Porsche spices up off-road offerings

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The Macan, Porsche's new mid-sized SUV. Supplied photos

You're a modest-sized brand knocking out highly regarded specialist sports cars. It's a niche business until 12 years ago, when your marketing guys propose a crazy concept.

Take a sister brand's SUV product and retune it as best you can, to meet the tastes of your own audience. You have reservations: what will fans say?

Inevitably, some are outraged: you've sold out the badge. Yet plenty more love it. Sales soon exceed expectation; another win because the co-share was sealed on expectation of you being the minor player.

And now? The Cayenne is unstoppable; last year it accounted for 84,000 of the 162,000 Porsches built. That's good and bad, for Porsche doesn't want to be seen as being an SUV specialist.

Says New Zealand boss Greg Clarke: ''Porsche has to remain, first and foremost, a performance car brand. You have to think of a sports car.''

This seems like a strange statement at the launch of the new Macan, given that it is a junior SUV sibling to the Cayenne. Yet while it will only serve to make life just a little harder again for the 911, Boxster and Cayman, the Macan has to be offered.

Might the Macan also turn Cayenne faithful? There's every chance. It offers less rear leg and luggage room, yet delivers smarter, more neatly proportioned style, and performance that meets badge standards.

It drives well, for an SUV, too; ignore the reality that it is spun off the Audi Q5, for the Macan has been so utterly re-engineered that they compare only in having a common five-seat count and all-paw ability.

The exterior design is sharp while the interior is stunning; all the materials are top-notch and it adopts the same broad design as a 911. Front seats are separated by a transmission tunnel featuring a bank of chrome-trimmed switches whose layout favours left-hand drive but remains logical. The driving position is fantastic, too.

Exclusivity also means expensive; more so than the Range Rover Evoque, BMW X3, impending Mercedes-Benz GLK and, yes, the Q5. The Macan S models are almost on par with the cheapest Cayennes in similar engine state, while the flagship Turbo has equivalence with a Range Rover Sport V8 diesel.

The standard New Zealand specification is high, embracing sat nav, Bluetooth, a seven-inch touchscreen, rear-view camera and PASM electronic adaptive damping. Yet Porsche people crave extras to assert their individuality, and the brand can oblige with lots of pricey options. This is the brand that charges $960 for grey seatbelts if the standard black items don't suit and $360 for a set of wheel-cap emblems.

Here's a tip for box-tickers: Take note of the recommendation from Porsche engineers that their base steel spring set-up provides the optimum ride/handling outcome and don't bother uprating to air suspension. I drove an S petrol and Turbo on air suspension and neither felt as ''natural'' over winding roads as the diesel sampled in standard pure-steel tune.

The diesel affirms why it is expected to claim up to 50% of volume in other ways as well. The only embarrassment is that the $2000-dearer Audi SQ5's engine packs 60kW more power and 70Nm more torque and sounds rortier.

Then again, the Macan will very probably shine in comparison for its superior suspension and steering tune and - inevitably - higher social status.

Porsche spices up off-road offerings
At a Glance

Price: $118,000 to $156,000

Engines: 2997cc quad cam multivalve twin turbocharged V6 petrol, maximum power 250kW@5500-6500rpm, maximum torque 460Nm@1450-5000rpm; 2967cc quad cam multivalve direct injected common rail V6 turbo-diesel, maximum power 190kW@4000-4250rpm, maximum torque 580Nm@1750-2500rpm; 3604cc quad cam multivalve twin-turbocharged V6 petrol, maximum power 294kW@6000rpm, maximum torque 550Nm@1350-4500rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed PDK dual clutch

Brakes and stability systems: Disc, ABS, PSAM, PSMWheels, tyres: 235/55 R19 front and 255/50 R19 rear to 265/40 R21 front and 295/35 R21 rear

Fuel and economy (diesel, S petrol, Turbo): 6.1/8.7/9.1 litres per 100km, capacity 75 litres

Dimensions: Length 4699mm, width 1923mm, height 1624mm