There is an incongruity in the way the Macan Turbo enters corners keenly and exits them on a quarter turn of corrective lock, and also in the car-like seating position within the cabin, to the distance between backside and road surface. Porsche's new SUV feels like a four-wheel drive hot hatch; the road is just a little bit further away.
Having raised ride height CoG then lowered - eh?
Those first impressions, gathered on a slippery test track at Porsche's Leipzig manufacturing facility, were very positive indeed. On any occasion that a manufacturer claims its new product to be a luxury car, and a sports car, and an off-roader, and a family wagon, the immediate suspicion is that it is actually none of those things to any satisfying degree, but instead a compromised mess. Call it professional cynicism.
'Compromised mess' is certainly not a criticism that could be reasonably levelled at the Macan, but the clear reality is that no one machine can engage on circuit and plug through deep mud; Porsche or not it'll inevitably be less capable in one area that the other. The Turbo, it quickly became apparent, was more accomplished on track than any car of this type has any right to be, but its off-roading capabilities were junior at best; some slippery mud, a few wet rocks, and incline here and there, but nothing any more serious than that. The Macan's off-road abilities are, quite understandably, token, but its circuit and on-road behaviour are both very impressive.
Mirror mirror on the wall ... actually don't bother
Sharing its platform with Audi's Q5 - but with two-thirds of components either modified or replaced entirely - the Macan introduces Porsche to a whole new sector of the market, just as the bigger Cayenne did 12 years ago. Given that car's phenomenal success (more than 80,000 sold in 2013 alone), a smaller and more affordable second SUV model has long been an inevitability. Indeed, according to Porsche's predictions, the small SUV sector will soon be the world's fastest growing.
Three models will be available at launch, all with turbocharged V6 engines. The entry-level model, for now, is the S, available with either a petrol or diesel engine, both costing £43,400. The petrol model gets 340hp from a 3.0-litre twin turbo motor, the diesel 258hp from its single turbo V6. The range-topping Turbo, driven here, is powered by a 400hp, twin turbocharged 3.6-litre V6, costing £59,300.
All models come fitted with Porsche's twin-clutch PDK gearbox and all are four-wheel drive, too. Power is sent to the rear axle in normal conditions, but depending on prevailing grip levels the four-wheel drive system can send 100 per cent of torque to the front axle. Brilliantly, but perhaps entirely unnecessarily, petrol Macans are dry-sumped for a lower centre of gravity. Gesture or not, it's a good example of Porsche's resolve to not risk its dynamic reputation.
Like it or not this is Porsche's income stream
The most athletic of all Macans will be a Turbo with Porsche Torque Vectoring and Sports Chrono; Porsche Active Suspension Management is standard on this model. Rather surprisingly, Porsche's early figures suggest that only 30-35 per cent of Macans sold in Europe will be diesel models. On that basis the notion of a truly sporting SUV is one that seems to have captured the buyers' imaginations, but one does suspect the diesel will ultimately become the big seller. Also surprising is Porsche's assertion that 50,000 Macans will be sold each year, given that the more expensive Cayenne sold significantly better than that last year. Again, one suspects the Macan will quite soon become Porsche's volume model.
With that in mind, the issue of exclusivity comes to the fore. Porsche's trade depends on its perceived exclusivity, and with 50,000 or more additional Porsche models hitting the roads each year, is that exclusivity not at risk? The Porsche executives insist not, because even if the Macan is a huge sales hit, they argue, no more than three in every 1,000 cars sold worldwide will wear a Porsche crest. That may be, but how will proud 911 owners feel about seeing countless little Porsche SUVs knocking about, particularly if the business case for a four-cylinder version with - whisper it - front-wheel drive becomes too tempting to resist? This Macan model line will demand some very astute management.
Familiar look here; some cheaper bits though
The test track at Porsche's Leipzig factory is around 2.5km in length with bends modelled, we're told, on the iconic corners of the best circuits in the world. Laguna Seca's Corkscrew is recreated fairly convincingly, as is Spa's old Bus Stop Chicane, but any likeness to the Parabolica or a Lesmo at Monza just seems coincidental. Anyway, it's on this short circuit that the Macan Turbo first showed its dynamic fortitude. The slippery conditions seemed to play into its hands because it was soon evident that the Macan is agile and brake-adjustable on turn in, that it keeps its masses tightly in check even in quick direction changes, that it can readily be coaxed into exiting tighter corners in a delicious four-wheel drift - in the wet, at least. It was superb fun with very little of the wallow or imprecision you'd reasonably expect of a chunky SUV.
Tyre you out
The electrically-assisted steering, it should be noted, was rather aloof and remote in terms of feedback, but at least under- and oversteer points could be felt through the chassis. If those slippery conditions suited the Macan itself so too did they suit Porsche, for all the test cars were fitted with Michelin mud and snow tyres, which, one suspects, would have made the car feel squidgy and vague on a bone dry track.
Not exactly spacious back here either
Indeed, a handful of laps with a chap named Rohrl at the wheel once the surface had dried out did highlight how this rubber lacks the stability of a good summer tyre. It also revealed how benign the Macan is in normal conditions; it wouldn't take on any rear-led attitude under power, and it settled into slight understeer immediately after turn in. With better grip, the chassis could load up further and the body would roll and lean more as a result.
The other significant point about those mud and snow tyres is that it was they that did afford the Macan its modest off-road ability. On the summer tyres that will surely tread most UK cars, track and road performance may be improved further, but off-road capacity will be diminished to almost nothing. It's worth noting, lastly, that only those models fitted with optional air springs are able to lift their ride heights by 40mm.
Token ability here but road where heart lies
So to the open road. The Turbo feels sprightly in a straight line and the twin turbocharged engine has huge breadth, but it isn't thumpingly fast as we've come to expect of Turbo-badged Porsches. The PDK transmission worked very well on the road, as it did on track, while the ride on optional air springs and winter tyres - rather than mud and snow tyres - was settled and compliant on smooth German roads.
On the dry back roads around Leipzig, which were quite unrepresentative of the uniquely demanding country roads we know and love in the UK, the Turbo did grip well and carry speed, but so too did it roll and lean like a tall car, even in its firmest suspension setting. Quick over a stretch of road and composed for an SUV it may be, but the Macan never has the immediate response and precision of a hot hatch or a sports saloon. Dry conditions revealed that first impression to be a little wayward.
The inescapable truth, headed your way
The Macan's cabin is familiar from any other modern Porsche, but the quality of fit and finish, as well as some of the plastics, does fall a little way short of the very impressive Panamera. A six-footer will feel a little cramped when sat behind a tall driver, but otherwise cabin space is pretty good. The Macan is also quite clearly a Porsche in its styling; the raised front wings, the rakish roofline, the flared shoulders over the rear wheels. The taillights are also rather successful and they will feature on future models.
At £59,300, the Macan Turbo faces very stiff opposition outside of the SUV realm; there's nothing to directly rival it like-for-like. A new BMW M3, for instance, won't be much less practical, while any number of larger super saloons could be had for just a shade more outlay.
This may be by default as much as any brilliance on Porsche's part, but the Macan Turbo is surely the best small sporting SUV that there has ever been. What it isn't, though, is an SUV that does away entirely with the need for the sports car.
PORSCHE MACAN TURBO
Engine: V6, twin turbocharged, 3,604cc
Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch PDK, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400hp@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406lb ft@1,350-4,500rpm
Top speed: 165mph
MPG: 31.7mpg (claimed)