The naughty & nice Porsche Macan Turbo

The Porsche Macan Turbo Performance Package is a sportscar with a split personality. By our car review team.

We went looking for a sports utility vehicle that can switch between different personalities (because it’s almost Christmas, let’s say from naughty to nice and back again) at the flick of a switch on the centre console. One that’s refined enough to take you to work in luxurious comfort, provides enough accommodation for the kids and boot space for the surfboard, and which can take your breath away at a weekend track day without being stupid scary. And which looks good, too.

At first there seemed to be a surprising number of options on the market. Many SUVs now claim to be both sporty and practical, wanting you to believe they’re harbouring a sportscar inside a sensible shell. Even the Mazda CX-5 comes with a sport mode, not to mention the top-of-the-line machines from sport/luxury brands Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar.

But as we discovered in our road test, the Porsche Macan Turbo Performance Package is different: it takes both speed and practical to another level. If it were a human, it would be diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as split personality).

You’re reminded that this top-of-the-range Macan is different the instant you turn the ignition key (no, Porsches don’t do push-button starts). The engine erupts with a chilling growl before settling into a faint, noise-suppressed burble for your comfy, speed-limited daily drive. It’s reminding you that it’s a Porsche at heart, and don’t you forget it.

The mid-range SUV of the Porsche range, the Macan comes in various, incrementally more powerful models, until you reach the Turbo Performance Package version at the top. With a direct-injected, twin-turbocharged 3.6L V6 that’s gloriously excessive for a car this size, it’s one of the fastest and most powerful sports utility vehicles anywhere. And its huge, low profile 21 inch wheels give it a satisfyingly poised stance.

When you’re done with the commuting, school runs and shopping, and you’ve got some clear road ahead of you, hitting Sport Mode changes everything. The stop-start engine mode goes out the window, the air suspension lowers and the shock absorbers stiffen, the auto stays in the lower gears for longer, the sports exhaust valves open and the V6 starts to growl continuously. Squeeze the accelerator and in a blink you’re leaving the traffic behind you.

And there’s even more to this machine: select Sport Plus Mode for your track day, as we did, and the Turbo Performance Package becomes something else entirely. The ride is firmed so that roadholding has total priority at the expense of your bottom, and the transmission goes nuts trying to capture every last soaring rev.

This is where you see the Macan’s true character: it transforms in a no-holds-barred sportscar full of Porsche racing DNA, but it doesn’t go all alien on you. It doesn’t turn into a Porsche 911 and become a car with performance and handling parameters that are way beyond the driving capabilities of most people. It lets you go faster without turning into something that an ordinary driver would struggle to understand or control on the road.

This was amply demonstrated when the Fitness First mag crew compared various Porsches at the Porsche Sport Driver Training School in Brisbane.

The idea was to take several key models, from 911s and Caymans to Boxsters and Macans, as fast as possible around a challenging skid pan circuit comprised of short straights and fast and slow curves marked off with traffic cones.

In the hands of a skilled race driver the 911s would have set lap times that would have destroyed those set in the other models. But in the hands of the various car reviewers present, the 911 times were generally mediocre. That’s because the 911s have a unique performance envelope that take a while to understand and exploit.

Squeeze the accelerator a fraction too much and suddenly you’re in a 360° spin. But in the Macan, the circuit seemed that much easier to conquer, and our reviewer’s time was four seconds faster than what he managed in the 911, even though the latter is essentially a racing car for the road.

Why? Because the Macan served up the power in a much more familiar, easily exploitable form — it wasn’t looking to challenge your driving skills at every opportunity. And yet its acceleration still pinned you to the seat, its transmission shifted lightning fast and the body roll was surprisingly minimal.

In the Turbo Performance Package that we tested back home, the handling was again a standout, as it was in the bigger Porsche Cayenne SUV we tested a few issues ago. Throw a Porsche SUV around a corner and you’re shocked at how tightly it hangs on, the optional Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (which sends torque to the wheel that needs it most) definitely making itself felt.

But in everyday life you don’t need torque vectoring when you’re carrying your surfboard to the beach or the kids to the school drop-off, so switch driving mode back to Standard and the Macan turns into a docile, luxury transport.

You really get two cars in one, which explains why it’s one of the most expensive SUVs you can buy, with a base price of $143,500 but optioned up to nearly $170,000 in the model we tested. That’s the price you pay for having car with such exceptional abilities.

The only downside to the Macan is that its rear legroom isn’t huge. But if that’s what you want, go get yourself a sensible Toyota or a Mazda instead.