Porsche is not yet fully a part of the Volkswagen family, but the connections run deep—especially when it comes to their midsize SUVs: the Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg. The vehicles share a common powertrain, but there are key differences in terms of how the companies tackle the challenge of greater fuel efficiency (depending on the driving style and pocketbook of car buyers). Hybridcars.com had the chance to experience two hybrid versions, and one diesel, back-to-back at the last week’s Western Automotive Journalists’ Media Day program in Monterey, Calif.
2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
When Porsche, a niche sports car manufacturer, is putting hybrids on the market, it’s a clear signal that the technology has broken out of the green ghetto. Of course, for Porsche is tailoring its hybrids to the expectation of a sports car buyer. That means adding a 47-horsepower electric motor to a supercharged 333-horsepower V-6 engine Cayenne S. The result is power equal to the V-8 Cayenne S with fuel economy exceeding the V-6. While the official fuel economy numbers are 20-mpg city and 24-mpg highway, journalists managed to top 30 mpg. Driving the Cayenne at freeway speeds, the sophistication of the hybrid system is evident when coasting and the engine tachometer drops to zero while the SUV hurtles forward beyond legal speeds.
The sailing feature is cool, but it’s a rougher ride when it comes to the Cayenne Hybrid’s price. Although the hybrid model lists for $67,700—about $3,000 more than the regular Cayenne S—it is $20,000 more than the entry-level Cayenne.
2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid
Sport utilities from VW and Porsche start with the same basic platform, but end up in clearly different places. It’s hard to believe the VW Touareg Hybrid has the same engine as the Porsche Cayenne. Even though the specs are almost identical, the VW version doesn’t have the pickup or acceleration of the Porsche. Not that it’s a slouch, still turning in 0-60 mph times below seven seconds, but driving the two models back-to-back reveals a clear sporty bias in Porsche’s favor. At $60,565 it represents only a slight bargain compared to its Stuttgart cousin.
The VW has the same feature where the electric motor takes over during high-speed coasting. VW also has a fuel economy gauge more prominently located on the dash, possibly an indication that it expects its owners to be more conscious of the fuel-savings in the hybrid. Fuel economy levels are the same as the Porsche.
2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI
Then there’s the wild card: the latest clean diesel model from VW. Its turbocharged 3-liter engine delivers acceleration slightly lower than the two hybrids. While diesel engines produce great low-end torque, it doesn’t reach the level of an electric motor and its zero rpm torque. That said, the performance is more than adequate for both around town and on the highway—and the fuel economy reaches 28 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg in the city. The most striking number is the price: $47,950 for the basic diesel, well below the hybrid competition.
Another Route: Keep It Light and Simple
These three vehicles represent the current breadth of German advanced engineering, providing sophisticated hybrid and diesel technology to these useful, spacious and fast SUVs—which also benefit from an 8-speed transmission, a relatively aerodynamic design, and other refinements.
Hardcore hybrid enthusiasts might view these vehicles as not exactly the greenest available choices. But they might also break ranks, and question if the hybrid and diesel technologies are worth the price of admission compared the plain vanilla conventional gas-powered VW Touareg, considering that it’s the lightest of the three options: 4,711 pounds in curb weight compared to 4,974 for the diesel and 5,135 for the hybrid. The lighter weight helps keep the conventional Touareg’s 16 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway in the same territory as the hybrid. And the gas-powered Touareg is also the lightest on the pocketbook: starting at $44,450, well below the other models.