Porsche's facelifted Macan S brings a freshened look, performance bump and infotainment lift. But can it beat out the mainstay BMW X3 M40i for blending practicality and sportiness?
Whether true or false, there’s a perception that Germany has a Big Three of roughly equals in Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, with Porsche sitting elsewhere by its lonesome as, well, the Bigger One. Not in a volume-churning commercial sense, but in status, badge cachet and, yes, pricing.
Accurate or not, Porsche has long been seen in some eyes as the sports carmaker amongst passenger car-centric contemporaries, and had been known to, in part, charge handsomely because of it. The disparaging 'Porsche money' cliché does have a long paper trail.
But today, the fact is that, sales-wise at least, Porsche is primarily an SUV maker first, and a sports car manufacturer second. And brand supporters maintain that profit from the former facilitates excellence in the latter, which maintains that Porsche crest lustre that leverages the premium the Stuttgart concern can ask over its German contemporaries. And around and around it goes...
Or perhaps it appears not. It might surprise some that the newly facelifted Porsche Macan S has lobbed into Oz in the premium mid-SUV space at $97,500 list, which basically undercuts all its German nemeses, including the BMW X3 M40i ($99,990) we’ve lined up here for this twin test.
Other performance-grade turbo six-cylinder competitors – not to be confused with lesser entry four-bangers – you’d logically cross-shop include the Audi SQ5 ($99,500) and the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 wagon ($103,790). Sadly, neither the Audi nor Benz was available at the time to make this a four-way shootout.
Clearly, there’s only a slight lease payment adjustment between all four. But even a cursory glance at the pair present here suggests the differences at play are more distinctive and significant than the mere $2490 disparity might suggest. And right fit beyond badge preference may be more complex.
So, how does each balance sportiness/performance with family-friendliness to cater to particular buyer whims? And what’s the actual pricing disparity once equipment and features shake out at the bottom line? Let’s find out.
Pricing and Features
First, the broad stuff. At $97,500 list, the Macan S fits a 260kW/480Nm turbocharged 3.0-litre V6, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, all-wheel drive, adaptive damper suspension (PASM), staggered-width (265mm front/295mm rear) 20-inch wheels, and large performance-type braking hardware.
For the X3 M40i’s $99,990 list, its similar-format engine produces superior 265kW/500Nm outputs, adopts a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission, matches the Porsche’s steel-sprung suspenders and stopping credentials, but ups the wheel size to 21 inches if with narrower (245mm front/275mm rear) rubber. The BMW gets an M Sport rear differential; the Porsche wants $3120 to bundle one in with its clever Torque Vectoring Plus suite.
There are further discrepancies in the details. The X3 fits adaptive LED headlights, whereas the Macan S wants for extra over regular LEDs ($3410 for PDLS Plus). The BMW fits leather trim, sports seats and front seat heating standard, while the Porsche lists ‘Comfort’ seating and leatherette/Alcantara trim as standard (Sports seats $650, leather trim varies, heating $880).
Both get large (Porsche 10.9-inch, BMW 10.25-inch) infotainment screens, 360-degree camera systems, parking sensors front and rear, three-zone climate control and powered tailgates, though the X3 trumps the Macan S with standard niceties such as premium Harman Kardon sound (Macan’s Bose is $2470), adaptive cruise control ($2070 in Macan), comfort seat access and a head-up display. Unlike the Macan’s CarPlay/Android Auto phone mirroring, though, BMW charges extra for phone integration and it’s Apple only.
Furthering the specification divide is the BMW’s standard-fit Driving Assistant Plus: preventative AEB forward and reverse, and adaptive cruise control ($2070 in Macan, adds forward AEB), front and rear cross-traffic alerts, active lane keeping, blind-spot monitoring and automated parking assistance.
The Macan S only fits lane-departure warning – yes, autonomous emergency braking is optional! – though the added splurge on adaptive cruise does bring with it long-range radar-based ‘collision prevention’ forward AEB, not merely impact mitigation (as per the BMW).
We strongly recommend you consider AEB essential for any family-oriented vehicle, and the aforementioned $2070 ‘extra’ should be treated as mandatory fitment, closing the base-price gap discrepancy between the two Germans to around $500…
But these aren’t unoptioned vehicles as we are testing them. Our BMW clocks in at $104,700 before on-roads, with extras such as paint ($2000), panoramic glass roof ($3100), wireless telephony ($200) and more. Meanwhile, our Porsche sits here at $132,280 list – roughly $28K more expensive than its as-tested rival – by adding everything from fancy paint ($5800) to 21-inch wheels ($3330) and from lane-changing assistance ($1390) to the ever-popular Sport Chrono Package ($2790).
Optioned or not, it’s an easy value win for the X3 M40i.
Cabin and Comfort
While the revised face and tail of the MY19 Macan present a fresh look compared with a BMW that’s been kicking around in its current generation for 18 months now, the Porsche’s ‘facelift’ status is apparent with the largely unchanged cabin treatment.
As outlined in our local launch review, a slick new infotainment screen goes little way to mask the ageing effect of the button-heavy ‘old Porsche’ design format that stablemates Cayenne, Panamera and 911 have already moved on from in favour of a more minimalist, glassy, haptic-touch affair.
Despite being older, and the marque’s penchant for classic design ambience, the BMW has a crisp and modern vibe: partly down to the slick digital driver instrumentation, partly because of the simple, cleaner if more austere look and approach.
I’ll wager it won’t age as quickly as the Porsche, either. Immediately apparent is how roomier and airier the BMW’s cabin feels, though preference for the Munich machine really is a matter of taste. It’s a bit more utilitarian, more family friendly, with a premium confidence in material choice and execution without being shouty about it.
The Porsche feels cosier, seemingly a half-segment smaller inside, but the almost chunky, sporty vibe makes it seem more the driver-focused machine. This is reinforced by the low-slung placement of the more focused front seats and the meaty weight of the switches and controls.
Despite the default Comfort-spec design, the Macan’s front pews are narrower in the seat back, more purposeful than the more relaxed BMW seats, and perhaps a keener blend of comfort and support. Craftsmanship-wise, the Porsche is near flawless.
On appearance and functionality, the Macan’s new 10.9-inch infotainment format is proper evolution to a good place for a brand that, for some while, seemed a step or three behind the leading edges demonstrated by other Germans. Sharp, clean, fast – it’s almost out of kilter with the cabin’s ye olde button frenzy and the much-loved ‘signature’ analogue central tacho instrumentation.
Meanwhile, the BMW’s iDrive 6 software, and its pleasing tiling arrangement, is a nicely evolved blend of fanciness and simplicity that’s a more cohesive marriage with the fully digital driver’s display, which offers a variety of dedicated design themes tied with the different drive modes.
That said, ‘cheaper steering wheel, larger door bins’ basically sums up BMW’s priority set, but while it can’t quite match the Porsche’s innate solidity, the X3 is extremely pleasant, nicely relaxed and suitably upmarket enough.
For good or for bad, depending on taste, the Munich machine’s accommodation easily embodies the plain old family commuter feel when need be, while the Stuttgart offering never quite escapes the sporty ‘jumbo hot hatch’ vibe, even when it’s parked up and almost regardless of how it’s being driven.
This reflects conspicuously with the differences in space and ambience in their second rows, where the BMW has huge glass and excellent outwards visibility. The Macan’s tighter dimensions convince you that it’s realistically a ‘four-adult only’ prospect on a long haul, and where the glass roof impacts headroom noticeably.
In terms of boot space, the Macan’s 500L-to-1500L conversion via the 40:20:40 split-fold arrangement will be ample for many users' needs, though the BMW does offer a handy extra 50L as a five-seater and an extra 100L with row two stowed. You do get a space-saver under the Porsche’s floor, whereas the BMW relies solely on the convenience of run-flat tyres.
On the Road
Let’s knock this off from the get-go: the moment you open up their respective taps, the BMW is noticeably quicker to sprint and sounds a helluva lot hotter in the process.
Academically, the Macan S’s 5.3sec sprint time is a half-second down on the X3 M40i’s 4.8 claim. On paper, that drops to three-tenths when you activate launch control with the former’s optional Sport Chrono, plus there’s 20 seconds of boosted powertrain response using a wheel-mounted button.
But if you want instantaneous on-tap real-world pace – exiting a side street, merging, impromptu overtaking – the BMW is your guy.
The Macan S isn’t slow. It’s just a combination of its portly weight – if, at 1865kg, 20 kegs lighter than the X3 M40i – and the Nullarbor Plain-flat powertrain delivery that conspire to make it feel that way, even using the overboost feature.
This really isn’t going to worry a great many owners, but other potential buyers might find the single-turbocharged V6 a bit soulless and lacking the sort of character and sonic mojo befitting a Porsche ‘S for sport’ model. Or, at least, one not fitted with the optional ($5390) Sports exhaust.
That the excellent seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox it's tied to is buttery smooth in operation, while doing wonders for powertrain refinement, doesn’t aid the engine’s cause in the feel-good vibe department.
On the march, the BMW has a seductive if muted roar and it pops and crackles nicely on the overrun, but only when you dig in and want it. At other times it’s muscular and keenly responsive with oodles of mid-range thump, yet suitably refined and quiet while doing so for the greater balance of driving.
Sure, it likely won’t hold a candle to the forthcoming X3 M powerhouse, but the M40i often makes you wonder why and where you’d realistically need any more poke in a premium SUV.
Interestingly, the form guide suggests the BMW (8.9L/100km combined) is more frugal than the Porsche (9.6L), though those figures suggest a more noticeable difference than what we found out testing in the real world, where there was frankly nothing in it.
If dynamics, grip, steering feel and other wannabe sports car traits are your foil, the Macan S is a rung above its competitor. It plies more (20mm) rubber to terra firma at all corners than its rival, and its flat, squat chassis stance, regardless of the red mist, works the available rubber better.
There is, however, a trade-off: ride-wise it tends to thud noisily over cat's eyes and expansion joints in the road – these are optional 21-inch wheels, mind you – and in its softest damper mode, the body tends to generate a slight, uncomfortable wobble.
The BMW makes a decent fist of the faux-sports car pitch, just not quite as convincingly as the Porsche. The four-piston M Sport brakes, for instance, aren’t as confidence-inspiring as the Macan S’s six-pot monobloc whoppers.
Each has some steering trickery at play, but the standard Variable Sport Steering on the BMW, which can be a little inconsistent and over-weighted at times, lacks some of the alacrity and connection of the Porsche’s ($650 optional) Power Steering Plus system.
Stats suggest the X3 has a slightly broader turning circle (12.1:1 to 11.9:1), but the variable-ratio design of the BMW system makes it feel more manoeuvrable than the numbers suggest.
The Munich machine’s ride and handling balance – and overall format, really – seems more evenly split between sportiness and family-friendliness, though like the Macan, those 21-inch wheels and generally firmer M suspension tune do rob a little from outright ride comfort. Further, there could be a touch more differentiation between the different damper modes, with more pliant Comfort calibration.
Of the pair, the BMW is easier to park, partly due to the clearer outward visibility in all directions, and partly due to a superior 360-degree camera system. This offers handy ‘proximity tile’ overlays on-screen that indicate exactly where the vehicle is situated to environment too close for comfort.
On-road, the differences are marked, yet both are equally good and indeed downright impressive. No clear winner here, if more a bit of varied choice for buyer preferences.
Both Germans are covered by rudimentary three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranties in an era where five years is becoming the norm. However, servicing costs differ dramatically.
BMW offers a basic package with an upfront cost of $1750 covering five years/80,000km. Porsche charges per 12-month/15,000km intervals with basic ($695), intermediate ($1058) and major services ($1868) that works out to $5011 for the first five years/75,000km.
While there are a good many reasons why keen drivers might opt for the Macan S at its keen entry price, it just doesn’t stack up in the value stakes against the more generously equipped X3 M40i whichever way you go with options.
The Porsche’s more compact nature that serves its ‘jumbo hot hatch’ theme entices a good many buyers, but does compromise some family-hauling utility. Acceptable, perhaps, had it delivered larger under the bonnet than its lukewarm V6 heartbeat.
The BMW doesn’t merely take the win because it balances sportiness and practicality more evenly – different horses, different courses – but it’s simply more well rounded at delivering both sides of the pitch.
As impressive as the Macan S has been since its inception, it’s easy to come away from this update largely unchanged in the experience and wishing for more generous measures for the passengers and more vibe for the driver. Whereas, everyone in the CarAdvice camp who drove its rival from Munich concluded it wanted for much less in few, if any, areas.
Turns out the BMW X3 M40i is 'the bigger one' after all.