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Tesla Inc. has set the luxury world on fire, challenging establishment automakers with compelling, all-electric products with Apple-like design simplicity. No one has been able to match them — not the Jaguar i-PACE, not the Audi e-Tron, not the Cadillac ELR.
Playing in the same price ballpark as the $86,190 Tesla Model X SUV, the $81,150 Cayenne plug-in boasts similar performance and range but in a more practical, more conservatively styled package.
This vehicle that doesn’t wow with gull-wing doors — but with high IQ scores in industry dependability rankings. Tesla is a brash newcomer that wants to throw out the rule book, while Porsche has built respect over decades of racing success. Their games are as different as Federer and Nadal. Old school vs. new age.
I spent some time with Cayenne to see what it’s got.
The E-Hybrid is Porsche’s third generation hybrid — a commitment on par with Honda’s Insight (the first hybrid on our shores in 1999), and nearly equal to the fourth-gen Toyota Prius. These guys know hybrids, and, like the Japanese, Porsche has priced the E-Hybrid competitively with its regular Cayenne lineup (unlike the premium hybrid pricing of some other brands).
Cayenne E-Hybrid comes with old school, de rigueur virtue signaling — phosphorescent Acid Green “E-Hybrid” badging on the its flanks and tukus, as well as radiant green brake calipers. Less flashy customers can choose white or yellow calipers as part of Porsche’s typically dizzying array of options to personalize your car. But I like the Acid Green as a way to bring flavor to Cayenne’s vanilla design.
Cayenne has come a long way since its first ungainly attempt to translate Porsche 911-like, sports-car styling to a five-door ute. The new gen exudes masculinity even as it’s still one of the most conservatively styled SUVs out there.
That’s in stark relief with the Tesla Model X with its unmistakable egg shape, big hips and signature gull-wing doors. Interestingly, E-Hybrid comes at a time when the sleek, all-electric Porsche Taycan sedan has debuted as a direct competitor to the Tesla Model S sedan.
Cayenne’s conservative approach is in keeping with its appeal to luxury shoppers who want a quick green machine, but without the sacrifices of the full-electric lifestyle.
Own a Tesla and you’ll only visit service stations to buy newspapers. So, too, the Cayenne E-Hybrid. Plug it in overnight and Porsche claims 20 miles of electric juice for local commutes. Make that, plug into a 240-volt, Level 2 outlet and you’ll get 20 miles. Invest $2,000 for Level 2 installation, because a 110 volt-wall is terribly inconsistent.
On my 110-volt garage outlet I got seven miles in nine hours of charging. Ugh. Welcome to the uncertainties of the electric frontier. Fortunately, the gas engine will recharge the battery while driving for more, pure EV opportunities.
Turn the Porsche’s old-school dash key — on the left just like Porsche race cars of old — and the E-Hybrid defaulted to E-Power mode, allowing fully electric driving around town. Porsche achieves this with a bifurcated throttle. Let me explain.
Maintaining moderate throttle, I could drive on an electric charge over 70 mph on local interstates. A digital instrument gauge flanked the Porsche’s center tac, allowing me to monitor the range on E-Power. Bury the throttle for a quick maneuver and you’ll feel a noticeable detent in the throttle as it grabs the gas engine for help.
The downside of that thrill is massive range suck. Drive Up North and Tesla drivers will get their own eggshell time as the charging network thins out. Model X promises 353 miles of electric range at perfect, 55 mph driving — but access your inner Han Solo (or travel at over 70 mph) and range plummets.
That’s where plug-in hybrids like Porsche shine. Combined gas-electric range is an impressive 430 miles. And with gas stations everywhere, there’s no range anxiety even when you want to have fun — which is often in this rhino in tennis shoes.
The E-Hybrid is built for speed.
The 5,000-pound beast (400 shy of the Model X) matches the Tesla from 0-60. Thank the standard Sports Chrono package and its cool, steering-wheel-mounted Sport Response button (just like a 911), which allowed me to instantly switch from egg-shell E-Power mode to face-flattening Sport Plus mode. Hold on, honey!