Spending $100,000 on an SUV is becoming an increasingly common occurrence in Australia, but never before has there been so much choice, particularly if the ‘S’ in SUV means anything to you.
Over the years the term SUV has been poorly diluted. Most modern ‘soft-roaders’ are not only allergic to dirt, but have as many sporting credentials as Joe Hockey in a gymnasium.
At the other end of the scale, there’s the new Porsche Macan and BMW X4 to take on the existing Range Rover Evoque and Audi SQ5. All four SUVs are all-wheel drive and showcase just how good an SUV can be for the driving enthusiast in all of us.
Putting aside the Range Rover Evoque as it’s cheaper and four-cylinder only, and Audi’s SQ5 as it’s diesel only, we’re pitting a Porsche Macan S petrol against a top-spec BMW X4, the 35i.
From the outside it’s hard to argue which looks less polarising. The X4 looks odd in the flesh, with a peculiar shape that highlights its SUV-wannabe-coupe shape, unfairly emphasising the large gaps between tyre and wheel arches while failing to portray the same beefiness of its X6 bigger brother.
The Macan on the other hand is gorgeous from the rear, stealing the 911’s tail-lights while keeping the same company front-end that seems to be locked in a time capsule with no room for change. Looks are subjective but we’d comfortably tip it in the Macan’s favour.
Interestingly, the BMW X4 35i is priced at $87,430 while the Porsche Macan S comes in at $86,700. Both cars actually have a semi-reasonable set of standard features considering their ancestral preference for mile-long option lists.
Our Macan S test car was equipped with some options that we could do without, such as a panoramic roof ($3790), side skirts ($1920) and black roof rails ($750).
Meanwhile, 20-inch wheels ($2710), Sport Chrono package ($2690), aluminium interior package ($2480), front heated seats ($890), upgraded leather seats ($3720) and three-zone climate control ($830) are all worthwhile if not necessary.
On the BMW front, the X4 35i gains the M Sport kit for nicht, which includes 20-inch M light alloy wheels, aluminium interior finishes, M steering wheel and a bunch of other things that help justify its slightly higher starting price.
Nonetheless, our X4 35i was still loaded with a sunroof ($2920), driving assistant ($900), internet connectivity ($200), head-up display ($2000), digital radio tuner ($800) and ConnectedDrive Freedom ($1200).
Side by side, the two cars may appear close for standard specification, where it counts, but look deeper and things starts to look a little one-sided.
Both are equipped with satellite navigation, which the BMW wins hands down thanks to its 8.8-inch high-tech iDrive system against the ancient-looking 7.0-inch system in the Porsche. Meanwhile, the 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system in the X4 also outguns the standard 11-speaker system in the Macan (which you can of course upgrade to a Burmester sound system for a mere $11,590, if you must).
It’s unfortunate that nearly $4K is required to rid the Macan of its ‘partial-leather seats’ for something more substantial, a standard feature on the X4. In fact, the list of options on the Macan are eye-watering at best, though you can individualise your Porsche to the point of making it one-of-a-kind in the world.
Still, it’s hard to ignore optional items such as Porsche’s ‘Entry & Drive’ (keyless entry and start), at $1690, another feature that is standard on the X4 35i and really should be standard on any $100K model.
No doubt then, that Porsche loses out when it comes to standard features. But then again, we are ignoring the badge here, and subjectively how much is that Porsche badge worth compared with a BMW?
More importantly, there’s little point in arguing about the difference in standard features – particularly on the inside – when the contrast between the two SUV’s interior fit and finish is so staggeringly in the Macan’s favour.
The Porsche’s interior is essentially that of a 911 for less than half the price, while the X4 is hard to distinguish from a 1 Series. It’s here that you’re best to remember that the Macan is the cheapest Porsche you can buy, which means it shares plenty of parts with its more expensive cousins (as well as its Audi Q5 donor), while the X4 is essentially an X3 in coupe form (which itself is based on previous-generation BMW 3 Series platform).
Where the Porsche’s interior is an excellent demonstration of high-end luxury manufacturing, with a cabin ambience transcending its price tag, the X4 disappoints with its blandness and overuse of black throughout the cabin.
From the look and feel of the switchgear to the tactility of the buttons, door trim, seats and even the roof, the Porsche justifies the worth of its badge. In this regard, the Range Rover Evoque cabin (with a few options) would provide the best competition to the Stuttgart-based brand.
Surprisingly, though, both Germans provide a comfortable cabin with ample room for four large adults. Even our 185cm-tall tester felt comfortable in the second row of both.
Boot capacity is identical at 500 litres, though the coupe-like shape of the X4 means the load area slants inwards, potentially limiting larger items from standing tall.
Powering the Macan S is a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 with 250kW of power and 480Nm of torque coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (PDK).
This makes it the first petrol-powered Porsche priced below $100,000 in Australia. If that wasn’t enough to get you excited, it’s worth noting the engine is a derivative of the company’s famous 4.8-litre V8, making its value for money equation a rather attractive one – something we don’t get to say about Porsche all that often.
Meanwhile, the men in Munich have put the award-winning 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-scroll single-turbo BMW engine in the X4, with 225kW and 400Nm. Unlike the Porsche’s dual-clutch, the X4 35i gets an eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox that has proven itself across the Beamer range.
Off the line, the Macan S will hit 100km/h in 5.1 seconds, a little quicker than the X4’s 5.5-second time, though without our test car’s near-mandatory option of Sport Chrono with launch control the Macan does the same dash just a tenth faster than the BMW.
Figures aside, behind the wheel the two feel equally quick on the go and we suspect the actual difference in acceleration time comes from the Macan’s ability to get off the line in such a brutal manner, compounded by its rapid-fire gearshifts that not only deliver a cracking sensation, but a tremendous aural experience from its oversized quad exhausts.
The X4 35i is equally loud and while it sounds better coming on load, with the harsh mechanical growl we’re now so used to from BMW’s twin-scroll engines, it’s trumped by the Porsche on downshifts and crackles at redline.
Behind the wheel both SUVs are undoubtedly focused on driver enjoyment, with the X4 utilising an xDrive all-wheel-drive system first seen in the X6 while the Porsche Macan has ditched Audi’s drivetrain roots for a system borrowed from a 911 Carrera 4.
Driving both cars around the twisty roads of Mt Glorious and Mt Nebo in Brisbane, we found the Macan’s innate balance and stability at speed unrivalled. While the X4 provides a very competent package around bends, it simply can’t match the sheer speed the Macan can carry in and out of bends.
Our Macan’s grip level was no doubt helped by its enormous 265mm-wide, 45-aspect 20-inch Michelin tyres on the front and 295/40 R20s on the rear (compared with 245/265 equivalents on the X4). It’s also worth noting that while BMW’s driver assistant systems were going into overdrive attempting to keep the car in check, we basically didn’t see the Porsche system interfere once.
Although it’s based on a Audi Q5, the Macan is nothing like it, or its sporty SQ5 equivalent when it comes to dynamics.
A former Porsche employee told us recently that when the Macan was in development, the plan was to use 70 per cent Audi parts and 30 per cent Porsche parts, but the internal furor over the project was so intense that the company basically switched that ratio around, with the Macan more Porsche than anything else – and it shows.
The Porsche’s dual-clutch transmission also outmodes the eight-speed of the BMW for shift times, smoothness and a sporty edge. While the BMW is smoother at normal speeds and for everyday driving, the Porsche is simply made to go fast.
Steering on the X4 is also more suited to everyday commuting, providing a lighter feel on centre and at low speeds but tightening up in Sport+ mode. As with the Macan, it’s almost too heavy and certainly not the sort of car you can drive one-handed (a good thing). But when the going gets fun, it’s the sweetest system you’ll encounter in an SUV with an almost faultless sense of control and every input, no matter how small, being translated into front-wheel movement.
Despite both vehicles claiming to be driver’s cars, neither is compromised for ride comfort. The BMW (which has adaptive suspension) and Porsche (with a similar system called Porsche Active Suspension Management) both ride beautifully over all surfaces we tried and can easily be used as daily drivers.
This wouldn’t apply to lesser X4s, which miss out on adaptive suspension and have the potential of being a little too harsh. As for the Porsche, air suspension can be further optioned for $3490 if ride comfort is of extreme importance.
Around town the noise insulation in the Porsche is Mercedes-Benz S-Class-like in refinement despite the massive tyres, while the X4 – although still very good – can’t match it.
During our test the spiritedly-driven Macan returned a fuel economy figure of 15.4 litres per 100 kilometres while the X4 managed 14.0L/100km, both well and truly above their claimed figure of 9.0L/100km and 8.3L/100km respectively.
Overall though, both cars would make a great choice for everyday commuting for those who have around $100,000 to spend on a practical SUV with genuine sporting credentials. The X4 feels more focused on its edgy styling while the Macan is obsessed with maintaining the brand’s sporty heritage.
One wears a Porsche badge while the other doesn’t, of course. And while that might sound a little wanky, being a Porsche owner is a huge incentive for many and the Macan offers the most affordable way in.
Perhaps the best way to summarise this comparison is to realise that there’s now a year-long waiting list of the Macan, which is growing by the day. The little Macan is ultimately the 911 of SUVs, outpacing not only the X4 in this test, but in all likelihood the other competitors in its segment as well – though we’re planning a test with the diesel Macan and its SQ5 distant cousin.
If you can get over the extensive options list, the Porsche Macan is the new king. So much so, that this tester is now going on the waiting list!