It’s hard to imagine that car makers could dream up yet another new type of car. But Porsche has managed to wrestle out another niche vehicle, one that really does rewrite the rulebook and offer a genuinely new – and extremely impressive – driving experience.
The glib summary would be to call the Macan a Cayman on stilts, but that would fail to do justice to how exceptionally clever Porsche has been with the conception and execution of this car.
When news first emerged that Porsche was working on a baby sister for the fantastically successful Cayenne and that it was loosely based on the Audi Q5, there was concern. Would Porsche really adapt the natively front-wheel-drive Audi in the way that it had adapted the Volkswagen Touareg to create the Cayenne?
I was at the Porsche technical seminar where the Macan was first unveiled and I remember being bowled over by the audacity of Porsche’s engineers, who had simply fitted a proper rear-wheel transmission into the architecture.
It means that the longways-mounted engine is well back in the engine bay and, in normal situations, 80 per cent of the engine’s torque is sent to the rear wheels. Power for the front wheels is taken off the Macan’s transmission and piped forwards by a supplementary propshaft.
That’s as much as you need to know about the Macan’s technical layout because, for driving dynamics, it is effectively ideal. The weight of the engine and transmission is closer to the centre of the car and most of the engine’s wallop goes to the rear wheels.
But the second part of the Macan’s conceptual genius would have been much less easy to pin down at that technical seminar.The driving position is so brilliantly crafted that piloting this car along, say, a fast, sweeping country A-road becomes a genuinely new type of driving experience. There are two main reasons for this. First, the way that the driver sits in the Macan is uncannily sports car-like, especially the stretched-leg position.
Second – and this really makes the Macan a special place to be – there is the position of the ‘H-point’. The hip point (measured from the ground) is always in the same position, no matter the size of the driver, and it has been positioned to perfection on the Macan. Not SUV high, but high enough to work perfectly with the sports car driving position.
It all adds up to this: the Macan handles with extraordinary verve and imparts the kind of driving pleasure that no SUV has a right to deliver.
The first roundabout that you encounter – which the Macan skates through flatly with no more than a couple of wrist flicks from the driver – tells you what to expect on more challenging roads.
In diesel form, it is super-quick and very frugal. On the open road, the combination of the view ahead and the Macan’s agility and pace makes it a superb car for achieving rapid and safe progress.
To date, I haven’t driven a car that so brilliantly harnesses utility, sports car agility and long-range comfort. I suppose you might say that it’s a bit like a Cayman SUV…
Come back tomorrow as we reveal another star car of 2014