RAC Cars News


Luxury SUVs go clean and green

By raccars Published


Plug-in hybrid powertrains are changing the image of luxury SUVs.

Previously considered gas guzzling and ostentatious, luxury SUVs are starting to look like the sensible and conscientious choice for clean and green leaning motorists. While all three have unnecessarily long and complicated names, the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Momentum and the BMW X5 xDrive40e M Sport all offer cosseting luxury combined with fuel consumption of at least 80mpg - according to official manufacturers' figures anyway. What distinguishes them is the ability to cruise along on electric power alone for about 20 miles at a time, without using any fuel.

What's under the bonnet?

Of course their electric motors are combined with substantial internal combustion units; the Porsche a V6 with supercharger, four cylinders and a turbo for the BMW which Volvo matches and augments with a supercharger. All three come with eight speed automatic transmissions, four wheel drive and a variety of pre-set driving modes selectable by the driver.

Hybrid SUVs on the road

If you haven't driven a hybrid before, you'll experience something of a learning curve when you first get behind the wheel. The cars are designed to switch seamlessly between fuel and electric power but the reality is not quite as smooth as silk. If you put your foot down in electric mode you could be surprised by a power surge when the combustion engine joins in, while breaking can be a jerky experience too.

Of these three the BMW X5 xDrive40e M Sport is most comfortable when switching between power modes but loses that smoothness in braking. It's also the slowest of the three, taking 6.8 seconds to get to 60mph compared to the Porsche's 5.7 seconds and the Volvo, the quickest of the lot at 5.4 seconds.

The Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid handles well, better than its competitors, particularly if you choose the £1,328 air suspension option, and offers the smoothest acceleration and braking action. BMW is usually known for its handing but in this case it's less accurate and responsive than the Porsche.

Air suspension is also an option on the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Momentum, costing £2,150. Its steering also beats the BMW's but it does suffer with body roll around a tight corner. The BMW's forte is its composure on a poor road surface, whereas the Porsche gets a little jittery over lumps and bumps.

The cabins

From the driver's seat the Porsche's dashboard is overcrowded - there are plenty of buttons to play with on the other two but the BMW at least is positively minimal next to the Cayenne. The Beamer's infotainment system is simple, intuitive and controlled by a rotary dial on the centre console. The Volvo uses a touchscreen navigation system which can be hard work, but all three vehicles are as comfortable and luxurious as you would expect.

Lumbar support comes as standard with the broad and very welcoming seats of the Swedish SUV but you'll have to pay extra for the feature with the others - £275 in the BMW and an eye watering £1,092 for added lumbar support in the Porsche. Taller drivers will appreciate the BMW's adjustable thigh support and the Porsche's seats are contoured for comfort.

The hybrid battery pack robs some boot space from all three cars but the passenger cabins are roomy. The BMW is broadest across the beam if you're likely to need to squeeze in three adults in the rear but the Volvo offers a third row of two seats that work best for children.

Overall the addition of hybrid power is a nice gimmick but offers relatively little advantage over the much cheaper diesel counterparts. There are pros and cons to each model and all are expensive, so you will need to choose carefully.

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