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Back in the day, Porsche was a pure sports car builder. Times change. I arrived here in the former East Germany this week to test the Macan, Porsche's new compact SUV.

The Macan makes it clear that Porsche believes the automotive future will be based on comfort and performance – qualities that old-school fans see as utterly incompatible. To the dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast, the only true Porsche is a stripped-down two-seater with rock-hard suspension and just enough luggage space for a pair of sunglasses.

Like I said, times change. The Macan is a genuine Porsche. It just happens to have room for four (and the ability to climb a ski hill – more on this later).

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I started my assessment of the Macan by subjecting it to the first test that any Porsche must pass – a high-speed trip on the German autobahn.

And it excelled. Out in the left lane, the 400-horsepower Macan Turbo accelerated effortlessly to 235 km/h, whooshing past slower traffic like a bullet train. (There was more speed on tap, but the multi-purpose tires installed for the test day were placarded to 240.) Even at speeds that would land you in jail in Canada, the Macan was smooth and composed, with zero aerodynamic instability. The electronic power steering was beautifully accurate, with carefully calibrated ratios and the kind of tactile feedback that's essential if you want to travel at speeds like this.

Porsche Test One: passed.

It was interesting to experience the Macan after the long build-up to its launch. The Macan is Porsche's second SUV. The full-size Cayenne, which was launched in 2003, quickly became Porsche's best-selling car. Many have wondered about the wisdom of building another SUV, since it has the potential to cannibalize sales of the existing model. Porsche officials insist that Macan is a different car than the Cayenne, and will attract a different demographic.

"This will bring a new generation to our brand," Porsche executive Oliver Laqua said. "It's a new kind of sports car."

After driving the Macan, I agree. The Macan is physically smaller than the Cayenne, bridging a gap between Porsche's SUV and its famous sports cars. Although it's definitely not a 911, the Macan feels compact and sporting. It is an SUV in name, but not in nature.

After the autobahn, I headed to the twisting, tree-lined roads outside Leipzig to assess the Macan in the kind of environment that has made Porsches like the 911 a legend. Again, the Macan did well, sweeping through the curves and clipping apexes. Unlike the autobahn, these roads had speed limits, but the Macan made it easy to break them, and I had to discipline myself.

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Porsche Test Two: also passed.

Next up was the racetrack, where I chased a Porsche 911 piloted by a factory test driver. Although it wasn't the equal of the 911, the Macan was the best SUV I've ever driven through high-speed curves, with little roll, crisp turn-in, and good feel as I approached the traction limits.

Porsche Test Three: Passed, but not aced (you still need a 911 if you're really serious about the track).

Although I'm not an SUV fan, I liked this new, compact Porsche. The Macan can seat four or five people, carry luggage, haul a trailer, and still deliver genuine driving pleasure. It isn't cheap, but it is less expensive than a Cayenne.

Although few drivers are likely to take advantage of it, the Macan also has off-road capabilities. At the press of a button on the centre console, the Macan rises 40 mm on its suspension, and switches its drivetrain into a low-speed mode that will let you climb steep hills, wade streams, or plow through deep snow. We tested the Macan's off-road capabilities on a rutted track that was once used to train Russian tank crews. It went well. I've tested many Porsches, but this was a first. Again – times change.

globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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