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First drive: Porsche’s Macan hits the mark

New entrant: Not all purists will like that Porsche is making another high-riding SUV, but they can take solace in the fact that the Macan is an excellent offering.

Porsche’s second SUV, the Macan, has supreme dynamics and a sharp starting price

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16 Feb 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO in LEIPZIG, GERMANY

IT IS remarkable to think that with the addition of the Macan compact SUV, upwards of 60 per cent of the cars Porsche sells in 2014 will be high-riding crossover wagons.

Of the more than 200,000 cars the Stuttgart marque stands to sell this year - up from about 162,000 last year - around 130,000 of these will be either the Macan or its Cayenne big brother.

If Porsche didn’t cap Macan production at 50,000 in 2014, you can’t help but think this number would be much higher still. The word ‘Macan’ is Indonesian for tiger, but unlike that graceful beast, this car will be far from endangered.

It all means the company best known for its honed performance cars actually butters its bread through other means. But that doesn’t mean it is going soft, with the company insisting no Porsche SUV will hit the market without on-road dynamics that befit the badge.

At least, that is what the company claims. We travelled with Porsche to its home base to test its newest model line on a variety of roads and a racetrack to see if the Macan is what its maker says it is: the compact SUV market’s “first sportscar”.

Porsche Australia’s holds 200 firm advance orders five months out from launch.

You’d expect the badge alone will get many buyers over the line, but there is the price too.

The starting figure of $84,900 plus on-roads for the diesel S is sharper than many expected, and comparable to the BMW X3 xDrive 30d or the blistering Audi SQ5. It is far and away the cheapest Porsche offering as well.

Next up is the $87,200 petrol S with a Porsche 3.0-litre V6, followed by the 3.6-litre Turbo flagship from $122,900. That being said, a host of available options - a Sports Chrono package, a SportDesign package and some preventative safety tech only scratch the surface - mean few will pay the baseline figure.

Mentioned as a key rival, the Audi Q5 is also an ally, with the Macan sharing its basic underpinnings with its VW Group stablemate from down the road in Ingolstadt. But it is not just the four-ringed crossover in drag.

Porsche has changed about 70 per cent of the components, a more substantial proportion than original directives but enough to satisfy Porsche engineers that there was no significant compromise.

While it is true that Porsche hardly owns the monopoly on dynamic SUVs, it is equally true that the Macan is without doubt the sharpest of the bunch when pointed at a challenging piece of tarmac. A real sportscar? In top-line Turbo form, pretty much.

We say that after completing a handful of laps on Porsche’s rather wonderful test track in Liepzig, replete with corners modelled on various famous world circuits.

Restrained as we were by a cautious leading vehicle, the Turbo stayed flat as a tack and was agile for a 1900kg vehicle. With the engine over the front axle, the Macan is atypical Porsche, but the balance is such that a quick dab of the (360mm front/356mm rear) brakes can ‘pull’ it around a sharp corner like a much smaller car.

The electro-mechanical steering lacks the heft of the 911 regardless of the driving mode selected, but provides plenty of feedback from the (235/55 R19 front and 255/55 R 19 rear) tyres to your fingertips, while the revised chassis and firmer dampers, and the Macan’s rakish body design reduce any mid-corner pitch and keep turn-in razor-sharp.

The Zuffenhausen-produced biturbo V6 pumps out 294kW at 6000rpm and 550Nm of torque between 1350 and 4500rpm. It has a lovely note with a hint of turbo whine, and pairs well with the rifle-bolt PDK transmission. On the track, the Sports mode rendered the paddle shifters unnecessary.

On the track at least, the differences between the Turbo and its 250kW/460Nm Macan S sibling were marked. The S felt a little softer, a little slower and a little less eager. At the limit, the Turbo’s $35k premium felt justified.

On a public road less so. The entry petrol V6 has a similar snarling note to its more hyperactive big brother, a full spectrum of driving modes and the same PDK. The smaller engine is less crisp and immediate, but both units feel strong right through to speeds that more than double Australian limits.

Both the Turbo’s (optional) air suspension that sits 15mm lower but can also increase the height to 230mm off-road, and the S variant’s steel springs, lend the Macan a firmer ride than some SUVs - a trade-off for the great body control - but it never feels uncomfortable.

The entry version’s 18-inch wheels use their fatter tyres to advantage, exhibiting a slightly quieter and softer ride.

This leaves the 3.0-litre V6 diesel, borrowed from the Cayenne but fettled for more grunt. With 580Nm (and 190kW), it is the range’s torque champion, and with NEDC fuel usage figures of 6.1 litres per 100km, the greenest option.

It will almost certainly be the top-seller in Australia and Europe. Of course, it lacks the immediacy of the petrols, but is arguably the better high-speed cruiser, staying around the 2500rpm sweet spot as the speedo climbs. It is extremely quiet too, and Porsche’s use of insulation has dialled out most vibrations.

Following the road and track loops, we ventured onto a small off-road test course - on old East German military base of all things - in an air-suspended vehicle. Ride height is 230mm (it is 190mm with steel springs), while the approach angle and departure angle are 26.6 degrees and 25.3 degrees respectively.

We tackled a 40-degree ramp, and used the hill descent control to crawl down the equally steep other side without braking inputs. The low-slung body and firm suspension kept the car stable on a sharp camber, while potted ruts were handled with no drama. It’s no 70 Series LandCruiser - there’s no low-range - but nor is it a pure soft-roader.

The cabin is familiar Porsche, with a similar design to the Cayenne as well as its two-door coupe stablemates.

A variety of buttons that adjust settings such as engine mode and suspension stiffness adorn the sloping transmission tunnel. There’s also no keyless start, with Porsche preferring to retain its signature ignition barrel to the left of the wheel.

It feels more snug than a typical SUV, but also more like a - here is that word again - sportscar.

There is a chunky little leather steering wheel, a small screen that displays the navigation feature in the driver’s instruments and a dash-mounted touchscreen. We’d prefer a toggle dial a la the BMW X3. Small touches such as the soft-closing 12V adapter cover lend a premium feel.

The rear seats fold 40:20:40, yielding 1500L of space, which is good, but the sloped roofline impacts rear headroom. Here is where a small compromise becomes apparent: it is hard to be both supremely sporting and supremely practical.

Our test cars also had no rear air vents. It is understood hot climates might get them, it remains to be seen. There is no excuse for not including them.

Small issues aside, it is hard to find substantial fault with the Macan. Not all purists will like the fact that Porsche is making another high-riding SUV, but they can take solace in the fact that it is in a great deal of ways the best one for the money.

Likes:
- Turbo's dynamics
- Refined diesel
- Ride quality
- Cabin design

Dislikes
- Tight rear headroom for the class
- No rear vents
- Limited production numbers2014 Porsche Macan pricing*
Macan S Diesel (a)$84,900
Macan S (a)$87,200
Macan Turbo (a)$122,900
*Excluding on-road costs

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