At the North American media launch for the brand new Macan, before we could ever get our grubby little mitts on the steering wheels, we were compelled to sit in on a short presentation. We've been through them before, and they tend to be a little bit boring, usually filled with information that we already know, and definitely packed with some puffy verbiage that overemphasizes the-car-in-question's traits. In this case, the word "sports car" was bandied about quite a lot. As I sat in the small conference room of our hotel, I kept getting irked by Porsche's choice to use that phrase to describe their new Macan sport utility vehicle. Sports car means something very important to me, as I've been a fan of the genre my entire adult life. The definition of 'sports car' surely can't include some little utility. There's simply no way.
The press conference went on to discuss the Macan's lineage, in which they included every 4-wheel driven car Porsche had ever built, starting with the revolutionary 959. By this point, I was sitting at the back of the room with smoke coming out of my ears. The 959? My childhood poster hero 959? The super 1980s sports car that defined an entire generation of hyper-advanced-tech in cars? How could a tall hatchback even hope to compare to the best Porsche of all time? Compare the Macan to the Cayenne, definitely. I could even allow something like the 964 generation Carrera 4. With the 959, though, I just couldn't abide the reputation-ruining comparison.
Just When I thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse, It Did.
With the 959 now beaten to within an inch of its life, the Porsche public relations team then started in on the 918 Spyder. The Macan, they claimed, was inspired by the 918, and shared much of its design language and something they called 'DNA'. The admittedly beautiful Macan does share some visual cues with the 918 Spyder, but 'DNA'? Really? Instead of a raucous V8 in the back, this truck has folding rear seats, and 1500 liters of Ikea flat-pack swallowing storage space. How much of this DNA can they really have in common?
Still reeling from an early morning of seeing my Porsche heroes blown to bits through genetic comparison to a large lifted hatchback, I was handed the keys to one and hopped in. When I saw the schedule that Porsche had planned for us to exercise, I had to suppress a chuckle. The docket for the day was a drive north from Pasadena, California to Willow Springs raceway. That's right, they wanted us to drive their new SUV on an out and out race course, well known for running cars through the ringer. Not only that, but the drive to get there would be through the canyons north of the city, an area commonly used by enthusiasts to test their individual cars' mettle. Surely this overweight, over-hyped 4-wheel-driver can't keep up on roads like this; can it?
The Porsche Macan S
Whether I wanted to perpetuate my own perceptions, or to start off slow, I'm not sure; regardless of the reason though, I slotted behind the wheel of the lower-powered Macan S first, saving my time behind the wheel of a Macan Turbo for later. I expected the car to be comfortable, and it delivered that in spades. The seats were heavily bolstered for an SUV, and they had that non-quantifiable quality of feeling as though you are sitting in the seat, rather than on it. The steering wheel was a nice and welcome piece of kit, combining the qualities of the standard PDK steering wheel, what with its dial controls for infotainment and bluetooth, as well as the so-good-they-should-be-standard aluminum flappy paddles mounted behind the wheel. The Sport Chrono wart sticking up out of the center of the dash, the 'waterfall' center console, the gorgeous materials, and all of the controls instantly remind you that you are in a Porsche, just slightly higher above the tarmac.
First drive impressions
We pulled out of the parking lot onto a series of short shoot around-town kind of roads. This is a pretty accurate representation of how a lot of owners will use their Macans: avoiding the pockmarks of city streets, dodging the low-talent drivers with whom they share the roads, and roaring from stop sign to stop sign. This is where I expected the Macan S to be at home, and it does deliver here. The 340 horsepower 3.0 liter turbo V6 is a great engine, and it moves this Porsche way quicker than it has any right to, and sprints to sixty are a ton of fun. Because I'm a bit of a self-professed yob, as soon as I entered the car, the Sport+ button was pressed to lower the air suspension to its lowest setting, inform the PASM system to allow some "sport" driving, to sharpen the shift points, and to bring the throttle map into crisp focus. Even still, I wasn't expecting the Macan to deliver the level of crisp precision found in a Cayman or 991 Carrera S, for example.
As we continued to drive farther north, we rode our collective steeds into battle with the daunting 'canyons'. At the helm of my chosen Macan S, I tried to steel myself for the roly-poly, wallowy, and understeery hour or so I knew was ahead of me. I didn't think to bring any Dramamine, so I mentally prepared for the gastrointestinal fortitude test I was sure I would be subjected to. The thing is, it never came. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have been so surprised. Porsche set out to make the sportiest small SUV in the marketplace, and it would seem that they have accomplished just that. It took about 10 miles for me to have a complete 180 degree shift in my view of the Macan. This little truck is a revelation. It's insanely fast, it's insanely sporty, it's insanely fun, and it's insanely addictive. Does an SUV really need a 7-speed PDK transmission? After driving this Macan S, the answer is a resounding yes. In this case, the transmission is part of what makes the car just so good.
Bombing down the valleys and speeding up the rises, it was difficult to pay too much attention to the scenery around, because I was so intent on squeezing every last bit of go-fast that I could out of the Macan. This really shouldn't be happening, it was moving at a much more rapid rate than it had any right to. The PASM was doing its work, making the whole car feel extremely planted and worked to reduce body roll to a bare minimum. I could feel my confidence building by the mile, and the car was egging me on, just pushing me into extralegal speed territory. My time with the Macan S in the canyons north of LA was an eye opener. I never knew that an SUV could tackle corners like that. It's almost as if it were built to conquer 50-ish mile per hour sweeping curves. It just squats down and gets to business.
As a calm-down period after getting all hot-and-bothered in the canyons, the route forced us out onto some four-lane highways as straight as an arrow. If the city surface streets were a game of spin the bottle, and the canyon romp was a game of seven-minutes-in-heaven, then the remainder of the trip felt like her dad coming home early and dragging you out of the house by the ear for a cold wash down with the hose. The Macan felt strangely at home in the twisties, but even on the interstates (once you disengaged the Sport+ yobbo button), the car was comfortable. It has a Jeckyl/Hyde switch, and whenever you feel like it, you can force the Macan to be a hooligan with you, and maybe even instigate some hooliganism, but when you desire, it can be as grown up as you need it to.
A Trio Of Macans On The Horse Thief Mile
By the time I'd reached the grounds of Willow Springs Raceway, I was pretty familiar with the capabilities of the Macan S, and was walking away from the car pleasantly surprised. My first stop at the track was a whole bunch of laps on the Horse Thief Mile mini-track. For those not familiar, this short medium-speed track has a whole lot of elevation change, a lot of tight corners, and a couple really nice sweeping turns, one downhill and one uphill. It is a perennial favorite of drifters, and can really wring everything you've got out of you. After a couple short installation laps to show where the track went, I was unceremoniously plopped into the driver's seat of three different Macan S models, one right after the other.
Macan S #1
The first car was equipped with the standard steel spring suspension (no PASM), and while it was instantly recognizable as being related to the air-sprung car I'd been driving earlier, it was also not the same. If I hadn't already seen what PASM was capable of, I might have still been impressed with this car, but as it stood, it felt lacking. I didn't have the same level of confidence, especially on one particular section of downhill braking into a left-handed turn. I never felt like the car was uncontrollable, but it certainly felt wobblier (yes, that's the scientific term) and less planted through the corners.
Macan S #2
The second car, still on steel springs, but this time equipped with PASM, was infinitely better. All of the confidence that I had in the car on the way up to the track was instantly returned, and the car was faster literally everywhere on this track. PASM, I am thoroughly convinced, is not so much engineered as it is magicked into existence by the warlocks of Stuttgart. Having PASM simply transforms the Macan enough that I cannot fathom why anyone wouldn't order theirs with that option box ticked. It just absolutely transforms the car.
Macan S #3
The third car eschewed the plebeian steel springs in favor of a complete air-spring system that allows the Macan S to sit a full 15 millimeters lower at its lowest setting. All air sprung cars come equipped with PASM, making them the top-rung pick of the litter as far as on-track prowess is concerned. This car was everything that the second car was, just a little bit lower. The slight height advantage of the air-spring car is noticeable, but the difference certainly isn't as dramatic as it was between Macan 1 and 2. The moral of the story here is, when buying a Macan, always get PASM, and maybe only get the air suspension if you feel like splurging.
Dozens Of Laps On The Streets Of Willow
After our bout with the Horse Thief, we were herded over to the Streets of Willow for a little game of lead-follow. My first time behind the wheel of a Macan Turbo was on the streets, trying to keep up with a bright blue 991 Turbo. For some reason, we ran the Streets of Willow course in reverse from its usual configuration, which allowed a very long and very fast back straight. At peak speed, we were seeing triple digits in the Macan Turbo. 400 horsepower is certainly enough to shove this beast along on the track, but the sport air suspension settings felt very good, and everything worked in a pretty copacetic fashion. I was slightly underwhelmed by the iron brakes on the Turbo, but only when pushed to the fullest and under heavy braking. The pedal pressure wasn't really the feel you look for when driving on a track, but then again, this car wasn't exactly developed as a racer. The brakes on the Turbo were easy to modulate, and you always had an idea what they were doing, but they were maybe just a little soft with a slightly longer travel than I prefer. That said, we pounded out a couple dozen laps at pretty high speeds with some significant braking events, and the braking didn't seem to degrade much.
Moving out of the Turbo and back into my now-familiar Macan S, I was now tasked with following closely to a Speed Yellow Cayman S. After some time in a Turbo, the Macan S now felt a little subdued, but being down 60 horsepower will do that to you. Aside from the power, the car felt very much the same, though the underwhelming braking of the Turbo was only exacerbated by the smaller calipers and rotors of the S model. The speeds this time weren't quite as high as those we experienced in the Turbo, but everything else felt near identical. The familiar woosh of the turbos, the equally familiar surge that accompanies, and the ever increasing exhaust chat, this 3.0 liter turbo still excites, even without the bigger engine's 60 horses (or the Panamera S version of the same 3 liter, which produces 80 additional horses!). Don't forget to order the Sport Exhaust option when it becomes available later this year to hear the full symphony!
From the Streets, we were directed to an off-road course, and we'll cover that in more detail later, but we're going to skip over it for the time being. Following that little excursion, lunch was served, and then it was time to mosey on back to our home base of Pasadena for the night. Having taken a Macan S up the pass in the morning, I was given a Macan Turbo to make the drive back. Ending the day on the high note of 400 Porsche horsepower is never a bad thing. The roads were just as fun, but the extra power was even more noticeable on the street than it was on the track. Powering out of those tight corners in the canyons with the Turbo was completely effortless, eating up landscape in mere seconds. Physics demand that a big and heavy car like this must slow down before entering corners, but the Macan begs to differ. You can carry speeds through corners that you wouldn't have thought possible, and once you've told your doubtful brain to shut up about physics and what should and shouldn't happen to a car this big entering a corner at twice the posted speed, you can get down to having some righteous amounts of raucous fun.
The Macan S is a point and squirt kind of car, and you feel almost like you're transported to light-speed. The Macan Turbo simply turns the dial up a couple of notches, and rather than traveling at light-speed between two corners, the Turbo simply feels like a form of teleportation. How much does it cost to defy physics? One Macan, please!
The Ideal Setup For On-Track Action
Lets say you have a twisted sense of humor, and delight in the ability to completely obliterate the average sports-car driver on a race track in a small-ish SUV, you could do a lot worse than a Porsche Macan. If you were going to get serious about running a Macan on a race track, I would personally choose the Macan S. Once you've checked the option box for Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes, you'll have fixed my number one complaint with the car (but it's an on-track complaint only). Make sure you also get the optional 20" wheels with Michelin Latitude Sport summer tires (they're such a killer sporty SUV tire, and they likely had a lot to do with the Macan's opinion altering performance). Don't forget to check the box for PASM, and if you're really serious about dual-use for your Macan, just go ahead and get the air suspension. While you're at it, get the Torque Vectoring as well. Oh, and don't forget the Sport Chrono package, as it includes the absolutely insane launch control that allows the S to move to 60 in 5 seconds flat (and the Turbo does the same in 4.4).
Why Did I Choose The S Over The Turbo?
Well, I'm not sure I can be convinced that 60 horsepower is worth over 22,000 dollars. Outside of that power difference, and some exterior visual cues, the Macan S can be fitted with the exact same options that the Turbo can. Granted, the Turbo comes with a few more items standard, the S can still be a righteously quick car for street or track. Besides, with that extra $22,000, you could probably buy a very nice 944/968 or first generation Boxster dedicated track car with a whole trailer load of spares to haul around with your brand new Macan. Really, that's the best option if you ask me.
At the end of the day, I was forced to conclude that maybe the Macan does share some DNA with some of Porsche's greatest sports cars. The new car certainly does surprise in its capabilities. Go give one a drive, you'll see what I mean.
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