The 2012 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid is a hybrid that works alright as one, but is more of a luxury SUV that turns corners far too well.

Harley Earl once said, “If you go by a school and the kids don’t whistle, back to the drawing board.” If you don’t know who that man was, I’ll only tell you that he’s one of the most influential automotive designers, minds, and teachers the industry ever had. Why, since this is an SUV Porsche enthusiasts love to hate, am I quoting an automotive visionary? Because, no matter what P-Car buying minds say, this is one hell of a vehicle. The 2012 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid isn’t your contemporary hybrid, really. Think Porsche, with an electric drive system that helps gas mileage a bit.

The Cayenne S Hybrid has a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 motor making 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, but with a Nickel Metal-hydride, or NiMh, battery adding 47 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. The full power the Cayenne can call up in full hybrid drive is 380 hp at 5500 rpm and 428 lb-ft of torque, all available from 1000 rpm.

Why, then, is this a Cayenne S if the S comes with a V8? Good question… I don’t know the answer to that one. I’d prefer it be called the Cayenne Hybrid, because it does use a V6 instead of the 4.8-liter V8. Regardless, EPA estimated gas mileage is 20 city and 24 highway (4 and 1-2 mpg better city/highway over the standard Cayenne and Cayenne S models). All said, I averaged right around 20-21 between city and highway, with lots of mixed driving between sport and comfort modes, with various height settings for testing purposes. I ended my week with the Cayenne S Hybrid giving me right at 500 miles to a tank with about 45 miles left on the range. Good gas mileage? For something that weighs 4,938 lbs, I’d say so. It’s nimble and light on its feet, especially when compared to something similar in size from an American or Japanese car company. Hell, in my opinion the Cayenne S Hybrid felt better to point and shoot around back roads than a Cadillac CTS – a supposed sports sedan. It should be noted that the Cayenne does suffer from a lack of steering feel when hustling it around, but that probably won’t bother most buyers, if I’m honest.

There’s certainly no mistaking this to be a hybrid, since it has one giant badge on the rear deck, and two on either fender. Make no mistake, though, because when you see this coming you’ll still think it’s one sexy Cayenne. The interior has zero mention that you’re driving a hybrid, outside of a small E-Power button next to the Sport button -this button allows the car to be driven under electricity only for a few miles-, and a couple of screens worth of hybrid-electric motor information in the navigation system. Sitting in the seats you feel more than comfortable and always at control. The Steering wheel is supple and smooth, with every button and switch on the center console doing some job that appears important. Some may complain there are too many of them, but I don’t mind the F-16-esque center console. The Bluetooth works well, but has no audio function to play music from your phone. Rear seat space is abundant, and the hatch area isn’t the largest, but it’s roomy enough for some longer trips worth of luggage, and a dog. Folding down the rear seats allowed me to fit my two 70 lb German Shepherd puppies.

Which brings me to my Harley Earl quote. Driving past kids in any Porsche will get you attention. One Sunday afternoon I took my 16 and 15-year-old niece and nephew to a movie with two of their friends. We met the kids there, but when they found out I was driving a Porsche you could see the begging look in their eyes to take them home in it. When they walked up and saw the fact that it was a Cayenne S Hybrid, you’d expect them to have cared, but they didn’t care if it were doo-doo brown and had vomit stains on it. In their eyes, it was a Porsche that was cool looking, cost a ton of money, and they got to be seen in it. On the drive to their houses, everyone remarked on the amazing comfort at highway speeds, even going as far to say that it was as if we were floating over the road instead of driving on it. A very interesting observation given that this Cayenne S Hybrid was fitted with 21-inch wheels and 295/35 R 21 tires front and rear. A lot of this comes down to the magnificent Comfort driving mode with the Porsche Active Stability Management in the normal height setting for max comfort. Driving at any speed is perfectly relaxing, but you’ll tend to drive too fast because it’s always so smooth, which was annoying. So much so that I constantly drove with cruise control engaged.

It was the PASM that allowed me to drive the Cayenne however I wanted, which, knowing me, I prefer full control over all settings that I can be given power of. Push the Sport button just fore of the cupholders, and the vehicle automatically engages sport suspension, as well as the lowest possible height. That reminds me, there are 5 possible height settings. The lowest setting is for loading cargo into the rear, and automatically goes back up once you start driving away. The lowest above that is the sport setting, followed by the normal, then comfort, and the absolute highest ride height, which is only able to be engaged at lower speeds when traveling over rough terrain, or wading through deep water.

For the most part I had the Cayenne in the normal or sport settings. While there was a noticeable difference in the ride quality in sport, it was still no worse than that of a Cadillac Escalade. And it felt far better than my parents’ 2009 Escalade ESV with about 60,000 miles on it. Driving in sport mode around back roads was marvelous, I must say. Having the 8-speed automatic transmission pumping through gears quickly for an SUV, holding gears when flying around high-speed corners, and dropping down to the best gear when made to, felt very alive. The 295-width tires certainly helped a lot, even while adding extra weight. The Cayenne S Hybrid, for a Porsche, felt as sports car-like as you could ask for from something sitting at the height of two-three 911s on top of one another. While the brakes are sports car good, and will stop you on a dime, they are a bit touchy and can feel grabby at low speeds. The Cayenne S Hybrid is fitted with a regenerative braking system, so that could explain it.

With the electric and gas motors working in-sync, the Cayenne S Hybrid can crack off a Porsche estimated 6.1 second 0-to-60 mph run (6-tenths slower than the 4.8-liter V8 Cayenne S). Honestly, I think it’s possible the Hybrid’s a couple tenths quicker than that, because from a stop the Porsche launches like a madman. It absolutely tears the pavement off the ground as it hauls to 80 mph as quickly as a V6 Camaro could, maybe quicker. However, coming off a stop light the Porsche Hybrid can sometimes get a little tripped up, since it has start-stop technology. Once the car comes to a complete stop for about a second, the motor shuts off. Taking your foot off the brake will re-engage the gas engine, but do so too quickly and it’ll hesitate just enough. Nothing that’s really bad, but just something I noticed and felt, as will most customers.

Driving the Cayenne as a hybrid was a tad nerve-racking. I never actually knew when the electric motor would be powering the car, outside of helping to thrust it from a standstill. There is a gauge to the right of the tachometer that allows you to see various things like the navigation map, tire pressures, radio controls, and a readout that displays what’s currently driving the wheels: the engine, electric motor, or both. I even noticed that at highway speeds sometimes the gas motor would shut off and the car would be gliding on electric power for a few seconds, which helps to save on gas. Very interesting to see at 80 mph. Interesting and odd, that is.

To better understand how this works, there is a hydraulic clutch between the motors that can disengage the gas powered motor and engage the electric one under lighter driving loads, i.e. highway cruising, city driving, etc. The NiMh battery is stored under the rear cargo floor, making a spare tire not available. But worry not, you get a can of fix-a-flat and an electrically powered air pump for the tires. It’s the sort of things sports car drivers have gotten used to.

To say that the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid is a real hybrid is true, but it doesn’t seem as though it’s really meant to be one. It almost acts as an answer to a question no one was asking, or maybe even a vehicle to win some extra points with the green crowd. That doesn’t mean this Cayenne isn’t any good. Quite the contrary, in fact. The Cayenne S Hybrid achieves better gas mileage than all of the other models while still costing around the same. The vehicle I had was $102,185, which isn’t really representative of what you’d pay. My car had a lot of options that not many people would get or need, like the nearly 6 grand worth of interior two-tone special leather. Or the over 6,000 dollars worth of 21-inch wheels. Take those two options off the list and you’ve already dropped to $90,075. There are a few other options that you could easily lose to drop into the mid-80s, so don’t worry about the price, honestly. There’s only one thing this car was missing at that high price: rear seat climate controls. Every possible thing you could imagine, except being able to control your own temperature and fan speed as a rear guest. There were rear seat heaters, though. How weird is that?

While I definitely enjoyed my time in the 2012 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid – I even changed a friend’s mind about the Cayenne in general showing him this car-, I found myself wanting the new Cayenne Diesel that’s set to arrive at dealers soon, if not already. That’ll get you 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, respectively. Oh, and it also starts out at over $14,000 less than the Hybrid Cayenne. So package the $102,185 Hybrid I had, subtract 14 grand, and you get the Diesel model for about $88,000. Granted, the S Hybrid is far faster in a straight line, and will probably prove to be more spry in the corners, too. But 5 mpg better on the highway cycle is enough to sell me.

[Photos by Corey Privette]

2012 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid MSRP (with destination): $69,975

Price with options: $102,185

Standard Equipment:

3.0-liter supercharged V6

Parallel full hybrid drive system w/electric motor & 288V NiMH battery

8-speed Tiptronic transmission w/start-stop

Porsche Traction Management w/permanent all-wheel drive

Porsche Stability Management

14.2-in. vented rotors w/6-piston calipers in front, 13-in. vented rotors w/4-piston calipers in back

Tire pressure monitoring system

Variable assist power steering

Power moonroof

Power liftgate

Cruise control

Heated & retractable exterior mirrors

5 12V power outlets

Tested vehicle options:

Auburn Metallic paint – $790

Two-tone natural leather Espresso/Cognac interior – $5,595

21-inch Cayenne Speed wheels painted black with arch extension – $6,115

Premium Package Plus – $11,650 (because the Cayenne S Hybrid I tested had this option ticked, most optional equipment comes included, as you’ll see below)

Extended exterior package paint – $2,400

14-way power seats w/memory – Included

Air suspension – Included

PASM: Porsche Active Stability Management with auto-leveling and height adjustment – Included

Heated leather steering wheel – Included

Park Assist front & rear with rear camera – Included

Lane Change Assist (LCA) – Included

Electric roll-up rear side shades – Included

Bose Audio package – $2,160

Porsche entry and drive – $1,090

Exterior package high gloss black – $150

Thermal and noise insulated glass with privacy – $1,120

Heated windscreen with insulated privacy glass – $490

Trailer coupling w/ removable ball joint – $650

Heated/cooled front seats

Heated rear seats

Auto-dimming rearview mirror

Auto-dimming exterior mirrors

Dimmable interior LED lighting

PCM w/navigation module

Bi-Xenon headlights w/PDLS – Porsche Dynamic Light System

Six-disc CD/DVD changer

The Good: Amazingly agile for nearly 5,000 lbs; Gas mileage you’ll enjoy enough to laugh at gas guzzling SUVs; It’s a Porsche, it’s going to be amazing; So comfortable I almost chose it over my bed at night; Beautiful Auburn metallic paint; Ride comfort and overall luxury is befitting of a private jet on a clear day.
The Bad: A hybrid that’ll only reward you with 2 mpg better highway mileage than a Cayenne S; No rear climate control at $102K? Seems a bit odd; Size matters at this price, and the Cayenne is smaller than an Escalade at the same price.
The Ugly: There’s the Cayenne Diesel coming out that’s cheaper, gets better highway fuel economy, and is every bit as luxurious. Supposedly it’ll do 750+ miles to a tank of pure highway pleasure.
The Truth: Can you put a price on luxury? Yeah, of course you can. While I’d much rather have a Cayenne over an Escalade, I can understand why some would buy the latter for family purposes. If you don’t have more than a couple kids, maybe you do or don’t have a medium sized dog, you’d be a fool to choose anything American or Japanese over the Cayenne, in my opinion. Plus, it’s far more seductive, and turns the heads of school kids as you drive by. Still, I’d go for the Diesel over the Cayenne S Hybrid…