Porsche looks, badge without the price tag

For drivers who have always dreamt of a car with a Porsche badge on the bonnet, this is probably the cheapest way to get one.

The Porsche Macan. The most affordable car in the Porsche range, and by quite some margin.

At $89,300 it's still not cheap, but by Porsche standards - or any legendary maker for that matter - it's a lighter hit to the hip pocket.

Some people will openly warn against buying the Macan, claiming it isn't even a "proper" Porsche. And with it's four-cylinder engine and relatively sensible performance, that's a fair point compared to other Porsches.

But this entry-level Macan gets to the speed limit in just over six seconds, a pretty decent clip, and it will towel off most SUVs.

But this is a Porsche, after all. And Porsche's are never ordinary.

The same howls of derision followed Porsche's decision, a decade ago, to sell the company's first SUV, the Cayenne (a move that probably saved the brand, as it turns out).

The Macan is the second. Yet still, doubters exist.

But it begs the question: is it acceptable for a Porsche, one of the most revered performance marques in the world, to offer a model with "average" performance.

And is it OK, for that matter, that most buyers will do so purely for the name and not really for the performance?

Who would pay $89,300 for this car if it had a Hyundai or Kia badge?

But that's not to say the Macan should be avoided. After all, the company's reputation and storied history is definitely worth something when it comes time to trade, or sell. Only then can it be properly gauged if it was a smart buy.

Given that most people driving high-performance cars will rarely use even half the performance potential, doesn't it make sense to buy a more suitable car?

The Macan makes a pretty convincing case.

Production of the shapely little German rocket began in 2014, although the recently-introduced two-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant didn't make its debut until 2019. By that time buyers had mostly made up their minds about the Macan range and the sales figures suggested they approved.

So what's all the fuss about this new engine? Well, it's almost identical to what might be found under the bonnet of a VW Golf GTi. The Macan shares much of its componentry with another member of the vast VW family, Audi's Q5 SUV.

While initially the Cayenne and Macan both offered diesel engine options, the second-generation models shifted solely to petrol. And Porsche has already revealed that the second-generation Macan will feature electric power, possibly exclusively across the range.

Tested here is the base-model Macan - a Porsche in its most pared-back form.

It's the only new Porsche available for less than 100 grand, and is a good $20k cheaper than the mid-range Macan S and its potent twin-turbo V6 engine, which costs $112,400. Go the whole hog and the flagship Macan GTS brings more power and more technology, plus a more Porsche-like price of $137,300.

The Macan is still a seriously pretty little thing, with a price tag to match, even if it misses out on some of the bling that makes higher specified models automotive eye-candy.

Porsche doesn't necessarily build its cars for people to make sensible, rational decisions. That's why God invented the Toyota Camry (nice thing that it is).

So how does this $90,000 Porsche stack up?

Well, it still gets a few admiring glances at the shopping centre. Those beautifully crisp, swoopy lines look just as good in the garden variety Macan as they do in higher-powered variants.

It's particularly comfortable - more so than the German marque's typically sharp handling which delivers an even sharper ride.

That's probably the first clue that this car is not targeting typical Porsche buyers.

Most obvious is the fact that the engine is in the front and the luggage (lots of it) lives out the back - a configuration that has been dodged by the legendary 911 for seven decades.

With all five seats in use, there's a decent 488 litres of cargo space in the Macan, which expands to a capacious 1503 litres with the rear seats folded flat.

Firm leather seats, a thin but grippy Alcantara leather-clad steering wheel, a reasonable but slightly puny 10.9-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and a Bose sound system are part of the package. And, because this is a Porsche, there's an analogue clock in the middle of the dash.

There are the numerous driver electronic aides - lane-change assist with departure warning, front and rear parking sensors and autonomous emergency braking.

In the (still analogue) instrument panel the tachometer takes pride of place in the centre of the crisp display - speed is displayed on a dial and also in digital fashion. But a head-up display would be welcome, even in this lesser-powered model.

It gets the familiar Porsche centre console, accommodating most of the driving-related adjustments, plus a couple of cup holders and, blessedly, another open tray which is large enough to accommodate a current-model iPhone. Hallelujah!

So how about that performance?

Well, officially it will reach the speed limit in an lazy six seconds. Handling is razor sharp, as is the chassis' ability to rapidly change direction without ever feeling hurried or wrong-footed.

The seven-speed PDK (dual clutch) transmission is nicely mated to the engine, and when driven with some enthusiasm, it pulls away strongly with a hearty thrum from the twin exhausts, feeling just like a Porsche might expect to.

After all, this is not just some average machine.

PORSCHE MACAN

* HOW BIG: It shares much of its running gear with Audi's popular Q5, which translates to decent space for five.

* HOW FAST: It's engaging without setting any speed records. The engine produces 194kW and 400Nm, meaning the speed limit arrives in 6,1 seconds.

* HOW THIRSTY: Surprisingly so, with a 9.1L/100km thirst. Not great for a four-cylinder.

* HOW MUCH: $89,300 plus on-road charges.