Fastest Macan genuinely works on the track but can it justify its big premium over the S models?
For now, the Porsche Macan Turbo is the fastest version of what its maker confidently labels “the sports car of compact SUVs”.
If it were any other brand, even the most gullible of motoring devotees would probably have to put a hand to their mouth to stifle a coughed expletive of cynicism.
Even the word ‘compact’ is questionable for a vehicle that measures 4.7 metres long.
But Porsche already has form – with the Cayenne that had purists not quite unfurling protest banners outside the company’s HQ but certainly making it clear they believed the company should be building sports cars not SUVs.
And it has gone on to become Porsche’s best-selling model – doing so while staying as close to the company’s sports car DNA as a large SUV arguably could.
The Porsche Macan international launch was held in Leipzig, the north German town where 50,000 of them will be built every year, alongside its bigger brother and the Panamera sedan.
You’d struggle to find a molehill in Leipzig, so seemingly flat is the land, and Porsche’s drive route did much for showing off the Macan’s cruising refinement – and proving it’s unlikely to be confused with the Audi Q5 on which it’s based – but little for its dynamic flavour.
Fortunately, the Porsche Centre Leipzig – complete with its upturned-Apollo-space-capsule-style building – is blessed with a terrific little racetrack that replicates famous grand prix circuit corners from around the world.
Through high-speed sweeping corners (Parabolica and Lesmo, both Monza, Italy), up hill and then down through a blind downhill S-bend (Laguna Seca, California) or into and out of a tight chicane (Bus Stop, from Belgium’s Spa) the Macan impresses.
Let’s be up front and say it’s not going to thrill quite like a 911 or Cayman, and even the firmest suspension setting doesn’t prevent some body lean – but this is relative: the Macan corners flatly like no SUV, especially one weighing nearly two tonnes, we’ve experienced. And it delivers the combination of stability and agility you won’t find in rivals that include the aforementioned Q5, BMW X3 and Range Rover Evoque.
Even the Macan’s driving position has more in common with a 911 than it does a Cayenne, placing the driver in an obtuse seating angle rather than the just-more-than-perpendicular more common to SUVs.
The electro-mechanical steering doesn’t feel as crisp off center as it does in a Cayman, though there’s well judged weighting and laser-like accuracy as you point the Macan into a constant-radius corner and simply hold the steering angle until ready to straighten it for braking.
Our Porsche Macan Turbo was fitted with optional ceramic brakes, which cost a fortune but save money on brake pads for those who want to take their Porsche to a track even if it’s an SUV rather than a sports car. Both standard and optional brakes, though, provide the kind of easy-to-modulate braking feel that gives the driver all the encouragement they need to be the last of the late brakers.
The standard all-wheel-drive system is capable of shuffling torque forwards and backwards constantly, though is heavily biased towards the rear wheels on the bitumen to give the driving experience a sportier edge.
Switch off driver aids and the Macan will oversteer on (throttle) command.
However, to get the best out of the Macan – which is completely opposite to the 911 Turbo with its engine ahead of the front axle (not even Porsche engineers can overcome the limitations of an Audi platform) – Sports Plus is needed for the track.
And even on the Turbo that costs $122,900 compared with the $87,200 S that also uses a twin-turbo V6 engine, you can only get this mode by paying $2690 for Porsche’s Sports Chrono package.
That brings a launch control function that enables the Turbo to reach 100km/h in 4.6 rather than 4.8 seconds but also stiffens the suspension to its hardest setting and tells the excellent seven-speed PDK dual-clutch auto to introduce later, faster shifts – thumping satisfyingly through the gears with each flick of the right ‘Up’ paddle (the horrible thumb-shift buttons have been given the boot – hurrah!).
Sports Plus also brings some much-needed aural interest to match the speed, including more emphasis on the exhaust ‘blats’, though the Turbo never reaches that special kind of sound delivered by some other high-performance six- or eight-cylinder engines.
The Porsche Macan Turbo features an in-house twin-turbocharged V6 like the Macan S – the base S diesel gets its V6 from Audi – though the engine size is a 3.6-litre rather than 3.0-litre.
It produces an extra 44kW (294kW, at 6000rpm) and 90Nm (550Nm, at 1350-4500rpm) to make it six-tenths faster than the S, though the performance differentiation between the two models feels wider than the on-paper stats suggest.
Where the S responds to a firm press of the accelerator with a smooth and steady surge, the Turbo explodes out of the blocks – building speed at a more rapid rate. That applies at high speed, too, as we found out on a stretch of autobahn where the Turbo was noticeably more eager to accelerate from 200km/h to 250km/h.
Drive the Macan Turbo this way, of course, and fuel efficiency will also rocket from the official figures of between 8.9 and 9.2L/100km. Luckily, the Turbo gets a bigger, 75-litre fuel tank than the S (65L) to partly compensate.
Our Macan Turbo was also fitted with air suspension (optional in Germany but standard in Australia for Turbo) that doesn’t spoil the vehicle’s ability to ride over bumps comfortably despite the inevitable firmness of the suspension, and includes a Low Level that reduces the ride height by 10mm to further improve the Macan’s straight-line stability. There's also a separate dampers button so you can have the most comfortable ride setting yet the most aggressive engine/gearbox mode.
A 911 owner might throw you a mocking look at the racetrack, but head back into real life and it’s the Macan driver who can feel smug about the greater versatility of their vehicle.
The Macan features a useful 500-litre boot accessed by an auto tailgate, and load space can be tripled with a drop of the split-fold rear seats. Legroom in the rear seat is okay, nothing more, but headroom is far better than the SUV’s sloping rear roofline suggests.
Even the infinite space of the Internet almost doesn’t have room for the list of options available for the Macan, though. Go the Turbo and you’re still expected to pay for active safety aids such as adaptive cruise and lane assist, though $8590 for the indulgent but outstanding Burmeister audio system might, just might, be considered acceptable by some buyers. It's possible to turn this into a $200,000 vehicle.
You’ll have to be serious about performance to justify the Turbo’s significant premium over the other S petrol and diesel models. But you would be the owner of the sportiest of sports utility vehicles (at least until the Turbo S comes along).