First drive: Porsche Macan Turbo
“This is the best-driving SUV in the world right now…” Sam Philip tests Porsche’s 394bhp ‘baby crossover’
What's this, then?
Don't pretend you don't know what it is. It's one of the big debuts of 2014, Porsche's first sally in the small SUV battleground, little brother to the Cayenne.
To a few, it's potential sacrilege. To the monied, badge-conscious suburbanistas, it's the car they've long prayed for: a practical, five-seat rival to the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and the Evoque, but with that all-important Porsche crest on the nose. It's the Macan (pronounced ‘Mack-ann' if you're British and ‘Mah-cahn' if you're German), a car Porsche bills as ‘the first sports car in the compact SUV segment'.
Which makes it a... sports car compact sports utility vehicle?
Indeed. It's either the ultimate one-car garage, or the dodgiest attempt to blend two utterly conflicting ideas since, um, our convertible people carrier.
Hang on, hang on. Isn't this just an Audi Q5 in Porsche drag?
It isn't. The Macan does borrow its underpinnings from Audi's middlemost SUV, but what's most interesting about the Porsche isn't how similar it is to the Q5, but how different. Porsche says two-thirds of the Macan's components are entirely original: in effect, only the aluminium base is shared with Audi.
Just look at the interior: pure Porsche. Tall, button-laden console, triple-binnacle instrument cluster, steering wheel borrowed from the 918 Spyder. It's all immaculately finished and, as ever with Porsche, the info-nav gubbinry is beyond reproach.
Entirely new, too, are the suspension, transmission, bodywork... and engines.
Ah yes. Engines. Any sign of that screaming V8 from the 918 Spyder?
Sadly not, but the powerplants are plenty fruity nonetheless. You've the choice of two petrols and a diesel, starting with the 335bhp Macan S and its 3.0-litre V6. It'll do the 0-100kph sprint in 5.2 seconds (with optional Sport Chrono package) and 254kph flat-out, with official economy around 11kpl.
For the same asking price, you can have the Macan S Diesel instead, which, with its 254bhp/579Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, will get to 100kph around a second slower than the petrol S, but return 16kpl and 160g/km of CO2.
And then there's the range-topping Turbo S, billed as ‘the most powerful vehicle in the compact SUV segment'. A rather punchy amount of money gets you a 394bhp, 3.6-litre bi-turbo petrol V6, good for a 4.6-second 0-100kph time and a top speed of 265kph. This, of course, is the one TopGear tested.
Is it quick, then?
Crikeymosesyes. Not quite so retina-detaching as the 911 Turbo with which it shares a badge, but by SUV standards the Macan is a bullet train of a thing. The ‘charged V6 - a new Porsche engine rather than one borrowed from within the VW group - is a brute, combining a chest-tightening low-end wallop from the turbos with a cheery charge past 6000rpm. It'll fling you deep into licence-losing territory before you can say, "Goodness, I am being flung deep into licence-losing territory."
On a derestricted autobahn, we saw an easy 258kph, and the Macan had plenty more to give. And here's the smart thing: unlike many smart Germans, the Macan can deal with gnarly roads, too. Especially riding on the optional air suspension, which is a thing of subtle magic, keeping the Porsche flat through even the most face-bending of corners without turning its ride to peanut brittle.
This is no flyweight Cayman R-alike, mind. The Macan Turbo weighs just over 1900kg, and you can feel all that weight when you're braking for a fast downhill bend. Good thing the brakes are mighty.
Can I have it with a proper gearstick?
No, but that's no loss here. The Macan's standard seven-speed ‘PDK' double-clutch transmission is the very best in the business, changing gear instantly and with satisfying mechanical crispness, the paddles behind the steering wheel (left for down, right for up, as it should be) engaging with a pleasingly hefty deadweight. The transmission is a ideal match for the Macan's four-wheel drive system, too, with seamless power to match the apparently seamless grip.
That 4WD. It isn't one of those front-drive-unless-you're-about-to-hit-a-hedge affairs, is it?
It is not. This is a proper spray-the-power-where-it's-needed effort. The set-up sends torque to the rear in normal driving conditions, relaying it back to the front wheels through a mulitplate clutch when needed. It's a system that can apportion the full 100 per cent of torque to either axle, and one that Porsche says works faster than any other on the planet. There's also the option of Porsche's torque vectoring system, which splits torque across the rear wheels through an electronically controlled diff.
Which means simply phenomenal traction, the Macan sniffing out every last grain of grip on any surface. Even better, unlike most modern four-wheel drivers, it doesn't default to safety-first understeer, instead apportioning torque to keep the Macan neutral through a corner. So, on tarmac, you can keep on the throttle at improbable speeds through even the tightest corners, and on snow maintain daft, extended powerslides.
Talking of snow, can the Macan do off-road?
As well as any softroader can do off-road, yes. We tried our winter-tyred Macan on, ice, mud, knee-deep water, snow and just about everything in between, and it handled the lot admirably. Again that optional air suspension helps, raising the Macan by a couple of inches to increase ground clearance and approach/departure angles.
OK, the Macan won't quite reach the places a Defender or Land Cruiser might, but the Porsche's off-road abilities will be more than enough to get you and your progeny to your designated camping spot at next summer's family-friendly indie arts festival.
So what's the catch?
Not much. True, the Macan Turbo is mighty pricey, but hey, it's the fastest SUV in the world. And besides, the two less potent Macans represent - if not exactly a bargain - reasonable value, provided you exercise restraint with the options list. Certainly you get a whole lot more legroom for your cash than in that 911 you've been eyeing.
Wearing our most oversteery hats, perhaps the only slight disappointment is that the Macan isn't quite the sports car Porsche pitches it as. Unlikely though it was to materialise, we quietly hoped Porsche might go Full 911 GT3 with the Macan, give it a hairy-chested, sports car feel at the expense of a little comfort and civility: hefty steering, arse-on-the-floor driving position, oily chunter from the engine.
Not a bit of it: the Macan is a slick professional to the last. Not that, by SUV standards, there's anything wrong with either the steering (weighty and direct without the pingy self-centering of many crossovers), seating position (low enough) or the noise (plenty of induction whoosh and, with the right buttons depressed, a healthy array of grunts from the exhausts, if little in the way of proper mechanical sound), simply that the pitch is smartly sporty rather than Maximum Chest-Wig.
But let's be realistic here: a Maximum Chest-Wig SUV, much as we'd have admired it, would be mighty tiresome 90 per cent of the time, and would have alienated many of the new buyers Porsche is targeting with the Macan.
So should I buy one?
If you're after a sporty, five-seat crossover and you've got the cash, go for it. Even with its merely stubbly chest, this is the best-driving SUV in the world right now, feeling more mechanical than the Evoque and Range Rover Sport, more deeply engineered than anything from BMW, Audi or Merc. Not to mention faster than the lot. Yes, the Macan is more SUV than sports car, but it's quite an SUV.
Of course, plenty of you already have. Bought one, that is. There's already a giant waiting list for the Macan: even if you place your order today, you won't get your car until 2015...