2015 Porsche Macan

I knew it was a softball question, but I asked it anyway. It's pretty standard for automakers to offer up some examples of competitors when they invite the media to drive a new vehicle for the first time. If not stated outright, it's just as standard for some journalist to query about the competitive set as soon as the Q&A begins. I knew full well that Porsche believes it has a valuable new niche to itself with the 2015 Macan (and especially with the Macan Turbo), but I wanted to hear the answer to the competitor cars question anyway.

Porsche CEO Matthias Müller didn't hesitate for a second to respond. With a half-smirk appropriate to an executive that is about to launch the (very probably) most profitable and best-selling product in his brand's lineup he chuckled, "Of course, I could be arrogant and say this car has no competitors..."

Arrogant? Well, the grinning Müller certainly didn't give off a humble vibe as he proceeded to count down a list of German and British utility vehicles from various classes that are clearly behind the pace of the Macan in either looks, luxury, or sporting prowess – Range Rover Sport, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK among them.

I can also say that the exec's hubristic response wasn't unwarranted. One day past flogging the Porsche Macan Turbo on road and track, there's no question in my mind that this is the best sporting crossover on the planet.

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Whether or not you care about "the best sporting crossover" is another matter entirely. There are still Porsche purists and diehards that haven't recovered from the perceived ignominy associated with the building of a utility vehicle, to say nothing of the fact that the storied company now sells more vehicles with four doors than with two. Every Porsche executive that I spoke with at the automaker's newly renovated Leipzig facility – where the Macan is being produced – contends that the company mandate is to build the best 'sports car' in every segment it competes in, even if the segment in question happens to be the typically sleepy small crossover group.

There are still Porsche purists that haven't recovered from the perceived ignominy of building a utility vehicle.

The Macan Turbo makes use of a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 engine, tuned to produce 400 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, operable solely via the company's seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. Full torque is available from 1,350 to 4,500 rpm, which segues nicely with the horsepower peak of 6,000 rpm. A few other journalists on my program commented on some slight turbo lag, but I didn't notice much of any to speak of on the track, or any of the variable road situations that I encountered. Suffice it to say that if there is a flat spot in the power delivery from this engine, it's a subtle one indeed.

I'll quickly note that, while I did have time behind the wheel of the 340-hp, 339-lb-ft Macan S, with it's 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6, I spent most of my time evaluating the Turbo. Look for a full review of the S just as soon as we get one in the US.

2015 Porsche Macan

Consider that Macan Turbo's acceleration time is two-tenths of a second quicker than that of the base 911 Carrera.

Equipped with the Sport Chrono package, Porsche estimates that the Macan Turbo will gallop from 0-60 in some 4.4 seconds. That's plenty quick. For reference: Land Rover lists the 0-60 time of its Range Rover Sport – that of the 510-horsepower, supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine – as five seconds flat. Still not impressed? Consider than that the acceleration time is two-tenths of a second quicker than that of the base 911 Carrera.

The Macan Turbo delivers its power with such smoothness to all four corners (the all-wheel-drive system has a rear bias, but is infinitely variable from front to back), that my only complaint in the drivetrain experience is the lack of the "holy shit!" moment that is usually part of the Porsche "Turbo" package. The application of speed is almost completely without drama, which should be a good feature for a luxury CUV buyer while being slightly disappointing in context of the brand's palpitating history.

The sensation of speed might be more laid back than visceral, but the V6 does sound deliciously menacing when the revs pile on. The exhaust system is actually rather hushed at low loads (complementing a very quiet experience at autobahn speeds) with an internal flap opening to offer a full-throated bellow when one dives deeper into the throttle. I'm very much in favor of the sounds produced by the flat-sixes in Porsche's current range, but I'd still be willing to bet that sports fans worldwide would pick this Macan V6 song-in-anger as the more euphonious tune.

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On almost every occasion I've had to wrap my paws around one, Porsche steering wheels have provided me with memorable experiences. Precise, well weighted and, most importantly, incredibly communicative, Porsche steering generally competes with Lotus and Ferrari for my go-to benchmarks. The Macan's electro-mechanical setup might be weightier and quicker than the Audi Q5 rig on which it's based, and it is very probably the best steering offered on any utility vehicle in the world, but 911-worthy it is not.

Tossing the Macan Turbo through a tightly wound test track outside of the customer delivery center in Leipzig, I can't say that I had any real trouble controlling the vehicle. But the dearth of road feel was still disappointing.

2015 Porsche Macan

The Macan's electro-mechanical setup is very probably the best steering offered on any utility vehicle in the world.

There are mega SUVs and CUVs that have no problem going fast in a straight line, but one of Porsche's stated goals for Macan was to dominate its segment in terms of how it goes around corners. To that end, the handling has been almost perfectly sorted to be entertaining in the twisty bits – something that shone when I drove a few laps of the track. The rather heavy (4,200-plus pounds) and high-riding vehicle couldn't completely mitigate the physics of flying around close corners, but it did exhibit a neutrality, balance and willingness to rotate that is otherwise unheard of in this market space.

One more item of note on the handling front: all of the examples we drove, on the track and on the street, were equipped with high-performance Michelin Latitude Tour HP all-season tires, as opposed to more aggressive summer rubber. The Porsche event planners couldn't be sure of the weather in the northernly corner of Germany late in the winter, so the all-seasons were the safest way to go. The tires held up just fine for our moderately hot laps of the test track, though it was relatively easy to overcome their grip and slide through a few corners. My expectation would be that stickier summer shoes would lessen that hoonery somewhat and add quite of bit of adhesion at pace.

I wasn't able to sample the air-suspension-equipped Macan Turbo on the track, but the standard steel-sprung Macan acquitted itself quite well. Roll through the suspension was evident, but not so much that I felt compelled to dial back my pace as I better learned the layout of the circuit. The lack of understeer was also really commendable – even coming out of a corner intentionally hot, the Macan basically refused to plow, and never felt anything like nose-heavy. What's more, the AWD and torque-vectoring system worked some magic in bringing the car around in those slightly botched corners, cleaning up my line and giving the CUV a sense of balance that should be the envy of the class.

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The exterior styling of the Macan convincingly sells all of this on-road ability, too. On the 20-inch wheels you see on my test car, this crossover doesn't exactly come off as "ground-hugging," but I still think that the 911-aping silhouette and aggressive front fascia make it a fast-looking thing. Its aero-slick shape does defy the boxy looks of many of the competitors in this segment; doing a better, less convoluted job of the same kind of styling effect Infiniti pioneered with its FX and EX crossovers. With a smooth, arching roofline and wheels pushed out to the very corners, the bottom line is that the Macan truly looks like a Porsche. This sheetmetal will sell some cars.

This sheetmetal will sell some cars.

Inside, I'm less convinced of the compromise arrived at between functional and sport. I saw cabins finished and light and dark leathers, with the wood inlays you see here, and with versions done in aluminum trim. Materials seem to all be of high quality, but the layout and styling is pretty conservative when compared with other luxury players here. Mostly, though, Macan buyers will be compromising quite a bit of interior space – most noticeably in the rear-seat and storage areas – when compared with luxury crossovers that have similar sticker prices. Remember, a base (non-Turbo) Macan S starts at $49,900, which is $300 more than a base Cayenne. That lurking, class-larger Range Rover Sport is a lot more commodious than the slim Macan, as well.

Look at Macan as a utility vehicle first and you might come away disappointed, I suppose. Look at it as a kind of highly versatile luxury sports car, as Porsche has designed it, and there's simply nothing in the world that can compete.

2015 Porsche Macan

BMW M and Mercedes AMG may choose to play here eventually, but they'll be playing catchup.

Audi SQ5 platform-mate already dipping a toe in these waters, and a larger, yet more extreme Lamborghini Urus utility vehicle still on the horizon, the Volkswagen Group clearly believes that there is a mint to be made in the performance-CUV category.

For now, Porsche pretty much has this niche to itself, something that will either vault Macan into an early leadership position or condemn it to a lineage of trial and failure. Considering the success of big-brother Cayenne, I'm not willing to bet against Porsche's product planners on this one.

With the knowledge of just how good this Porsche Macan Turbo is, I'm disposed to agree with Herr Müller that there are no rivals to be found on today's landscape. BMW M and Mercedes AMG may choose to play here eventually, but they'll be playing catchup when they do. Hubris or no, I'd be grinning if I were in Müller's seat, too.