If we had any worries that the all-new Porsche Macan SUV wouldn’t be a ‘real' Porsche, they quickly evaporated following a few minutes riding along in an early prototype with one of the brand’s test drivers at the wheel.
Barrelling into a sharp bend just outside Los Angeles, Hans-Juergen Woehler, a development engineer for Porsche SUVs, brakes hard – harder than you’d expect any SUV could. Yet he turns in smoothly, stamping on the throttle in the exit and correcting a gentle slide. The lack of body roll, the agility and the playfulness are hallmarks of the 911, Cayman and Boxster, but here they are in a 4,600mm-long SUV.
The Macan feels like a completely different car to the Audi Q5, with which it shares a platform. Suspension expert Karl Hess explains that the two cars share less than 64 per cent of their suspension parts.
The team wanted a rear-wheel-drive sensation – even though all models are four-wheel drive – and the Macan can transfer up to 90 per cent of power to the rear axle. With a ride height 20mm lower than the Q5’s and a lower seating position, you feel more cocooned in – rather than sitting on – the Macan.
The interior has had a complete Porsche makeover, too, so you get the same centre console flanked by buttons and a large touchscreen display as in the latest 911 or Panamera.
At launch, there will be a Macan S with a 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine producing 335bhp and a Turbo featuring a 3.6-litre twin-turbo V6 with 394bhp – which will get the largest brakes of any SUV in this class.
There will also be a 3.0-litre V6 diesel producing 254bhp, and all engines are hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch box. Rumours suggested a 2.0-litre boxer four-cylinder could follow as the entry point to the range, but Porsche’s engineers denied this model’s existence.
As Woehler floors the throttle of the Macan S we’re riding in, there’s an almost imperceptible hint of turbo lag before the car accelerates hard through the gears. We haven’t got any official figures yet, but a 0-62mph time of around 5.5 seconds is likely.
As with most Porsche cars, the Macan comes with three driving modes – Normal, Sport and Sport Plus – and on models equipped with Launch Control, the system will distribute power between all four wheels, just at the limit of the tyres’ traction.
Plus, the Macan sounds like a Porsche. Engineers have built a flap into the exhaust that muffles the engine note below 2,500rpm, but opens above that to release a thumping Mercedes AMG-like roar. We got a ride in a car on the standard steel springs and one on optional air-suspension (the Turbo has this as standard), and both felt firm, but in a grown-up and well judged way. In short, it rides like a Porsche.
The optional air-suspension system is the best choice for those who think they’ll take their Macan over challenging terrain. Any heavy off-roading is out of the question – there are no differential locks or low-range gears – but cars with this can at least be raised by 40mm to get over outlying rocks or muddy fields. They can also be lowered by 45mm from the standard height to make loading heavy items into the boot easier.
As you can see from some of our pictures, though, the Macan is already pretty low – you sit at about the same height as someone in a Ford Focus. As we take to the hot deserts of the American south west, Woehler hits the off-road button, which raises the body up, changes the settings of the traction control and makes the throttle a little less sensitive. These dusty, rocky tracks are easy for the Macan, as the computer shuffles power between the axles to make sure it never gets bogged down.
A few puddles later, and our convoy of Macans is completely covered in mud and dust, proving this sporty SUV can tackle the rough stuff – not that most owners would be too happy to see their pride and joy in this sort of state.
After the heat testing of the desert, we head back on to the highways of California, where Woehler can show off a few of the Macan’s fuel-saving techniques. As we gently cruise up to speed, we notice that the petrol engine only gets to around 1,800rpm before the box changes up a gear – although Sport and Sport Plus modes change that. Then, as we reach 60mph, Woehler backs off to demonstrate the sailing function. As soon as he lifts his foot completely off, the drivetrain is decoupled so the engine revs drop to idle.
As a result of this – and the aerodynamic flat undertray – we’re expecting about 35mpg from the Macan S, roughly 30mpg from the Turbo and 45mpg from the diesel. Not bad considering the four-wheel-drive performance on offer.
The full production version of the Macan is set to debut at next month’s Los Angeles Motor Show, with sales starting early in 2014. Porsche expects to sell 65,000 models in the first full year of production, but we did hear talk of that figure growing to nearer 100,000 – which would make the Macan the most popular Porsche in the line-up by far.
The fact that you can sit in the passenger seat of the Macan and experience a lot of what you would in a 911 proves Porsche has spent a lot of time carefully tuning this car. It’s not a serious off-roader, but is a serious sports car, and with a range of great engines you can see why Porsche is so excited about the Macan. It’s not what the purists will want, but if it can bring in money to help the company develop future sports cars, it’s fine by us.