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Updated version of dynamic SUV doesn't escape every tell-tale of age, but secures its status as outstanding driver's pick without breaking a sweat

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It seems fitting somehow that the Porsche Macan, the compact SUV that showed us so vividly how well a relatively high-sided ‘utility car’ could handle when it was launched in 2014, should have taken so little time to rocket to the top of Porsche's sales hierarchy.

This is now, by a comfortable margin, the most popular car than Porsche makes. For the past five years, it has been on a remarkable upward sales trend, and it might even become the company’s first 100,000-annual-unit seller.

The Macan's standard seats aren't the last word in support or sporting sense-of-occasion, but the driving position is so good - and so low - you'll hardly notice

It’s unwise to tinker too much with a successful recipe, you might think – but change has nonetheless been thrust on the Macan model range with the deletion last year of the Porsche Macan S Diesel model. Will that deletion put a brake on the march of this remarkable driver’s SUV, at least as far as UK owners are concerned? With no petrol-electric hybrid here for diesel owners to switch to, you do wonder.

In a bid to prevent any slowdown of the car’s sales fortunes, however, Porsche has given the Macan a fairly light but significant mid-life facelift. An updated pair of petrol engines is the mechanical meat of it, but new exterior styling, new interior features and a light suspension overhaul are also important factors.

What does the Macan line-up look like at launch?

For now, the Macan range is made up of an upper-level Porsche Macan S derivative powered by a new 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 with 349bhp, and good for 62mph from rest in 5.1sec; and an entry-level Porsche Macan driven by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that develops 242bhp, making for a 6.7sec 0-62mph sprint. The latter gets an updated version of the four-cylinder engine available in the pre-facelifted car by special order, and is expected to be the engine that most Macan Diesel exiles will choose.

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The former, meanwhile, might be considered powerful enough to play the top-of-the-range performance starlet by most makers in the premium SUV niche – but it won’t for Porsche. That role will be played by the updated 400-and-something-horsepower Porsche Macan Turbo, which is set to join the range slightly later on, and will likely leave room for an upper-mid-range, extra-driver-focussed Porsche Macan GTS model to come later still.

Each of the Macan’s engines mount longways and low under the bonnet, and drive the rear axle primarily through a seven-speed twin-clutch ‘PDK’ gearbox – with a clutch-based ‘hang-on’ four-wheel system vectoring torque to the front wheels when the rear ones begin to slip.

For suspension, the car has fully independent axles and, in most cases, steel coil springs as standard, with Porsche having replaced the steel front struts of the pre-facelift car with aluminium ones and, it claims, consequently improved steering feedback and ride comfort. The car’s anti-roll bar rates have been reappraised, too, for even more balanced, neutral handling, while its front discs and brake pedal assembly has been redesigned for better stopping power and pedal feel.

As an alternative to fixed-height coil suspension, meanwhile, Macan owners can have height-adjustable air suspension, just as they could before – only now with new spring characteristics as a result of new rolling pistons and shock absorbers being fitted.

The interior of the Macan is little changed.  By comparison with Porsche’s newer, bigger models, it’s a cabin that’s beginning to look a touch antiquated, the transmission tunnel particularly being so busy with switchgear that a motoring journalist partial to the odd benign cliche might reasonably describe it as 'festooned' with buttons.

The car’s reshaped air vents, and the upgrade of its ‘PCM’ infotainment system, at least mean there are places where the cockpit looks more up to date, however, and it’s entirely well-built and comfortable. Although there are richer-feeling luxury SUVs you might spend Macan money on, there’s almost nowhere that the car’s cabin looks or feels anything but solid and expensively hewn. The driving position is great – much more recumbent and sporty-feeling than the SUV norm – and the placement of the major controls and instruments are spot-on. Second-row occupant comfort is decent, with taller adults more likely to notice a shortage of under-thigh support than of headroom: a result of the Macan’s fairly low hip point.

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The ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine sounds slightly thin and reedy in the entry-level car, even when you use the car’s Sport and Sport Plus driving modes; it has enough torque to move the Macan along very smartly, but doesn’t rev out over the last 2000rpm of the tacho range quite as freely as in a VW Golf R or Cupra Ateca. Porsche’s paddleshift PDK gearbox is just about the best companion any performance engine could wish for, though, and works smartly and in slick style in ‘D’, and also shifts quickly in manual mode.

Even at the very bottom of the model range, then, the Macan feels unmistakably like a driver’s car. Move up to the 3.0-litre turbo V6 in the Macan S and you’ll find an engine that’s sharp and responsive, as well as being strong enough under a wide-open throttle to make you wonder if a more powerful Macan is really necessary.

How does the Macan perform on the road?

We’ve yet to drive the updated Macan on its standard steel coil suspension, but on its optional air springs it serves up ride and handling every bit as remarkable as the original version did five years ago, even compared with an updated set of rivals. The car steers with the weight, precision and feel of a sports saloon – and a really good one, at that. It turns with true agility, and can be positioned and guided with an accuracy and instinctiveness unknown to other over-assisted-feeling highrise performance SUVs. The car really involves.

Having a lower body profile and centre of gravity than the best compact SUVs, the Macan doesn’t need particularly firm spring rates to produce this handling dynamism, either – and so it rides surprisingly fluently in its more comfortable modes. The air suspension system lets you choose between three damper programs and two ride heights, and there’s no doubt that the car produces its most immediate, absorbing handling when hunkered down on its mixed-width alloy wheels.

At times, you wonder if the steel sprung version might deal slightly better with the lumps and edges typical of UK cross-country roads: there’s a slight sense of hollowness, and of minutely floating disconnectedness, about the car’s ride over tougher topography – particularly when bigger optional alloy wheels are fitted. In terms of close body control for fast B-road driving, then, standard steel suspension might actually be better for the car.

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But it’s unlikely you’ll have any further second thoughts about those air springs when you appreciate just how poised they make the Macan’s handling at its very best. When the corners come thick and fast, this car dives into them and rotates around its middle much less like any other SUV and more like a modern, luxury take on a 1990s rally homologation special. Body roll is hardly a limiting factor to the abandon with which it can be driven, and seems to take almost nothing away from the car’s steering response or its outright lateral grip level.

When the updated Macan Turbo arrives, it’ll get air suspension as standard and probably more active chassis gadgetry besides – but it’s hard to imagine how it might make for a much more compelling driver’s car than the regular version already is; or, for that matter, how you’d want it to. The Turbo will be quicker; we can depend on that. But it’ll be very hard to improve on the Macan’s remarkable dynamism otherwise.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Porsche Macan First drives