It’s amazing to think that Porsche’s huge-selling Macan medium SUV is just six years young. And, equally remarkable is that every engine under every bonnet in the range has changed in that short time.
Conspicuously, petrol fours arrived and diesels went, but also the initially biturbo 3.0-litre and 3.6-litre petrol V6s in other versions made way for single-turbo 3.0s and biturbo 2.9s in today's facelifted fleet.
Semantics? Not really. Within Porsche’s burgeoning portfolio, specific variants are defined, beyond almost all else, by their power plants – be it measured by output prowess, engineering DNA or both. So it will surely be of import to some interested buyers of the 2020 Porsche Macan GTS that the old version had a tuned-up S engine, whereas this newly facelifted version fits a detuned Turbo unit.
Good news? Perhaps so. Even before you get wrapped up in specific figures, the new GTS tugs the enthusiast heartstrings harder in plain old feel-good factor. 'Turbo-lite' makes for good pub banter, right?
Of course, Porsche is primarily out to highlight improvements of new over old: 15kW (now 280kW) and 20Nm (520Nm) more on tap, 0–100km/h in 4.7 seconds for a three-tenths performance boost, plus an extra 20Nm of overboost when conditions permit. Ditto the 261km/h v-max.
There’s also a cup-half-empty perspective to all of this. And it has to do with the fact that the GTS's 2.9-litre biturbo V6 is technically and mechanically identical to the Turbo engine, right down to the exhaust system spec, but gets a milder electronic tuning at lower peak boost, according to Porsche engineers on hand to explain as much at the SUV’s international launch in Portugal.
By comparison, the more fulsome Turbo tune makes 44kW and 50Nm more, while the sprint to triple figures is a significant four-tenths quicker (4.3sec with Sport Chrono fitted).
Further, Audi fits the same core 2.9 biturbo to the RS4 Avant producing a further hike of 6kW (331kW) and 50Nm (600Nm) and two-tenths acceleration skim (4.1sec). So, you could be forgiven for opining that its Macan GTS cousin looks a little lazy and undercooked in the underbonnet department.
The reality is that the Macan GTS sits exactly where Porsche decided to position it. And the Stuttgart carmaker is, after all, the master of product positioning.
Here's how it seems to work at Porsche: it picks a buyer with a certain budget, picks a suitable performance 'tier' to match within a given model range, then massages the spec to suit.
Simple formula really: a new GTS needs to be quicker enough than the old GTS and current S, and appreciably slower enough than a Turbo. It's a properly mid-paced prospect for a genuine mid-pricepoint.
Working very much to this new version’s favour is that, at $109,700 before on-roads, it’s priced much closer to the lower-grade S ($98,200 list) than it is the Turbo ($142,000 list).
On the surface it looks something of a bargain, even if once you start stacking up the added goodness, the GTS’s $11,500 premium looks about on the money for what you get over the S.
It starts the all-important heartbeat. While there’s much conjecture between Audi and Porsche camps about who’s responsible for what in the engineering trenches, it’s generally considered that the Macan S's 3.0-litre single-turbo V6 is the ‘Audi’ engine, while the more exotic 2.9-litre biturbo V6 fitted here is largely Porsche’s work.
With no intention to offend anyone mentioned, there’s some worth merely fitting ‘a real Porsche engine’ in the GTS.
This variant gets its own 20-inch wheel style and fetching blackout visual enhancements outside and in, though the key highlight upgrades include dynamic headlight functionality, a specific Sport seat design, more focused 15mm-lower chassis, and lifts in equipment grade here and there, be it the partial Alcantara seat trim or Sport exhaust system.
The GTS looks, and to a large degree feels, like the sportiest Macan in the range, but it does so by shades rather than any overt measure.
The deeply sculpted pews, aluminium and trim stitching – a choice of red or grey ‘Crayon’ with matching seatbelts – and extra richness in material choice inside will certainly please some buyer tastes. Otherwise, it’s an oh-so-familiar and fairly predictable affair short on much in the way of newness or surprise.
The button frenzy along the centre console whiffs of Old Porsche, and is looking increasingly dated against the newer, cleaner cabin design now a staple of other model ranges such as the 911 and Cayenne.
While it’s pleasing in its own right, and certainly doesn’t deter Macan sales, it’ll be a long while – at least another four years in this first generation – before the design gets a major and increasingly needed refresh.
That said, the latest Macan has benefitted from cleaner and sharper infotainment, and fits mod-cons such as USB-C ports, even if the latter, jammed away ad-hoc style under the armrest, seems a bit of an afterthought. (Note: This paragraph originally referenced smartphone mirroring and inductive phone charging, however these features will not be offered in Australia.)
Wireless Apple CarPlay will also be featured with the new Macan, joining a small but growing number of brands and models to pick up this upgraded version of Apple's popular infotainment system.
The rest of the cabin is largely unchanged: a cosy ambience, moderate if hardly class-leading roominess – especially in row two – but enough care and effort injecting enough Porsche-ness into the execution that you won’t mistake it for an Audi Q5 with which it shares much of its DNA under the skin.
It’s realistically a four- rather than five-adult prospect, with decent 488L (expandable to 1503L) boot space in a package that's perhaps more small-family friendly than ideal for those after outright spaciousness and maximum utility.
More the plus-sized performance hatch with acceptable practicality, rather than a dedicated SUV fettled with a sheen of driving focus. It’s the sort of general character that, since the Macan’s inception, has very much been its strength.
Where that 2.9-litre engine adds a conspicuous extra element is in the soundtrack. It’s deep, rich and rorty, has a nice growl with plenty of vocal presence under load and on the march, but dulls to a mild roar once the exhaust system’s modal ducts close when cruising.
While Aussie-spec combined fuel consumption is yet to be confirmed, the best of Euro-spec puts it at around 9.5L/100km, which is impressively on par with the less powerful (260kW/480Nm) Macan S engine.
Quick? Dial up Sport Plus using the wheel-mounted (Sport Chrono) control unit, mash the right foot into the carpet, and the Macan GTS launches cleanly and assertively. Thrust is decent, but calling it heady or palpable is a stretch.
Even with the extra 20Nm of so-called overboost for a total of 540Nm on the march, the engine feels understressed and not quite as assertive in moving 1.9 tonnes of SUV forth as vigorously as it perhaps should.
So, while the Macan GTS might achieve critical numbers, it’s no hellacious, grin-inducing ride by the seat of the pants. That’s no foul: there’s always that Turbo four-tenths swifter up the garden path if you’re flush enough to buy a ticket. And, after all, the GTS is pegged as the sportiest Macan, not the option with the most visceral performance on tap.
The balance of on-road driving is best served toggling between Normal and Sport drive modes, each well behaved and flexible in nature, though the former can be a little tardy in response in its quest to constantly chase low-RPM economy.
The seven-speed PDK gearbox – its only fitment behind the 2.9 biturbo in the entire VAG fleet – is, as always, an absolute gem. How Porsche can get the dual-clutch format so right with intuitive shift action and billiard-ball-polished calibration, while competitors get it so wrong, is nigh on miraculous.
Dynamically, our Portuguese test car is ‘honest’ spec in that it fits the standard GTS-exclusive, adaptively damped steel-spring suspension and 20-inch wheels – Turbo-spec air suspension can be optioned for $3100, while 21s add a further $2900.
It’s a fine chassis combination, the Normal ride comfort a touch on the firm and suitably sporty side, while maintaining good core compliance and exceptional body control.
Activating Sport merely makes the ride comfort a shade terser, if mainly because Porsche’s allocated road loop across the mountains west of Lisbon, which leads into the coastal route north of Cascais, is too narrow, slow and busy to fully flex the Macan GTS’s dynamic muscles. It’s good, though how much keener it is in carving corners compared with a lower-grade S is hard to say.
A few traits are evident even at a dull roar: the steering is clear and direct, the grip from the huge 265mm front and 295mm rear tyres is unflappable, and the Macan has a strange way of both shrinking around the driver once you push on, while the inertia of its formidable 1.9 tonnes remains ever-present.
It’s agile and somewhat nimble despite the physics at play – a master display of overcoming the adversity of mass through deft chassis tuning.
I’d love to see just how well this dynamic package could shine if the Macan GTS could lose some flab.
Is this the sportiest version of the sportiest model range in the premium medium-SUV segment? Quite possibly so. But it just doesn’t nail its claim to the wall with obvious conviction. Again, it’s shades sportier in looks, vibe and attitude.
And if there’s one ringing reminder that you’ve stepped up from the regular Macan S, it's mostly in the rorty soundtrack that reminds you, more sonically than anything else, that you stumped up extra for the ‘Porsche engine’.
It’s just a shame the wondrous 2.9 biturbo V6 seems somewhat strangled of outright potential. Of course, the elephant in the garage (with the wry grin and a spanner in hand) is that the aftermarket could unleash the full Turbo potential from the mechanically common engine, though Porsche assures me it put measures in place that make such a ploy all but impossible.
As is, unmolested, the modest step up the GTS represents over the S neatly matches what’s realistically a modest lift in outlay. And, thus, it fits the bill to where Porsche has positioned it within the range.