When you buy a two-tonne SUV, conventional wisdom says you sacrifice performance, handling and any semblance of sportiness in favour of more prosaic virtues such as interior space, versatility, comfort, all-road capability and, of course, the requisite presence to cut off other drivers in traffic.
In theory it is impossible to make a big, heavy SUV drive like a sports car, precisely because big and heavy are powerful handbrakes on the basic physics of agile, responsive dynamics. Until now, that has been a universal truth.
Today, however, we present a breakthrough that should lead to a re-examination of the laws of motion. It's the Porsche Macan Turbo, a two-tonne SUV that goes, steers and stops like a pure-bred performance machine.
Structural and chassis engineering DNA is shared with Audi's Q5, however the Macan's body is lower, smaller and has a more muscular, coupe-like profile than the box-on-wheels Audi family freighter.
As with any Porsche, Macan's core design references the 911, notably the rear flanks and tapered roofline, while the 918 Spyder hybrid supercar is also evoked in the aggressive front end, headlights, LED tail lights and decorative "sideblades" on the doors.
Despite the extensive use of lightweight steel and aluminium the Macan Turbo still weighs 1925kg. There's lots of clever aerodynamic engineering in the car, including a low drag underbody and ducting in the grille that rams cool air into the engine's hot spots, especially the two turbochargers.
You face a Porsche Inc dash with three instruments, the tacho dominant, speedo to the left and a prominent digital speed readout as well. The high, wide centre console, based on the original Panamera design, is a button-switch-dial overload zone and the infotainment system is complex to navigate. But in typical Porsche fashion the controls you need to access quickly — those that affect the way the car goes and handles — are closest to your left hand.
Comfortably wrapped in the heavily bolstered driver's seat you're not quite in the recumbent 911 position, but this is still more pukka sportster than family wagon. The gorgeous lightweight steering wheel, with PDK gearshift paddles, is a new design based on the 918 tiller.
Decor is man-cave dark, in rich, materials with metallic and black gloss highlights; however, there are a few chirps and squeaks on a rough road and the front pillars can block your view through tight corners. Interior space is not a strong point. Tall occupants upfront severely restrict rear seat leg room and adults also sit slightly knees up. Although there's vast floor acreage in the boot, easily extended with the 40-20-40 split-folding rear seat backs, the tapered roof restricts overall volume. A power tailgate is standard.
Engine / Transmission
Macan Turbo runs Porsche's 3.6-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V6 with 294kW (400 horsepower in the old money) at 6000rpm and 550Nm of torque spread across the 1350-4500 rev range.
The seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission is standard, as is auto stop-start and coasting, which decouples the transmission when you lift your right foot. Despite these fuel efficiency measures, I couldn't get close to Porsche's claimed 8.9L/100km average. In 1100km of mainly country road driving, the test car returned 11.0-12.0L/100km.
It only gets scary when you look at the speedo
An electronically controlled multiplate clutch sends drive to the rear wheels, with the fronts engaged only as required to maintain go-forward and stability.
Porsche claims an entirely believable 4.8 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, or 4.6 seconds with the optional Sport Chrono performance chip, which also includes launch control. This engine is as much about mid-range grunt as top-end power, and as is often the way with turbo-petrols the Macan doesn't feel as powerful or as fast as it actually is.
It only gets scary when you look at the speedo. You can feel the two turbos kick in fully at about 3000rpm, when the Macan takes off; PDK will then short shift at about 5500rpm, because although the 3.6 will continue to haul strongly, smoothly and quietly to 6700rpm there's little point going there on a regular basis.
The engine's delicious snap, crackle and pop noises are, unfortunately, heard by those outside the car rather than those within.
This is what really separates the Macan from other SUVs. Any car-maker can drop an appropriately nuclear device into the engine bay to achieve eyeball-distorting acceleration in a two-tonne wagon, but making it go around corners at high velocity with a happy ending every time is an altogether more daunting challenge.
I took the Macan Turbo for a drive up the Oxley Highway in northern NSW, Australia's most entertaining road with every conceivable corner, and I can confidently report it is the best handling SUV you can buy.
Porsche's expansive electronic control envelope includes adaptive dampers with Comfort, Sport (and Sport Plus) settings, height-adjustable air springing, and optional torque vectoring (which combines inside rear wheel braking and active torque splitting, via an electronic differential lock, between both rear wheels).
Brakes are powerful and progressive, with six-piston aluminium monobloc front calipers and there's precise electromechanical power steering. There was no shortage of grip, either, with optional 21-inch alloys (20s are standard) shod with 265/40 (front) and 295/35 (rear) Michelins.
Porsche has resisted the temptation to make the steering too direct, which just doesn't work on a relatively tall SUV, so with 2.6 turns lock to lock you have to feed the Macan into a corner to a greater extent than, say, a 911.
It's still sharp enough and similarly intuitive, though, and unlike other SUVs you can actually feel a close connection with the road.
In Sport and Sport Plus the body is nailed down tight, with minimal roll and an ability to quickly change direction at speeds that would put most SUVs upside down and heading for oblivion.
As a drive it is in a class of its own
The fact you are sitting relatively high does seem a bit disconcerting at first; once you learn to trust the car, though, its capabilities are breathtaking.
Macan scores five Euro NCAP stars and has eight airbags. ISOFIX and Australian standard child restraint anchors are fitted in the back seat.
A "multi-collision brake" system automatically applies the brakes following an impact, on the premise that in one-quarter of all crashes that result in injury, a second impact is involved.
Blind-spot monitoring and lane keeping, which applies pressure to the wheel to keep you in your lane if you inadvertently touch the lane markings, are a $2780 option.
Porsche doesn't miss with options prices: try $3790 for a sunroof, $4190 for the 21-inch wheel set, $3590 for torque vectoring and $2690 for Sports Chrono. And - cough - $1990 for metallic paint.