x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Well-branded brawn

This SUV fortifies its power with panache and a pedigree.

Porsche plans to make 50,000 Macans to meet the growing demands of a worldwide SUV market. Photos courtesy of Porsche
Porsche plans to make 50,000 Macans to meet the growing demands of a worldwide SUV market. Photos courtesy of Porsche

There’s a little wiggle from the tail of our 911 Carrera pace car as it leads us around a hot lap of Porsche’s test track in Leipzig. The track is a collection of famous racing circuit corners stitched together to form one of the most challenging test loops in the world, and the one the 911 is getting a little loose on is the Curve di Lesmo from Monza – an extremely fast, never-ending right hand bend with a touch of positive camber that requires an ambitious right foot.

We’re in the 400hp Porsche Macan Turbo, the hottest version of the Cayenne junior and a car Porsche claims is the sportiest five-seat SUV ever produced, and we’re having no such dramas. The Macan simply sticks to the track, pulls itself into line and demands that you keep your right foot glued to the carpet. There’s no groan or roar from the tyres as they hit their limits of adhesion, no niggling traction control or stability control nibbling obtrusively at the corners to keep the Macan pointing where it needs to go. It’s just fast.

No SUV should perform like this, not even one wearing the Stuttgart shield and especially not one that tips the scales at over two tonnes with at least one reasonably well-fed journalist onboard. Acceleration is sublime and the car’s handling on the limit is incredible. We should not be troubling the tail of the 911 but it’s hustling to stay ahead.

Just an hour earlier, the Macan had guided us over territory the Russian army once used to test its tanks, clearing obstacles and hanging wheels in the air like a true rock-crawling off-roader. It clung to concrete bunkers as we inched precariously around the 35-degree cambered edge and handled the downhill braking required to clear steep slopes without touching the pedals. Leipzig’s considerable test facilities lacked vast expanses of sand, so we’ll just have to wait until the car arrives in the Middle East to report back on its capabilities in the dunes.

The car is as refined on the roads as you’d expect. The staggered tyre widths front to rear help point the nose into bends with authority and enough feel for a Porsche. The perfectly smooth autobahns and linking roads around Leipzig highlighted the car’s pace and poise. The extra roar from the snow tyres (it’s mandatory to fit them in Germany during the winter months) was adequately muffled.

The Leipzig test facility is attached to the factory where the Macan is built alongside the Panamera and Cayenne. Purists cried foul when Porsche launched the Cayenne 12 years ago and they’re not going to like this one either. It still has too many doors, weighs too much and has the engine at the wrong end but, without the enormously successful Cayenne, the 911 would probably not be around today. The world craves SUVs, and the Macan is launching into the fastest growing segment in the automotive sector, occupying a space that no other manufacturer has yet managed to master. Purists may not like it, but that’s not going to stop Porsche selling its entire annual production run of 50,000 to a new breed of motoring fan.

Under that svelte suit, the Macan shares its underpinnings with the Audi Q5. Much of the stuff you don’t see – chassis layout, parts of the suspension and subframes underneath the car and other components – come from the Volkswagen-Audi family. The important bits such as the engines, four-wheel drive systems and other key suspension components are all new or modified Porsche bits. Porsche says that more than two-thirds of the Q5’s parts have been modified or replaced and one of the bits it’s most proud of is the clamshell bonnet. It’s a single piece of formed aluminium that stretches from the bumper to the windscreen and over both edges of the wings to eliminate seams and gaps. The headlights poke through holes in the bonnet.

The Macan launches with the choice of two twin-turbo petrol V6 engines and a diesel that we’re not likely to see in the Middle East. The S gets 340hp and 460Nm of torque from its 3.0-litre V6, while the Turbo (3.6-litre V6, 400hp and 550Nm) is the kind of car those who said they’d never drive an SUV will opt for. All models get the seven-speed double clutch PDK transmission, a sport button and off-road mode, which improves loose surface traction. If you spec the optional air-suspension, ground clearance gets jacked by an additional 40mm to 230mm. The Sports Chrono package adds attitude and extra noise from that V6, and launch control should you really want to trouble 911s at the lights.

The world wants more SUVs, and a new one wearing a honey-gold Porsche badge will attract buyers like bees. It’s one of the best performance SUVs on the market and it really is as good as the badge suggests. Do yourself a favour: get your order in smartly, because there’s going to be one heck of a queue once they make land in the UAE.