Let me be brutally honest. If you'd told me in 2000 that Porsche was planning to build an SUV, I probably would've said, ‘well that’s the end of them’.
Because for many, ‘if it’s not a 911, it’s not a Porsche’. Part of me still subscribes to that line of thought, and you can bet there are plenty more with the same opinion. But the fact remains, the much-heralded marque from Stuttgart is currently in the midst of a sales boom, not for the success of its legendary 911, but almost entirely for its SUVs.
The Cayenne has been selling up a storm since its 2003 release, but its smaller sibling, the Macan, which only made its debut in 2014, has clocked up more than 350,000 sales worldwide, dwarfing the 911 – and every other model in the Porsche range, given its time in market.
Like every other luxury carmaker, Porsche is riding a wave of popularity and demand for its more family-friendly models, which has been something of revenue bonanza for the company. More importantly, the Macan continues to draw new customers to the brand.
That isn't to say the 911 is less important than it's been at any point in the brand's 70-year history. It’s still the benchmark bona-fide sports cars are measured, and it’s still the brand's rightful halo. No question. Just over a million have been sold over its 55-year lifespan.
While the Macan isn't a 911, it's arguably the best SUV in its class – and that’s been the case since its release, quickly attaining benchmark status for a multitude of good reasons.
If you’ve had the pleasure of driving one, petrol or diesel (even an early version) it would've taken less than a few minutes before you realised it was another benchmark vehicle from Porsche that, somehow, managed to inject enough sporting DNA into a high-riding, family-friendly SUV with a near-perfect balance between ride and handling.
How Porsche’s engineers were able to achieve such a sublime ride over bumps, broken roads, or potholes while maintaining sports car levels of body control during high-speed cornering was nothing short of miraculous as an engineering exercise. Nothing was compromised either, it all just worked in perfect harmony.
That was the six-cylinder version, which, while not quite quickest in its class performed strongly in the acceleration stakes. Dynamically, though, the German-built Macan was in a class of its own while offering its fair share of practicality and good all-round looks.
When Porsche released a four-pot Macan in 2016, many thought the carmaker had gone a step too far. Turns out it was ahead of the curve, because for markets like China where engine displacement is almost entirely irrelevant, a turbocharged four-cylinder model made perfect sense.
Outside of China, though, I’m not sure many folks knew there was a four-pot in the range (even today) – and that includes many colleagues, judging by questions from the gallery at the recent launch of the updated Macan in Mallorca, Spain.
Certainly, many appeared not to have driven one, suggesting the four-cylinder Macan may've been overlooked by the global media, but its day of reckoning would come two years later on an island off the coast of Valencia, where Porsche chose to launch the 2019 facelift in both four- and six-cylinder guise.
As often happens on global launches, vehicle choice was quite limited, which meant we spent the majority of time behind the wheel of the four-pot version, simply known as the Macan. That's no bad thing, by the way.
Priced from $81,400 before on-roads, it’s a considerably more appealing proposition than its more powerful $97,500 sibling, the Macan S. Don’t think for one minute you’re getting a watered-down version, because as a value-for-money proposition it stacks up very well.
Apart from the ‘S’ badge and bigger wheels, there’s little to differentiate between the two, engine notwithstanding. Front on, you probably won’t pick it from the model it replaces bar the new LED headlights (standard on Australian cars) and a slightly larger front bumper incorporating bigger cooling intakes with more vanes for better aero.
Gone are fog lights, too. They’ve been integrated into the new headlight assembly, which also includes Porsche's now-distinctive four-point LED daytime running lights.
It’s at the rear of the car, though, where you’ll most easily pick this as the new Macan, thanks to its continuous light bar connecting the tail lights. At first I wasn’t sure about the new look but it grows on you, signifying a more contemporary approach. It’s certainly more striking than its predecessor in a good way, especially coupled with the 3D brand name lettering.
The new colours help, too. There are four in total: Mamba Green Metallic, Dolomite Silver Metallic, Miami Blue (our favourite), and Crayon.
There’s a new interior boasting a larger 10.9-inch touchscreen, replacing the old 7.2-inch unit. It’s super clear and quite fast, though we didn’t have a lot of time to work through its internet-based functionality, including online navigation as standard. That'll have to wait until the car lands Down Under.
Other features included in the base model are Porsche Connect services, 14-way comfort seats with memory, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, parking sensors with a surround view camera, and 19-inch wheels.
Porsche has also beefed up safety systems, with the new Macan adding Warn and Brake Assist. If necessary, the vehicle will brake to a standstill when following a car in front to avoid a collision.
The cockpit feels more polished (not that it ever felt anything but), with the inclusion of more metal accents and fewer buttons (they tell us) for a slightly cleaner look. Porsche does great seats, combining sublime comfort and good bolstering, allowing owners to enjoy enthusiastic driving when conditions permit – as was the case in Mallorca, where the B-roads tighten up before opening out in sections.
Our tester was also equipped with the optional Sports Chrono and GT Sports steering wheel – including a Sport Response button, which boosts the Macan’s responsiveness for 20 seconds with every push. Both are worthy of consideration in our opinion, along with the sadly-missed Sports exhaust. More about that later.
Like others, I was yet to drive a four-cylinder Macan, and suitably sceptical of its ability to deliver a Porsche-like experience behind the wheel.
Up front is a further development of the company’s inline four-cylinder turbo petrol engine generating one bar of boost, using charge air cooling, direct petrol injection, and variable valve timing.
Australian-delivered models get a slight boost in power from 180kW (European models) to 185kW between 5000-6750rpm, and 370Nm of torque between 1600 and 4500rpm.
It’s enough to propel this 1795kg SUV from 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds with Sport Chrono and 6.7 without but honestly, give it a boot full and it feels more rapid than the numbers suggest. More than enough to satisfy me and my colleague, that's for sure.
If there's a downside, and only one, it would be the lack of a decent exhaust note throughout the rev range. We know, because we tried every mode and driving style to unleash some real rortiness to this engine.
Forget about outright pace for a moment and allow me to call out other triumphs, like steering weight and response, pedal feel allowing the driver to deliver minute throttle and brake inputs (even mid-corner) for one of the best SUV driving experiences in the game. And it’s all too easy, enabling the Macan to carry big speed through the more challenging sections in these parts.
Better yet is the extraordinary ride comfort of the latest Macan, with seemingly zero compromise to its handling. Frankly, we wouldn’t have thought this possible given the peerless ride/handling balance of the previous car, but the new model is noticeably better as far as suspension compliance goes. It’s obvious from the very first bump you hit.
Porsche’s engineers went to great lengths to improve lateral dynamics, making several improvements like using aluminium spring forks on the front axle instead of steel. It’s both more rigid and reduces unsprung mass by 1.5kg for more precise steering.
Back to that brake feel. That’s the result of the pedal itself being an organic sheet made of glass fibre-reinforced thermoplastic with a back-injected plastic rib that weighs 300 grams less than the previous steel unit. The discs are bigger – up 10mm to 360mm – while disc thickness has grown by 2mm to 36mm. We tried to induce some brake fade, but to no avail.
Even the engine mounts have been changed for less roll and improved handling, especially on corner exits. Small details all of them, but sheer magic for the driver.
We also sampled the V6-powered Macan S, but came away with mixed feelings if we’re being honest – at least, as far as the value proposition is concerned. It’s noticeably quicker in all respects, but it doesn’t blow you away.
More fun, for sure, but we expected more from the six-cylinder turbocharged petrol (Porsche doesn’t do diesels anymore) making 260kW from 5400rpm and 480Nm at 1360 through to 4800rpm. On paper it’ll go from zero to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds with a top speed of 254km/h, but again, there needs to be a more visceral exhaust note from this engine, making the optional Sports Exhaust would a must have.
There isn’t any lag to speak of, and there’s plenty of pulling power throughout much of the rev range to satisfy enthusiasts, but if you want real thrills we'd wait for the full-blown Turbo or GTS to emerge.
Naturally, you do get more kit apart from the bigger powertrain, given the $16,000 price premium over the entry-level model, but we wouldn’t call it overly generous. There’s 20-inch turbo wheels in Platinum, but that’s about the extent of it.
To be fair, the Macan S is already pretty-well equipped, with features like parking sensors (front/rear) with a reversing camera, privacy glass, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), auto-dimming mirrors, rear side airbags, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and 14-way Comfort seats as standard fit.
If ever there was a right time to use the expression, ‘the Macan is the Porsche of SUVs’ it would be with this latest model update. It’s difficult to level any real criticism at this vehicle. It’s almost perfect in its application of a thoroughly sporty SUV with sufficient space and comfort for a family of four.
We’ll need to spend more time in both 2019 variants when they arrive in local showrooms this February, but until then it'd be the four-pot that gets our vote as the sweet spot between the two.