Damien O'Carroll puts behind him the purists' horror and hits the tarmac with the new Porsche Macan

Not too many years ago the very idea of a Porsche SUV was an unutterable horror to many. Then one saved the company and that all changed.

It was like the whole Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer story -- everyone teased the Cayenne until it proved its worth and saved the day. Except there weren't as many red noses or magical flying reindeer involved. This was pure, hard-headed business -- Porsche needed a volume profit-maker to save it, and the Cayenne SUV was just that.

That was back in the early 2000s, and now that the Cayenne is firmly established, even loved, Porsche has launched a Rudolph Jr of sorts. A medium-sized SUV to take on the likes of the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. It is called the Macan and Porsche in New Zealand is expecting some pretty big things from it.

Porsche in New Zealand is in the middle of a strong resurgence after its drastic drop in sales during the financial crisis. In 2005 the company had local sales of 240, in 2009 this plummeted to 109. Over the past few years sales have climbed back up to 187 last year and this year, with the addition of the Macan for the rest of it, Porsche NZ boss Greg Clarke is predicting 290 sales and its biggest year ever. For 2015 it is even more confident, with a target of 340.


The Macan's unique bonnet surrounds the headlights entirely. Photo / Damien O'Carroll

According to Clarke, 80 Macans have been ordered already, despite the buyers not having seen even one in the metal, let alone driven it.

This says a lot about the confidence both Porsche and the buyers have in the Macan. And after having driven it ourselves, it is a confidence we can truly understand.

The Macan will land in New Zealand as two models with three different engines. First up is the Macan S, available with a choice of either a 250kW/460Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 or a 190kW/580Nm 3.0-litre variable turbine turbo diesel. Both engines are hooked up to Porsche's 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive system.

The Macan S comes standard with bi-xenon automatic headlights, an electric tailgate, automatic dual zone climate control, cruise control, 14-way adjustable electric front seats, a 7-inch touch screen that doubles as the display for the satellite navigation and backing camera, 19-inch alloy wheels, PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) and a multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles.

The Macan S with the diesel engine will cost $118,000, hits the legal speed limit in 6.3 seconds and consumes 6.1L/100km of fuel, while the petrol costs $121,000, hits 100km/h in 5.4 seconds and downs 8.7L/100km of petrol.

The Porsche Macan is jam packed with options. Photo / Damien O'Carroll

The second model in the line-up is the Macan Turbo, which packs a 3.6-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 with 294kW of power and 550Nm of torque. The turbo 3.6 is also hooked up to the 7-speed PDK transmission and the 4WD system and will do the 0-to-100 sprint in 4.8s, while its fuel consumption is a combined figure of 9.1L/100km.

The Macan Turbo comes standard with an impressive amount of standard kit on top of the S spec, including air suspension (optional on S models) with PASM, 20-inch alloy wheels, Porsche's active Dynamic Lighting System, 18-way adaptive electric front heated seats, a Bose surround sound audio system, an Alcantara roof lining and a brushed aluminium interior trim package. The Turbo hits the streets at $156,000.

The local launch saw us pilot all models of the Macan from Auckland to Rotorua in some fairly horrendous conditions. While this is not ideal for an importer wanting to show off how pretty its newest vehicle is, it was perfect to demonstrate just how good the Macan is in difficult conditions.

First up we tried a petrol Macan S with optional air suspension (among many, many other options). The petrol engine is belligerent and strong, with a deep bellow that resonates pleasantly in your head (and, to be honest, in your trouser area as well ... ). It belts off the line with supreme authority and the 7-speed PDK transmission is a slick and fast wonder of engineering.

Next up was the Turbo -- and what an absolute belter it was. The extra grunt from the bigger, more powerful V6 left you in no doubt that this was a "proper" Porsche (not that the S did a bad job of that anyway) and the incredible seats kept you securely held in place at all times.

Then we drove the S Diesel, both with the optional air suspension and with the standard steel springs, and we have to admit the steel-sprung car easily won us over.

While the air suspension is good, the standard steel-sprung car had a remarkable feeling of well set up purity about the way it handled. It felt lither and more eager than the air suspension-equipped cars, and was an utter delight to throw into a corner. Not that the cars with air suspension were slouches, because the Macan boasts a wonderfully responsive chassis and sharp, eager steering. Body roll is virtually non-existent and the Macan behaves and responds like a car not only much smaller, but also much, much lower and considerably more sports car-like.

As quite often is the way with these things, we came away from the Macan launch loving the cheapest and dearest variants the most.

The basic $118,000 diesel on steel springs is a pure, chuckable and thoroughly enjoyable thing, with more than enough standard spec to keep you completely happy for its price. And the $156,000 Turbo is a belligerent belter with proper high-speed transcontinental cruising abilities and a serious turn of handling when required.

Although Porsche may sell more SUVs these days than sports cars, it still retains a definite focus on being a sports car manufacturer. And ironically that shows more clearly than anywhere else in its SUVs, particularly the Macan. It simply shouldn't be as much fun as it is. But it is. Because it is a Porsche.