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Porsche's 'junior Cayenne' promises and delivers on its dynamic and performance prowess to be be the most sporting SUV of its size. However, the market has changed with the newrivals threatening to challenge the Macan's crown, so does it have the stomach for a fight?

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This is “a Porsche through and through”. That’s how the Porsche Macan is introduced to journalists – as if there were any question that a 4x4 was not also capable of being a Porsche . As if the past decade and a bit hadn’t happened, and we had never seen what a Porsche Cayenne could do.

The company, it would appear, is still cautious that it might be accused of diluting its brand by adding another SUV to its line-up.

The Macan's big brother, the Cayenne, arrived in 2002

Not likely here. What we’ve seen a Porsche Macan do, on foreign soil at least, thus far seems, if anything, just as impressive as the dynamic tricks pulled by a Cayenne.

A compact SUV from Porsche has been on the cards for years, to join the Cayenne in its line-up. The Porsche Cayenne was introduced in 2002 and its financial success has turned Porsche from niche sports car maker into industry heavyweight.

Porsche’s CEO, Matthias Müller, suggested at a few motor shows at the turn of the decade that a smaller model might steal sales from the Cayenne, but the global market for mid-size SUVs is now just too vast for that to be a problem, hence the appearance of the model.

The Porsche Macan SUV has already beaten a Range Rover Evoque in tests, and in some style. But with the sector becoming ever more crowded and new rivals appearing,  just how competent is it, on British roads – and off them – when subjected to the toughest road test in the business?

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DESIGN & STYLING

Porsche Macan rear

There are six flavours of Macan. First is just ‘Macan’, powered by a 233bhp 2.0-litre petrol four-pot and only available through special order at a dealership, where they’ll probably talk you into choosing one of : Macan S (335bhp V6), Macan S Diesel (254bhp V6) or the Macan GTS (350bhp V6).

The range-topping Turbo with its twin-turbocharged 3.6-litre petrol engine, is available in two variants - a standard Turbo Macan that produces 394bhp and 406lb ft of torque and it drives all four wheels through a dual-clutch automatic transmission, and the Turbo with Performance Package, which ultimately turns the wick up slightly so the small Porsche SUV produces 433bhp. Plenty of power, in other words, to propel a car the size of the Macan – which is 4681mm long, 1923mm wide and 1624mm high – even if it does tip the scales at almost precisely two tonnes.

The Macan is built on the MLB platform, so it's constrained to a longitudinal engine and gearbox layout

As you’ll probably have read elsewhere, the Macan is loosely based on the first generation Audi Q5. But in the same fashion that the Porsche Cayenne shares its platform with the Volkswagen Touareg, to call this a badge engineering exercise would be taking an extreme liberty.

For a start, there’s the design, which wraps Porsche 911-style cues into a four-door body far more successfully, to our eyes, than with the first and second iterations of the Cayenne or first gen Porsche Panamera.

Then there is the fact that, despite their similarities in the mostly steel but part-aluminium monocoque, a Q5 and Macan share only 30 percent of their componentry, most of it unseen, including multi-link suspension front and rear.

It can be equipped with air springs, but it comes as standard with the steel springs preferred by Porsche’s engineers and dynamicists and, we’d hope, us, too.

The reason for the rear wheels being larger than the fronts — other than looking suitably dynamic — is that the Macan is, in effect, predominantly a rear-driver.

Power goes from the engine, via the seven-speed PDK gearbox, to the rear axle, and it’s only once it gets there that it meets a multi-plate clutch, electronically controlled, which diverts power forwards again.

It’s possible to send as much as 100 percent of power to the front wheels, although such a situation, with the rears on a Teflon saucepan and the fronts on sandpaper, are unlikely.

It also ties in the Automatic Brake Differential (braking an inside rear wheel to act like a limited-slip diff), so it tends to send power specifically to the wheels that can handle it.

INTERIOR

Porsche Macan interior

As you may be aware, along with giving each model its own individual engine, they also come with their own trim levels.

Standard equipment on the entry-level Macan includes 18in alloy wheels, a twin exhaust system, lane departure warning, cruise control, a powered tailgate and folding electric wing mirrors as standard on the exterior. Inside, there is tri-zone climate control, electrically adjustable driver's seat, an Alcantara upholstery and Porsche's infotainment system complete with a 7.0in touchscreen display, sat nav, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio, and a DVD drive.

The driving position is excellent and visibility is very good

Upgrade to the Macan S or S Diesel and you'll be greeted by more aluminium interior trim, a quad-exhaust system, automatic wipers, and tinted, thermally insulated side windows. The Macan GTS comes with a sports exhaust system, lowered sports suspension, 20in alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, swathes of Alcantara, electrically adjustable front sports seats, a sporty bodykit and access to Porsche's online services.

The range-topping Turbo models may come with different power outputs, but come with similar equipment levels. Expect to find 19in alloy wheels, steel spring suspension, a unique quad-exhaust system, LED fog lights, adaptive and electrically adjustable front seats, an Alcantara headlining, a Bose sound system and a leather upholstery.

Porsche’s marketing department would prefer you to think of the Macan as a high-rise, super-practical Porsche 911, not a downsized Porsche Cayenne – a concept that you’ll probably be inclined to meet with some scepticism, just as we did.

However, this cabin lends the idea at least a glaze of credibility. It’s more intimate feeling and quite a bit less rugged looking than you might expect but still retains a lot of what makes a typical premium-branded family 4x4 an attractive ownership proposition.

You sit farther above the car’s shoulder line and transmission tunnel but lower overall than you would in a Cayenne, in a fairly recumbent driving position with arms and legs outstretched and backside, thighs and back amply supported by an excellent sports seat. The Porsche Macan's all-round visibility is great, except where the wide B-pillars intrude on it, and the pedals and wheel are well placed too.

The dashboard architecture – comprising a rising, button-packed lower centre console and a foreshortened centre stack of sat-nav screen and audio controls – is very similar to a Porsche Panamera saloon’s. But being free of the oversized grab handles and drivetrain management controls of the Porsche Cayenne makes the Macan’s interior seem quite discreet.

It’s also very plush, rich and luxurious. The switchgear is chunky and nicely finished, the leathers are attractive and the fascia is very handsomely trimmed. This is an upmarket interior and no mistake.

It isn’t the most practical compact SUV in the world, though. The high ride height makes access to the car as easy as you’d ever want, but space in the rear seats is underwhelming – no more generous than a typical family saloon.

Boot space is better, but that, too, isn’t outstanding, the sloping hatchback denying the chance to pack bulky items up to the rearmost edge.

The upshot is that, whether you’re trading out of a good-sized four-door or five-door family car or another 4x4, you’re unlikely to find the Macan particularly spacious. The same is true, mind you, of a Range Rover Evoque – and it hasn’t held that car back.

The Macans come as standard with the Porsche Communication Management multimedia set-up, with a seven-inch colour display and excellent sat-nav system. The display screen is touch-sensitive but never presents your finger with a difficult mark to hit, even at a bumpy cruise.

Porsche devotes one of the three instrument dials to a 4.8-inch screen that displays on-board computer functions and, standard in the Turbo but optional elsewhere, a condensed version of the sat-nav map.

Already the best in-your-sightline system around, it has been made better still because you can now scroll between modes via a new dial on the steering wheel rather than a column stalk.

A premium audio system by Bose, with 14 speakers and 545 watts, is standard on the Turbo, sounds great and features DAB radio with notably good reception.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Porsche Macan side profile

The Macan range comprises six models: the entry-level Macan, the standard S, the S Diesel, GTS, Turbo and the range-topping Turbo with Performance Package.

The Macan S uses Porsche’s own twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol unit with 335bhp and 339lb ft of torque, while the Macan Diesel S gets an Audi-sourced 3.0-litre turbodiesel with 254bhp and 427lb ft.

At the top of the range sits the Macan Turbo, which is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.6-litre petrol engine, producing 394bhp and 405 lb ft of torque, while the sporty GTS has a 355bhp 3.0-litre V6 under its bonnet.

The Turbo can complete the standing quarter in 13.5sec at 106.3mph

With a 0-62mph time of 5.4 seconds, a top speed of 158mph and the ability to return 31.4mpg on a combined cycle, the Macan S feels rapid enough to drive without burning a hole through your wallet.

Of course, it lacks the immediate supersonic feeling of the Turbo, but there’s virtually no lag from the turbocharger and it still feels pleasing and refined to drive. You also still get broadly the same level of equipment as the Turbo inside, too.

The Macan S Diesel is very much the same, although with more torquey performance. Able to hit 62mph in 6.3 seconds, and with a whopping 427lb ft of torque on offer, it feels by far like the most sporting of the various diesel-engined compact SUVs on offer at the moment.

Again, the S Diesel feels very refined and quick. It’s also very smooth, with Porsche’s seven-speed PDK gearbox working wonders under the bonnet. Perhaps it’s not quite to the 'sports car' level that Porsche’s marketing material would have you believe, but it’s still very good indeed.

It's the Turbo that really impresses, however. It’s been been well over a decade since Porsche attached its Turbo badge to a Porsche Cayenne and scrambled our understanding of just how well an SUV might be made to go in a straight line.

But, for all our familiarity with the experience, it is still difficult not to marvel at the irresistible physicality involved in propelling two tonnes of Macan Turbo from a standing start to a quarter mile down the road in less time than it takes to pour a pint.

The process is all the more impressive aboard the Macan, given that its new V6 develops about 100bhp less than the last gen Cayenne’s V8 in a car not a whole heap lighter. The end result, though, is much the same. Using launch control on dry ground, the new model tears away from the line without hesitation, succumbing to negligible pitch and barely any loss of traction.

The endlessly repeatable conclusion is 60mph in 4.7sec and 30-70mph in 4.3sec – making it marginally quicker than the much smaller, lighter Audi Q3 RS that had been our compact SUV performance benchmark.

Unlike that car’s growling five-pot, the Macan’s biturbo engine is intentionally muted – more interested in classy go than show. At very low speeds, an overly sensitive (and yet typically weighty) throttle pedal means that there is a tendency for the car to surge from creep to crawl if your inputs are too aggressive, but beyond this point the short-stroke V6 rewards an enthusiastic right foot with an obvious zeal for higher revs.

Although its final peak is short of the last-gasp exuberance exhibited by Porsche’s horizontally opposed line-up, its keenness and low-end overdose of torque combine with the PDK ’box to provide the kind of easy, endless grunt that makes the Macan seem not only handsomely amenable to pushing on but also often outright fast. A Turbo through and through, then.

RIDE & HANDLING

Porsche Macan cornering

For a two-tonne 4x4, it’s remarkable how poised, taut, balanced and plain enjoyable to drive the Macan is. It’s very nearly amazing. There is a cutting edge to its dynamic make-up that no other SUV on the market can approach, never mind equal – and you need a really good rear-drive sports saloon or two-seater to beat it.

Its sporting handling is even more striking than the outright performance. It doesn’t quite survive the transition from road to track, but circuit handling is of limited relevance to five-seat 4x4s. Of greater importance is that the Macan is a very habitable, well mannered machine that you’d happily use every day of the year.

The Porsche Macan can even handle the odd trip off road, if the need arises

The 21-inch wheels and stiff-sidewalled tyres create some road roar and surface patter that you wouldn’t get in, say, a Range Rover Sport. Even so, the Macan is at all times an effective luxury SUV – albeit one quite unlike any that you’ve ever driven before.

Straight away, its weighty, direct, feelsome steering confounds your expectations. Most premium 4x4s make life easy for the driver via a slower, lighter wheel that hides mass and makes manoeuvring more manageable but also communicates very little. The rim here is as precise as it is talkative, thanks to a chassis tune that keeps supreme control over any kind of body movement but also exhibits delicacy as well as firmness.

Porsche’s adaptively damped, steel-sprung sport suspension set-up gives you a choice of three ride settings, and both Comfort and Sport work well on the road. Bumps are absorbed quickly, quietly and with subtlety.

The car’s overriding sense of grip and composure on a cross-country road is never threatened – and it’s strong enough that you can drive this car as hard as you dare, almost anywhere, in total confidence. No matter the road – no matter your speed, really – the Macan just feels ready to go faster.

The Macan Turbo proved itself fully four seconds quicker around MIRA’s dry handling circuit than an Audi RS Q3. That’s full-bore hot hatch pace. When you finally reach the Macan’s adhesive limits, physics take over. The balance you sense on the road is replaced mostly by understeer.

A slower-in, faster-out style can give a neutral cornering attitude, but it’s fairly fleeting. Meanwhile, in the wet, the 4x4 system can cause as many problems as it solves in its attempt to vector torque after a slide begins.

Being tuned for peerless roadholding doesn’t make the Macan as compromised over the mud as you might expect. On 21-inch wheels, our test car’s low-profile tyres weren’t ideal for clawing through wet mud.

But on a smaller wheel, on one of the all-season tyre options offered by Porsche, there’s no reason to shy away from fairly serious off-road use. If you opt for the height-adjustable air suspension and select ‘high level’, then its off-road capabilities improve even further.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Porsche Macan

Residual values of the range as a whole should prove very stout, thanks to the Macan's appeal. Running costs should be comparatively sensible too, particulary in Diesel and non-Turbo forms.

The Turbo itself, however, bears a lot of consideration despite its potential weaker residual values. A list price just shy of £60k might make it seem a pretty rarefied purchase – but less so the more you think about it.

The pricey Turbo loses out on the residuals front to diesel rivals like the Audi SQ5

An Audi SQ5 is a good £12,500 cheaper, sure, but an Alpina XD3 Biturbo is only £5k cheaper.

A Range Rover Sport Supercharged, meanwhile, is another £20k more expensive and a Porsche Cayenne Turbo another £30k.

Those last two are full-size SUVs – but if you don’t quite need their space and capability, the Macan would seem a great way to cut your outlay and footprint while increasing your amusement value.

Outside of the box, the Macan Turbo is also cheap enough to look like an interesting alternative to a BMW M3. Carbon emissions of 224g/km (with Performance Package) at their worst allow the Turbo to dodge the usual £1990 tax disc that most powerful 4x4s are slapped with. Our economy test returns suggest that a day-to-day 22mpg is possible.

For on-road fun, have steel springs. For off-road fun, go for the air suspension instead. Avoid the panoramic roof though, in order to maximise headroom.

 

VERDICT

Porsche Macan rear quarter

Porsche calls the Macan “the sports car among compact SUVs”, and there can be no arguing with that.

In its Turbo guise, the Macan’s dry lap time was only a single second behind the last generation Cayman we road tested.

We used to worry about fast SUVs being obnoxious, but the Macan is utterly persuasive

That a 4x4 could, on a circuit, challenge one of the finest mid-engined coupés ever deserves a level of recognition quite independent of whether or not it’s any good.

Certainly, some elements usually highly valued in the segment – ease of use, practicality, a high driving position – have been curtailed partly in pursuit of its abnormal ability. Conceivably, that won’t suit everyone.

But making it less of a conventional SUV has not, in our opinion, dramatically reduced its overall allure. Even in the Turbo, outright pace is merely one facet of a persuasively superior product.

Across the board, very few rivals challenge either the Macan’s completeness or its sense of polish – and, where it excels, there is simply nothing else like it.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Porsche Macan 2014-2018 First drives