MONTPELLIER, France—The luxury and ultra-luxury SUV market may have just reached the pinnacle of its evolution. With the explosion of vehicles in its genre—the Bentley Bentayga, the Jaguar F-Pace, the Maserati Levante, the Lamborghini Urus, the upcoming Audi Q8 and BMW X7, and the recently launched Rolls-Royce Cullinan—it might seem that producing a stratospherically priced and extravagantly outfitted sport utility vehicle is a must for any luxury carmaker wanting to add zeroes to its sales volume and its bottom line.

But piling on everything—including the proverbial kitchen sink—and tacking on more zeroes at the end of the suggested retail price does not a perfect luxury or ultra-luxury SUV make.

Anyone with a super-fat bank account can now just scroll through a luxury car price list and click on the most expensive vehicle he or she can find.

But where’s the fun in that?

More importantly, where is the world-changing, forward-thinking maverick savvy in driving an SUV whose biggest claim to fame is being the ultimate in luxury, price, or prestige? (Well, for some people, that might be enough.)

But who wouldn’t want to project an image—and let’s face it, luxury products and brands are really all about image—of affluence borne of careful thoughtfulness and consideration, as opposed to one of simple wanton spending?

1) Enter the Porsche Cayenne plug-in E-Hybrid. Look-wise, it pushes all the right buttons. It’s instantly identifiable as a Porsche, the designers from Stuttgart becoming far more adept at incorporating design elements from the iconic 911 sports car into what was originally a fat and ungainly SUV.

It looks sleek and sporty from any angle—with taut lines and sinewy curves. The front and rear LED lights bear strong resemblance to the 911’s while the huge 22-inch alloy wheels and fat rubber fill up the fender wells like those in any supercar.

2) But even the most athletic styling will lose luster fast if it cannot be backed up by equally robust performance. And in this regard, the Cayenne E-Hybrid delivers.

Numbers? Zero to 100km/h in five seconds. A top speed of 253km/h. Not exactly record-setting, but already way quicker and faster than you’ll ever need for daily driving.

And daily driving is perhaps the strongest suit of the Cayenne E-Hybrid.

I should know. I got to drive the Cayenne E-Hybrid for the better part of the day in the beautiful wine country of Montpellier in France.

The roads we traversed were a delightful combination of high-speed autoroutes (France’s version of American freeways, but with a much less restrictive speed limit), serpentine mountain roads that not only zigged and zagged, but also wound up and down, and charming cobblestone country roads that passed through villages that looked like they haven’t changed in centuries.

And the Cayenne E-Hybrid delivered—smooth and supple on cobblestone roads, confident and fleet-footed on winding roads, and flat-out fast and exhilarating at high speeds.

Normally, it wouldn’t help that the car I drove the day before the Cayenne was a Porsche 911 GT3—and one of fastest and most powerful supercars ever produced. That would usually make the next test drive vehicle seem woefully slow. But no, the Cayenne E-Hybrid more than held its own.

The author at a mountainous rest stop outside Montpellier.

3) How can that be? Check out the engine stats: the 911 GT3 produces 500hp and 460Nm of torque; the latest Cayenne E-Hybrid, on the other hand, delivers 462hp and 700Nm of torque when the electric motor and the 3.0-liter V6 join forces. Even if it is substantially bigger and heavier than the GT3, the Cayenne E-Hybrid never fails to deliver a mother lode of forward propulsion. (The petrol engine outputs 340hp on its own while the absolutely silent electric motor generates 136hp.)

But the Niagara Falls torrent of power is far from the being the biggest trick. That would be the astonishing fuel efficiency. When I set off from the parking lot, it wouldn’t be until almost 40 kilometers along the way when the petrol engine actually turned on. I was driving relatively briskly on pure electric power all along! And no, it didn’t feel like a Toyota Prius on steroids—it felt 100 percent like a Porsche. (Porsche claims up to 44 kilometers and 135km/h on pure electric motivation alone—before the gasoline engine cuts in.)

4) After over 300 kilometers of driving, the engine computer (see photo) reported a fuel consumption of 7.7 liters per 100 kilometers of driving. That’s equivalent to a wonderfully impressive 12.9 kilometers per liter—in spirited and high-speed driving! And with the 85-liter capacity of the Cayenne’s fuel tank, that should give it a range of a stunning 1,096 kilometers!

5) Enough fuel thriftiness. More go-fast tech tricks? The Cayenne E-Hybrid’s electric boost strategy is based on Porsche’s phenomenal 918 Spyder supercar, which allows the electric motor to be used in all driving modes for instantaneous power. The extent of the boost assistance and battery recharging depends on the driving mode. In the performance-focused Sport and Sport Plus modes, virtually all of the battery’s energy can be used for a boost. In Sport mode, the battery is charged just as much as is required for a new boost. In Sport Plus mode, the battery is recharged as quickly as possible. In the other modes, a limited amount of energy is available for boosting in order to support efficient driving. It’s genius.

The Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is plugged in to its charging station.

The driver can toggle between four modes (E-Power, Hybrid Auto, Sport, and Sport Plus) using the mode switch on the steering wheel. Pressing the Sport Response Button in the middle of the mode switch ramps up the car’s responsiveness for 20 seconds, ensuring an even more enhanced performance—for spontaneous overtaking, for example. E-Hold and E-Charge modes are also available. These can be activated via the Porsche Communication Management (PCM). The central console can also be used to activate the Individual driving mode for a custom configuration defined by the drivers themselves.

Intelligent enough for you? Of course, you may just leave it all on default mode and let your right foot do all the thinking. That way you get to have your cake and eat it, too.

After driving the Cayenne E-Hybrid quite fast for a day and hardly using any fuel, it puts so many other luxury SUVs in perspective—and the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid as the singularly most intelligent of them all.

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