By: Jesse Adams in Leipzig, Germany

We, the motoring public, are not obliged to buy into every bit of mumbo-jumbo marketing that manufacturers lay on us. In fact, we’re sceptical by nature, and with all sorts of preposterous car niches invented all the time we’re often on the defensive before all facts present themselves.

So when Porsche debuts an all-new model line based on an Audi Q5, and boldly calls it “the sportscar of the compact SUV segment”, it’s entirely understandable for us to scoff at the hyperbole. I mean, SUV and sportscar shouldn’t go in the same sentence, right? Even worse, during the new Macan’s media launch held in Germany last week, Porsche made more reference to legendary past sportscars like 959 and 964 than the SUV’s seemingly closer flesh and blood relative, the Cayenne.

AND THEN I DROVE IT

And I have to admit that my original presumptions were wrong. Way wrong.

Sure, the Macan rides higher than any 959 or 964, but exactly how much effect does that have on its ability to corner? A little, yes. But probably not enough for most drivers to notice. I drove the Macan on all types of roads, including some with beautifully smooth undulations and also a proper racetrack, and I can say with confidence this is the best handling SUV I’ve driven. Grip levels, steering feedback and a physics-defying lack of body roll should keep even Walter Rohrl happy.

Porsche has absolutely nailed the chassis setup here, and even if its basic floorplan is derived from an Audi cousin, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The Macan Turbo for instance, can four-wheel drift out of a corner, making for one of the most surreal and non-SUV-like powerslides. Like the Q5 it’s all-wheel drive, of course, but here torque can be apportioned to either front or rear axles up to 100 percent – effectively making it a proper hooliganistic rear-wheel drive car if the situation calls for it.

No, this is not an Audi in drag either. Porsche says that the Macan is two thirds new, and only the floor and some hidden pieces like airconditioning and heater units are shared. Pretty much every mechanical, visual and touchable piece is unique to Porsche and it shows. Inside you get the same button-bedazzled console that’s in most other current Porsches, and the steering wheel is almost identical to what’s in the new 918 supercar. It’s similar in size to the Q5, but that’s it.

AT HOME IN THE BUSH

It’s decent off the tarmac too. All Macans come with an Offroad setting that makes the throttle less sensitive, adjusts gearshift points, and primes the front/rear torque splitting centre clutch for venturing into the outback. If you buy an optional air suspension system it’ll also raise by 40mm from normal height to a max clearance of 230mm, and another button engages a hill descent control system. Offroad capabilities, barring wading depth, are near identical to the bigger Cayenne.

You get three V6 engine choices starting with a Diesel S model fitted with same 3-litre turbodiesel as the Cayenne, but at 180kW and 580Nm it's actually a little more powerful. Porsche says 0-100km/h happens in 6.3 seconds (6.1 with optional Sport Chrono pack), and top speed is 230km/h.

The diesel Macan offers the most relaxed drive of the trio, with awesome torque delivery from low revs and an easy-going but still alarmingly quick nature.

Two all-new biturbo V6s, one 3-litre and one 3.6, make up the Macan’s two petrol options. The 3-litre, known simply as the Macan S, offers 250kW and 460Nm and is good for a 5.4 second sprint (5.2 with Sport Chrono) and a 254km/h max speed.

The 294kW/550Nm 3.6 version is called the Macan Turbo, and is the flagship model until a more powerful Turbo S comes out later on. Porsche quotes 0-100km/h in 4.8 (4.6) and an abnormally high (especially for an SUV) top speed of 266. We can also expect a E-Hybrid in the future too.

All three Macans come only with seven-speed PDK dual clutch gearboxes, and it’s this quick-shifting marvel that most makes the Macan so sportscar-like in behaviour. Where the Cayenne, which could also be considered one of the sportiest SUVs around, gets a slightly more leisurely Tiptronic transmission, the Macan gets almost exactly the same cog-swapper as fitted to 911 Turbos and GT3s. Also, the Macan may only get a fraction of the power of the most badass Cayenne, the Turbo S, but it’ll match its big brother at the drag strip and will leave it for dead on the track. I’ll let that hyperbole speak for itself.

The Macan will be launched in South Africa in June. Pricing will be announced then, but we’re predicting a range from just over R800 000 to just over R1-million. -Star Motoring

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