On the one hand, the electric drivetrain adds a massive 300kg to the unladen weight of the entry-level Cayenne as well as $20,000 to its price.
But the benefits are equally spectacular on paper. Combined cycle fuel use is officially claimed to be 3.4 litres per 100km, and combined petrol /electric power peaks at 340kW and 700Nm of torque - enough to accelerate from zero to 100km/h in five seconds flat.
The Cayenne has a lot to prove. Following in the tyre tracks of its three excellent combustion-powered stablemates, the E-hybrid has to be uncompromising. It has to appease former diesel customers with prodigious torque and fuel economy, but it also has to convince a largely sceptical audience that plug-in power can honour the esteemed Stuttgart badge.
Most subjectively though, its heftier price of $136,700 has to offer irresistible value in the eyes of the customer and in the shadow of an increasing number of rivals competing in the electrified large SUV arena.
Investigating all of those compelling claims is what the next six weeks are going to be all about.