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 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% 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% 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 large touchscreen display as in the 911 or Panamera.
The Macan has not officially been launched yet as these subtly camouflaged pictures show, so local specifications ahead of its arrival in South Africa in 2014 have not been confirmed. However, the first models internationally will be a Macan S with a 3l V6 twin-turbo engine producing 250kW and a Turbo featuring a 3.6l twin-turbo V6 with 294kW. There will also be a 3l V6 diesel producing 189kW, and all engines are hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch box. Rumours suggested a 2l 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 0-100km/h time of about 5.5 seconds is likely.
As with most Porsche cars, the Macan comes with normal, sport and sport plus driving modes — 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 2,500r/min, but opens above that to release a thumping Mercedes AMG-like roar.
We rode 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 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 southwest, 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.
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 about 1,800r/min before the box changes up a gear — although sport and sport plus modes change that. Then, as we reach 95km/h, 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 8l/100km from the Macan S, roughly 9.5l from the Turbo and 6.3l from the diesel.
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 I did hear talk of that figure growing to nearer 100,000 — which would make it the most popular Porsche in the line-up.
The fact 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 time carefully tuning this car. It’s not a serious off-roader, but is a serious sports car. 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.
• Juergen Zoellter is a freelance motoring journalist based in Munich, Germany.