It's hard to believe the current Porsche Macan still rules the roost a decade after its launch. Blessed with enduring quality and handling prowess, it's still our luxury SUV of choice despite receiving only mild updates since its introduction in 2013. Class, as they say, is permanent. But the time has come for the Macan to be replaced by something altogether more modern, and the all-new, all-electric Macan is almost finished. We visited the company's Leipzig factory to peek behind the scenes and hitch a lift in the next electric Porsche.
In the metal
It's difficult to say how the new Macan will look, because nobody outside of Porsche has yet seen the finished article. However, having snooped around a very lightly disguised prototype, which hid its details with some hastily applied gaffer tape, we do know roughly what to expect.
First of all, the most obvious difference is the new rear window, which will be much more dramatically angled than that of the existing Macan. The petrol car is hardly upright in its design, but it has nothing on its successor, which has a decidedly fastback-style tinge. So much so, in fact, that we thought it might be a Macan Coupe in the mould of the larger Cayenne.
But no, this is just the Macan - at least for now - and there's more to it than just a slanted rear window. There's a new, stockier stance, too, and Porsche is unapologetic about ensuring the driver sits low in the Macan, which it describes as more of a capable sports car than a family bus.
Which perhaps goes some way to explaining the interior, which we have seen fully unmasked. The company is keen to show off the links between the Macan and the original 911 in terms of cabin design, with a high-set instrument display and tall centre console, but it's still thoroughly modern. There's widescreen digital instrumentation, a clever head-up display offered with particularly clever augmented reality and there's a huge central touchscreen that showcases all Porsche's latest technology.
Much of that centres around the two-motor electric powertrain that underpins the Macan. The battery is, in effect, part of the Macan's structure, even if it offers the ability to swap out smaller bits if the need were to arise. But from a software point of view, the battery system means integration. Not just with a smartphone, but with the car's vital stats. The navigation system, for example, knows how much battery charge is left, and roughly how much the car will use on a given journey. With all that, the car can plan the route, including charging stops, to achieve set parameters such as charge available on arrival or charging time en route.
The Macan borrows some tech from its big sibling, too, including the optional extra display that allows front-seat passengers to have their own touchscreen that the driver can't see. The idea is that you can watch TV or movies through the system, but the fact of the matter is an iPad will do just as much for a fraction of the money.
Perhaps more useful is the inclusion of gaming technology in the touchscreen. Obviously, it isn't for use on the road - distracting drivers with a knock-off Mario Kart is frowned upon in most jurisdictions - but it's there to keep you and your passengers occupied when charging. It's quite a cool system and it's good fun if you have a car full, but we suspect it might be one of those things you use a few times and then forget about.
Whatever the Macan's tech credentials, the cabin quality looks set to remain as high as ever. Although our ride was in a pre-production prototype vehicle, it still felt as sturdy and as well engineered as any other Porsche in the range, with premium materials that are bolted together in an even more premium way.
It felt fairly roomy, too, although we never got a chance to sample the rear seats. The fronts, however, offered plenty of seat adjustment and headroom, with the low seating position we've come to expect from Porsche's SUVs. And we'll have to wait and see how the new shape impacts boot volume, as Porsche hasn't yet informed us just how large the new Macan's luggage space will be.
It isn't always easy to determine much about a car from the passenger seat, but having been driven around the Leipzig test track and off-road course in the passenger side of a Macan we had three main takeaways.
First of all, it's ridiculously fast. No medium-sized SUV needs to go anything like this quickly, but with launch control engaged the Macan can turn your stomach inside out. And the force is relentless. As long as the accelerator is pinned, your insides are being thrown at your spine. We have driven and ridden in faster cars, but not many.
But the performance is no surprise. Porsche's fastest Macan - the version we were in - promises at least 450kW of electric power, which is available instantaneously and is split between the front and rear wheels thanks to the use of two motors, though the car is capable of employing just the rear unit. On top of that, with a 100kWh battery feeding those motors, Porsche claims to be targeting a range of more than 500km in more efficient models.
The second takeaway is the Macan's capability. The Leipzig track is essentially a greatest hits album for the world's race tracks, mixing a carbon copy of Spa-Francorchamps' Bus Stop with a facsimile of Laguna Seca's infamous Corkscrew. Yet the Macan swallowed them all with the glee of a well-sorted hot hatchback. Porsche's engineer - and our chauffeur for the day - admitted he was taking the "fun" line, rather than the racing line, but the Macan was rapid even when it was sideways, and it was sideways for much of the time.
That's partly because Porsche's engineers are both passionate and unhinged, as well as being spectacularly good (and spectacularly humble) drivers, but it's also because the Macan comes with a choice of assistance settings. As standard, all the driver aids are on, but the electronic stability control has a Sport mode designed to make the ham-fisted look like the late, great Ken Block without letting them do too much damage. But for the madcap Porsche people, there's also a setting that turns pretty much everything off, leaving drivers to their own devices
Either way, it's clear to see the Macan has poise. Even when it's dealing with the trickiest corners in the world it feels planted and stable, and there's no sense that the car is any taller than a Volkswagen Golf. It's quite remarkable.
Yet despite the track shenanigans, it can also cut it off-road. And there arguably the biggest advantage of the new model comes to the fore. Even at speeds of well over 50km/h on the most rutted gravel roads at Porsche's factory, it was immensely comfortable, isolating its occupants from the horrendous surface with ease. Admittedly, on 21-inch alloys the low-speed ride isn't quite as good - the car's weight won't help with that either, as the battery alone weighs well over 500kg - but it's generally very comfortable, and merging that comfort with such awesome stability takes some doing.
Mixing both those things with some mud-plugging ability is equally surprising, particularly from a Porsche, and the Macan happily demonstrated its traction and surefootedness on everything from an 80-per-cent incline to a 30-degree sideways slope. Apparently, the electric powertrain helps with such things by lowering the centre of gravity. And despite the massive battery under the floor, the car will wade through 30cm of water without a problem.
We can't draw too many solid conclusions from the passenger seat, but the new Porsche Macan promises to carry on where the petrol-powered car left off. It's early days, but this first taste suggests the new SUV will be more than capable of giving its rivals a run for their money. In fact, it'll probably run rings around most of them. Watch this space.