LOS ANGELES—When is a compact SUV something that car enthusiasts can actually get excited about? When it is a Porsche, of course. Since the debut of the Cayenne SUV and four-door Panamera, the German automaker has proved that its sports car DNA is strong enough to be injected into other vehicle classes with impressive results.
This new creation is called the Macan, and though the automaker’s lineup has grown in the last two decades, it is not everyday that the world sees an entirely new car. Porsche has seen there is a profit to be made in the small SUV segment; just as it once triumphed with a larger SUV, the Cayenne, it now takes on this smaller challenge. The crossover/small-SUV market may be derided by purists, but rest assured the Macan is every bit a Porsche.
The 2015 Macan pulls all the best visual cues from the current Porsche lineup and crafts it onto this high-riding, four-door, five-passenger platform. The sculpted hood is inspired by the Panamera, the headlights are influenced by the Cayman, and the long, sloping rooflines are in the same family as the Cayenne. The rear of the Macan features the sleek, smoked taillights from the new Porsche 918 supercar, flanking a clean design. As you might notice, there is no release handle for the rear hatch, rather a small button at the base of the rear windshield wiper. This elegant placement allows the entire rear to have a very elegant appearance.
There are two models available for the Macan at this time, the S and the Turbo. The Macan S starts at $49,900 and is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 making 340 horsepower, and will get from 0 to 60 in just 5.2 seconds. The Macan Turbo is powered by a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 that generates 400 horsepower, and will do 0 to 60 in just 4.6 seconds. On both models, power is sent to all-wheel-drive through Porsche’s insanely quick shifting PDK. The PDK is a dual clutch automated gearbox. It can be left in full auto, sport mode, or can be operated via paddle shifters on the multifunction steering wheel. Both models are rated at 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway.
Acceleration with the Macan S is brisk and will get you up to speed with no trouble, since the Macan Turbo will outpace any small SUV that we know about. But acceleration is only part of the performance equation. Porsche has gone to great lengths to ensure that the Macan handles like a Porsche, with a fully independent steel spring suspension in the base configuration. Porsche also offers the available Porsche Active Suspension Management, utilizing an air suspension at all four wheels. Also available is the Porsche Torque Vectoring, which puts more power to the outside wheels of a turn, allowing the 4,000-plus pound Macan to defy physics through corners.
To learn about the different suspension systems, we took the winding Angel’s Crest road through the mountains out to the California desert, where we took laps at the historic Willow Springs race circuit. What we learned was that the basic suspension is fully competent and you could feel where you were nearing the Macan’s limits. Step into a vehicle with the air suspension or torque vectoring, and it felt like you were in one of Porsche’s road cars. Porsche may have conquered the laws of physics—especially when you consider where else the Macan can go.
Above Willow Springs there is a large hill of rock and dirt, and in the center console there is a button marked Off-Road. See where this is going? In standard and Sport driving modes, the Macan is rear-wheel biased, to replicate the feel of driving a rear-wheel-drive sports car, but press Off-Road, and the Macan will then transfer 100 percent of power between the front and rear axles to gain the most traction possible. The Macan actually has better angles for the trail than its big-brother Cayenne, with an approach angle of 15 degrees—17 degrees if you opt for the adjustable air suspension. As such, the Macan was able to manage its way through terrain fit for a Jeep Wrangler.
But 99 percent of Macan buyers will not be taking them to the track, and we suspect roughly the same number of owners will take one off-roading, but that’s not point. The point is that Porsche has created a vehicle that is supremely capable in a number of settings, but is most capable in the daily grind. The interior is reminiscent of the Panamera and other contemporary Porsche models. Rear seat room is livable for taller adults, and there is 17.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat—53 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. The Macan has plenty of cup-holders and storage space throughout, and the driver controls are simple and intuitive. Unfortunately, the Porsche infotainment system can be a little clunky, and requires extra clicks to get through menus that could be easily simplified.
Then there are the options. Despite starting at just under $50,000, a Macan S can easily cost more than $70,000 with options, though the average Macan S will likely cost around $60,000.
That price puts it right in the heart of the small SUV market, competing with the BMW X3, Audi SQ5, and Range Rover Epoque. But the Macan has a few things that none of these competitors has. First, there is the combination of on-track and off-road capability that few owners will use, but it is nice to have. More importantly to luxury SUV buyers, the Macan has the looks of a true Porsche.
2015 Porsche Macan
Price: $49,900. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 24/34. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 27.8 mpg. Drivetrain: 1.75L turbocharged I4, AT, all-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passenger sport utility vehicle.
Horsepower: 340 (400 for Turbo). Overall length: 184.3 in. Wheelbase 110.5 in. Height: 69.9 in. Width: 76.1 in. Curb weight: 4,112 lbs.
A thrilling ride on the trail and on the track, prettier than the Cayenne, supremely useful.
Middling fuel economy, pricey options, infotainment can be confusing.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Will be Porsche’s highest volume vehicle by the end of next year.
Audi SQ5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Land Rover Evoque.