Sports car maker's belated entry to compact SUV market is practically perfect.
Homer Simpson once had a stab at building his version of the perfect car. The end result, unsurprisingly, was a dog's breakfast of awkward retro-styled angles and garish accessories.
Car companies, unlike deluded cartoon dad Homer, understand it's impossible to build one car to suit everyone, so they carefully assemble an entire range in the hope that one of their models will tick more of your boxes than their rival's.
Personally, my wish list for a car is one that's practical, with enough legroom and cargo space for when the family is on board. When they're not, it can go like a cut snake and corner as if on rails, all without shaking my fillings loose. It's also at all times comfortable, well appointed, and easy to park. A Porsche badge on the nose would be nice.
The German sports car maker's belated entry to the compact luxury SUV segment, dubbed the Macan, goes on sale this month and is already ticking a lot of Australian buyers' boxes. Six hundred so far, in fact, judging by deposits held by Porsche for its total 2014 allocation of 800 cars.
That's an impressive debut for a car that will set buyers back close to $100,000 once on-road costs are factored in. Looked at another way, though, the sticker price of $84,900 (before on-road costs are added) on the base diesel model also makes this easily the most affordable Porsche you can buy – for now. But more on that later.
Porsche forged its reputation for sporting performance on the racetracks of the world and backed it up with arguably the best and most enduring road-going sports car of all time, the classic 911.
With a pedigree like that you'd expect the Macan and its big brother, the large Cayenne SUV, to be well sorted, albeit in a lumbering sort of way. Porsche calls the new Macan “the sportscar among compact SUVs”, and on the basis of a quick spin in all three models through the Great Ocean Road hinterland in south-western Victoria, it's hard to argue.
The range sweet spot is the $87,200 Macan S, with a petrol-powered 3.0-litre bi-turbo V6 making 250kW and 460Nm through the excellent seven-speed PDK dual-clutch auto. That's good enough to hustle to 100km/h in 5.4 seconds, quicker than a good many sports sedans.
If pace isn't your preference there's the Macan Diesel, which comes in $2300 cheaper than the S and with 190kW/580Nm has very different power delivery – still good enough to dispatch the ton in 6.3 seconds, though. The ace up its sleeve is fuel use, with its official 6.3L/100km significantly undercutting the S's 9.0L.
On the basis of these two rapid movers it's hard to make the case for stepping up to the $122,900 Macan Turbo, unless it's all about the badge on the back. Yes, 294kW and 550Nm and an official 9.2L/100km are sweet numbers, but does anyone really need an SUV that hits 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds?
It's your call, but with the performance on offer in the S model, we'd call the Macan Turbo a textbook case of diminishing returns.
In any guise the Macan sticks like glue to the damp, leaf-strewn roads on our drive route, the electric steering borrowed from the 911 inspiring confidence, if perhaps feeling a little heavy for comfortable manoeuvring in the urban grand prix of school runs and shopping trips.
Despite the fact our test cars ride on optional 20- and 21-inch rubber, there's almost no crashing and bashing in the cabin even on corrugated bitumen, and road noise abatement is astonishing. Regrettably, the same exceptional sound damping also completely masks the superb noise of those Porsche donks going about their business. Even flicking the chunky aluminium shift paddles back a few cogs on the entry to a corner to rev the engine above 5000rpm brings barely a murmur into the cabin.
Any wonder, then, that Porsche is bullish on this car's prospects across a wide range of demographics.
Porsche Cars Australia spokesman Paul Ellis says its order book is split between young buyers looking for performance with a touch of utility, and empty nesters seeking to reward themselves. Unlike most of the company's other models, the Macan also has strong appeal to women.
“The great thing about this car is that research has shown it's not gender-specific; our clinics show that as many women, compared to men, have the car really appeal to them,” Ellis says.
He argues that sporting intent and practicality needn't be mutually exclusive. “Every car we build has to be the sportiest car in its segment. I will challenge anyone in the B-segment for the compact SUVs, to come close to this thing in terms of driving ability. Our point of difference is we're the sportiest. If it's not the sportiest, we don't sell it.”
Is it the perfect car? You could pick on the lack of aural drama, but that also equates to greater serenity. You could argue the rear seat is a mite cosy for growing kids, but it's on par with other compact SUVs. You could say the steering's a tad too meaty for some, but the upside is fabulous feedback. Perfect? There's no such thing. But it's closer than a good many.
And if the entry price still looks a little steep, it may be prudent to bide your time. A more affordable four-cylinder version has been developed for Asian markets and while Ellis says it is “not on our radar at the moment”, it is believed there is genuine interest in bringing the car here, ushering in a new era of affordability for the sought-after German.
FIVE PRACTICALLY LUXURIOUS ALTERNATIVES
The Macan isn't the first or last word in high-end family haulers that also have significant performance potential. Here are another five to consider:
$81,900 plus on-road costs
The Macan S's most obvious rival is slightly cheaper, but also ceding 32kW/40Nm of stonk. It's also blighted by its “questionable value, unsporty driving position and weirdly unengaging cabin vibe”, according to Drive.
$79,900 plus on-road costs
The little Benz's huffed four makes 265kW and 450Nm and is significantly quicker on paper (0-100km/h in 4.8s) than the more expensive Macan S. Practical appeal is blunted, though, by the fact it's more of a high-riding hatch than an SUV.
BMW 328i Touring
$73,400 plus on-road costs
The 328i's turbocharged four is a cracker, responsive and decently frugal, and there's a respectable amount of space on offer relative to a nice cost saving over the similarly performance-focused SUVs here. The trade-off is the lack of a high driving position.
$225,000 plus on-road costs
Probably the only road legal car on the planet that can hit 100km/h in a claimed 3.9 seconds while simultaneously carting your wardrobe or bed. It has plenty of family utility and a razor-sharp 4.0-litre V8 going for it. But you'll pay plenty.
$265,145 plus on-road costs
A long, wide load area marks the CLS Shooting Brake as a seriously practical yet head-turningly stylish option, while the brutal 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 adds plenty of shove. Big car, big power, big head-turner, big price.