It used to be with The Cars, you got in, turned the key, and drove, stopping for gas on occasion. You had one driving mode, and life was simple. The 2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is different. You have six driving modes, and life can be very complicated.

(Full Disclosure: Porsche flew me to France, put me up in a nice hotel and fed me for a couple days so I could drive the new E-Hybrid. Everything was extraordinarily nice.) 

Is this too many driving modes? Yes, this is too many driving modes. The car’s emergency brake also engaged twice in seemingly safe situations. But we’ll get to all that. Let’s get through some basics first.

What is it?

The hybrid variant of Porsche’s big SUV starts at $79,990. It’s an update on the old Cayenne E-Hybrid, which debuted for the 2014 model year, itself an update on the Cayenne S Hybrid, the first such production hybrid in the Cayenne series, which we first laid eyes on in 2010.

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The 2019 E-Hybrid is better than both of those. It gets a power boost, for one thing making 455 horsepower from the combined work of a 3.0-liter turbo V6 and a 14.1 kWh electric motor, which is 40 horsepower more than the old model. It also has a longer all-electric range, at about 27 miles, and, Porsche says, has “heightened emotionality” in the form of with a sportier exhaust. Actually, nevermind, Porsche gets docked points for using the phrase “heightened emotionality.”

And let’s remember Porsche is going electrified in a big way, with hybrid variants of this, the Panamera, more than likely the next-generation 911, and the fully electric Mission E—a supposed Tesla-killer—coming soon.

How fast is this one, exactly? Porsche says it’s capable of going from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, and doing a quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds. Top speed is 155 mph, or 83 mph using electric alone. This is reasonably quick for an SUV, but one feeling you can’t escape while driving is it is just how heavy the E-Hybrid feels. Some cars can be fast and yet feel slow.

The E-Hybrid is fast and feels, well, not slow exactly, but definitely lumbering. (The car weighs the same as the old model, coming in at 5,060 pounds curb weight.)

Specs That Matter

The new E-Hybrid, probably most notably, will come with 22-inch wheels for the first time. These are big wheels! And though the cars I tested all had 21-inch wheels, when you get to wheel sizes that big, you might as well go one more. Both are massive and add to the overall impression that this car is not exactly here to make friends.

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Under the hood, there’s the aforementioned V6 attached to the eight-speed Tiptronic transmission (which is a torque converter-having automatic, not PDK, mind you), which smoothly worked it’s way through the gears in such a way that I hardly ever really noticed what it was doing.

Paddle shifters can also let you take control, but the thing about transmissions with more than, say, five speeds, is that they are tedious to drive with the paddle shifters. Better to let the car do what it was designed for, and cycle through the gears by itself.

Some notes on the battery, which is 14.1 kWh, but only 11 kWh of that is utilizable. With the standard 10-amp charger, the battery will recharge full in just under 8 hours, though a 32-amp charger is optional and will do the trick in about two and a half.

In practice, I kind of wondered why you would bother to use a charger at all, since the car charged reasonably quickly in its E-Charge mode, though it makes sense if you have a short commute and want to save on gas. EPA fuel consumption numbers aren’t yet official, but I can tell you that the onboard computer told me I was averaging something like 20-25 mpg driving in a variety of modes over several hours, though that number will go up significantly using the e-driving modes. (The old E-Hybrid was officially rated at the equivalent of 46 mpg.)

What’s Great

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The interior of the car is comfortable to the point that the person I was driving with I wanted to take a nap in the passenger seat during a long afternoon drive in southern France. He eventually stopped talking and fell asleep.

I couldn’t blame him; the car was a glove that fit both of us—tall, gangly men—quite perfectly. I suspect it would fit smaller people even better. Here’s a picture of the seats:

Damn good seats. The car also makes you feel very safe, perhaps owing to its weight, and the navigation was precise and gave the driver a lot of instructions on what to anticipate, which was helpful as I was in France and grew up in Ohio.

What’s Weak

Now, let’s talk about all those driving modes, as there is six of them. They are Sport, Sport Plus, Hybrid, E-Power, E-Charge, and E-Hold. All of these things do basically what you’d expect: The Sport mode uses the gasoline engine; the Sport Plus mode uses the engine plus a boost from the electric motor; Hybrid, which lets the Porsche use various power sources as it wants; E-Power is the all-electric; E-Charge uses the power of the V6 to charge the engine while driving; and E-Hold will use some electric power but not enough to deplete the battery. There’s also a sort of sub mode for off-roading, which raises the ride height.

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My problem isn’t with the modes, exactly, all of which did what they promised to do, but more with the fact that the E-Hybrid seems to want to be everything to everyone, without being particularly great at any one of those things.

Do you want something boring and safe and economical to ferry your children around? Sure, it can do that. Do you want something vaguely sporty and quick? The E-Hybrid is, you know, fine but more simulacrum of that than the genuine article. Do you want something that’s all-electric?

The E-Hybrid can do that, too, though the range is will be less than most people need except for the shortest commutes.

Further, in the course of driving, simple operation of the car is more complicated than any car need to be. Again, it’s the mode thing, since I found myself toggling between E-Charge and other modes, the latter because I wanted to go quick, the former out of some sense of guilt and shame that I’d let the battery run down, yet again. It was all very stressful.

And then there was the emergency brake, which is designed to quickly stop the car if it senses danger up ahead. Twice, the Cayenne stopped the car at low speeds quite jarringly without any imminent danger up ahead, once at a roundabout, and again as we slowly approached a parked car from several feet away.

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A spokesman from Porsche said, “The braking behavior you described is the result of an intervention by Porsche Active Safe. If the system detects an impending collision, it will apply the brakes and stop the vehicle as quickly as possible,” while also noting that the cars at the launch were preproduction models. So these might’ve been glitches, in other words, but one couldn’t help feeling a little unnerved.

Early Verdict

The 2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is a comfortable, powerful boat of a vehicle that has something in it for everyone. Will people buy it, or will they just opt for the standard S and Turbo models with more conventional powertrains? The power and fuel economy benefits here do make a solid case for this one.

It makes you admire Porsche’s ambition while also questioning whether the engineers could’ve made some more focused choices—cutting down on driving modes in particular, to some that drivers are more inclined to use daily. I’m not even really sure this is Porsche’s fault exactly, since, for now, we’re stuck in the weird in-between of the past and the future, necessitating all these redundancies.

I’ll propose two modes next time: A good all-electric with a longer range, and then Super Crazy Sports Mode That Also Charges The Battery. For most people, driving conservative and safe and driving Super Crazy Sporty Feeling Your Emotions are the only two real modes.