Super Ute

Out of the box, the Macan is the world’s fastest, sportiest vehicle in the world’s most dynamic market segment

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April 5, 2014

Ah, Leipzig in February. Does there seeem a more inappropriate place and time to launch a new Porsche? Well, there was good reason to drive the new Porsche Macan deep inside a German winter, where snow falls when it isn’t just cold and wet. It would offer us the opportunity to sample the compact SUV in a range of conditions as well as tour the Leipzig plant where tens of thousands of Macans are about to begin flying off the line.

However, Porsche being Porsche, the range of conditions for our first drive included, in a somewhat surreal experience, hot laps—on all-season tires!— around the Leipzig test track behind a 991 C4 S.

While this is not something I would normally attempt, I am happy to report that high-performance all-season tires have come a long way in recent years. Of course, the 20-in. low-profile Michelin Latitude rubber could provide neither the steering precision nor sheer mechanical grip of summer tires, but these winter boots did a very decent job of showing off what the Macan chassis can do in extremis.

I drove the three Macan models that will be offered initially, and though all three are powered by turbocharged engines, the nomenclature is the Macan S, the Macan Turbo, and the Macan S Diesel, the one model that won’t be coming to America—at first. We have been promised by a Porsche spokesperson that it will appear in the U.S., though it probably won’t be until early in 2015.

Chasing a Porsche test driver around a racetrack in an SUV is pretty bizarre, and though the Macan S is no slouch—it does have 340 hp to play with—the 400-hp Carrera weighs about a thousand pounds less and was simply going to drive off into the distance on power-to-weight advantage alone.

Just as obvious, but hugely pleasing, was the instant response of Porsche’s new V6 bi-turbo motors, which have consigned turbo lag to the history books. Blip the throttle in neutral or park, and the revs rise and fall as effortlessly as if the engine were a well-set-up naturally aspirated motor.

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This feeling of low internal engine inertia continues on the move with snappy throttle response and a willingness to play that is both enticing and rewarding to the enthusiast driver. There is nothing subliminal with the way these snappy and smooth engines unfold their character and potential.

While the Macan S does not quite lay bare its soul or engage you in the way that a Carrera, Boxster or Cayman does, its broad spectrum of driver-orientated attributes include nicely judged steering, finely balanced handling, good ride and impressive grip, and a driving experience that is both well tempered and leagues ahead of any would-be rival.

So just who are the Macan’s rivals? Right now there are none that can go directly head-to-head with Porsche’s compact SUV. In fact, any machine that has previously laid claim to being a Sports Utility Vehicle now has to contend with being exposed as a great pretender. As I quickly established on the day, the Macan alone owns the right to use “Sport” in this segment.

The Audi RS Q3 is in a category below, made abundantly clear by the fact the Q3 is the smaller brother of the Q5 that serves as the Macan’s starting point. The GLA45 AMG is not a direct competitor, either; it is a crossover rather than an SUV.

And what of Range Rover’s dashing Evoque? Not only does the Evoque come only with four-cylinder power, this doyen of the fashionable set finds itself completely outclassed in all dynamic respects by the V6-powered Macans.

On that score, however, until the four-cylinder Macan versions destined for the Chinese market arrive at the end of 2014, followed by other countries if sufficient demand is there, we are not comparing apples with apples.

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In both engineering and styling terms, Porsche has sprinkled stardust on the Audi Q5, a good but unexceptional mid-range SUV that compares favorably with its good but unexceptional class rivals.

I asked the Porsche engineers just how much Q5 was actually left in the mix by the time they had the Macan just the way they wanted. The answer, “One third!” came back lightning fast, which told me this is no mere cosmetic makeover but a complete re-engineering job with the breadth and depth that is so typically Porsche.

In aesthetic terms, the Macan is a handsome car, which I and many others think is a tauter and better-looking design than the Cayenne. While it may not immediately appear as dashing as the Evoque, a design that you either love or hate, the Macan benefits from perfect proportions from all angles and a more beefy, purposeful stance on the tarmac.

The clamshell bonnet helps to give the front end its clean and unbroken upper surface contours, allowing a unique look that so neatly incorporates the teardrop-shaped light units.

At the rear, the horizontal light units are crisper than the Cayenne’s, too, and the shape of the inset center not only gives prominence to the LED bars but also helps to keep the lights cleaner in bad weather.

Take your place in the Macan’s beautifully crafted cabin, and you see the architecture takes its cues from other Porsche models, including the crisp, modern center console. The paddle-shift-enabled steering wheel is most un-SUV-like, its core coming straight from Porsche’s 918 Spyder hybrid supercar.

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While the outer shell of the roof is over an inch (30mm) lower than the Q5’s, you would not know it, because Porsche reduced the rail height of the Cayenne-derived front seats and the depth of the roof lining to compensate. And because the rear seat does not require the sliding rail feature used on the Audi, the Macan’s rear seat is bolted to the floorpan. The resulting lower seating position (by almost two inches or 50mm) drops the center of gravity, making the car feel lower and more stable in fast cornering.

There are three possible suspension combinations. The base car has steel springs and conventional dampers to which you can add PASM. The third option of air suspension is a first for a compact SUV. As the Turbo already has the PASM option as standard, specifying air suspension is commensurately cheaper on the top model.

With self-levelling and ride height adjustment, the air suspension option has about a half-inch (15mm) lower static ride height, it can raise the car by 1.6 in. (40 mm) for ground clearance off road, and lower it a further 0.4 in. (10 mm) for improved aerodynamics and stability at speed.

The Macan’s handling seemed so capable that I asked the chassis engineers if the air suspension uses the clever twin-chamber air-spring design that gives the Panamera its brilliant combination of cosseting ride and supercar handling. The answer was that this more sophisticated (read costly) solution is unwarranted on a vehicle in the Macan’s class.

My Turbo test car had air suspension, which gives its secondary ride in particular that final touch of sophistication in the way it reacts to bumps. It also has distinct advantages off-road, not least in terms of approach and departure angles, ground clearance and axle articulation.

“One of the main ingredients for good handling is a stiff bodyshell,” explained structural engineer Hermann Sturm. “At 27,300 Nm/degree of twist, the Macan’s shell is stiffer than the Audi Q5 (26,600 Nm/degree) on which it is based. It also has a dynamic first-order frequency of 44 Hz with a solid roof, and 42 Hz with the optional Panorama roof, which is better than its Cayenne big brother.”

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On track this stiff shell, coupled to PASM and PTV (Porsche Torque Vectoring), help the compact but relatively heavy Macan stretch my expectations quite convincingly. If you apply the correct race lines, keeping the car as straight as possible in the bends, the Turbo in particular is just ridiculously fast.

While the S suffered from its weight and relative lack of power compared to the Carrera pace car, the coupe was not able to convincingly drive away from the torque rich Turbo. I know the Leipzig track very well, and on the long right hand sweeper leading to the very slow corner known as the Bus Stop, I always take a very late apex, which allows me to go flat out around the sweeper with minimum slip angle.

The power and torque of the Macan Turbo meant that the Carrera in front, which was taking the same line, simply could not open the gap, which stayed consistent all the way around, right into the braking threshold for the Bus Stop.

Once in this slow and technical right-left combo, thanks to the Macan’s quick transient response, sport-biased 4WD system and superior torque, I could exit on full bore and the Carrera was still unable to pull away until we were two thirds of the way down the main straight.

In fact, the only part of Leipzig’s neat but rather tight circuit where the lighter and more agile Carrera showed a distinct advantage, was in the very tight left-right sequence on the elevated section of the track that mimics the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.

In all cases, if you are on the correct race line and trail brake to manage weight transfer correctly into a bend, the Macan simply goes where you point it, right to the limit of mechanical grip when the Torque Vectoring system engages to lend a helping hand. At the other end of the handling chain, the electro-mechanical power steering is spot on, with weight and response that feels instinctively right.

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The instant-on throttle response of both S and Turbo is simply amazing. No turbo lag to speak of, just crisp and clean response to the throttle, even coming back into it after a big lift for hard braking towards a tight turn on the track. Power delivery is also very linear, with no perceptible extra rush of power at any particular engine speed.

As expected, braking is excellent. The Turbo’s larger 360×36mm front and 356×28mm rear vented disc brakes, denoted by their red brake calipers, were also noticeably more effective than the S model’s 350×34mm and 330×22mm vented discs. Both use six-pot front calipers, but the larger brakes had better sustained stopping power and seeming durability. PCCBs are, of course, an option.

While the 258-hp 3.0-liter V6 turbo-diesel motor is essentially the Audi unit with small changes to software and some other minor areas for the Macan, the 3.0- and 3.6-liter turbocharged gasoline engines are Porsche’s own in-house developments.

In reality, since all its engines are turbocharged—the only way to meet required power and emissions these days—Porsche is caught between a rock and a hard place with its traditional nomenclature of S and Turbo models.

There is no way Porsche could call the entry-level turbocharged V6 the “Turbo,” because the next more powerful model already is the Turbo, and Porsche admitted there is room for a Turbo S model as well as a GTS in the near future…so we’ll leave that up to marketing. The more technically and fiscally challenging Hybrid is another matter entirely, and the engineers were clear this project was less of a priority and would also be a function of customer demand.

Known by the internal code M4630, the 3.0-liter V6 biturbo in the Macan S is a derivative of the M4660 motor first seen in the facelifted Panamera last year, but with Macan-specific air-intake system and cylinder heads.

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Its 2997cc of displacement comes from an over-square bore and stroke of 96.0 × 69.0 mm, which gives the motor its smooth, free-revving character. While it has become fashionable to apply a longer stroke to modern engines for better torque characteristics, the resultant lower revving ability does not deliver the sporty character required of a Porsche motor.

In any case, whatever torque is lost by the mechanical advantage of a long stroke is easily made up for by the forced aspiration. With a 9.8:1 compression ratio, the 3.0L makes 340 hp between 5500 and 6500 rpm, with 339 lb-ft (460 Nm) of torque from 1450 to 5000 rpm.

The specific output of 113.4 hp/liter is good, if not a little modest for a high-performance turbo motor, suggesting plenty of headroom for future upgrades, especially as this motor is significantly detuned from the Panamera S installation where it makes 420 hp and 384 lb-ft (520 Nm) of torque.

Against the stopwatch the Macan S reaches 60 mph in 5.2 sec., 5.0 sec. if you tick the Sport Chrono Package with Launch Control. That 0.2-sec. advantage is held all the way to the 100-mph (160km/h) mark, which the SCP version attains in 13.0 sec. from rest. Top speed is 254 km/h (U.S: 156 mph).

That said, for long-term reliability as well as product differentiation, Porsche decided that the Turbo model should start life with a bigger engine. As 3.6 liters is a familiar displacement in the Porsche 911 flat-six engine family, it is no coincidence that the Macan V6 Turbo motor should also share these iconic numbers.

With its longer throw crank and connecting rods, the 3604cc M4635 engine derivative has a bore and stroke of 96.0 × 83.0 mm, and ends up with exactly 4.0 cc more than the iconic 3600cc 911 flat-six.

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Running a higher compression ratio of 10.5:1, the inherently more torque-rich motor produces 400 hp at 6000 rpm with 406 lb-ft (550 Nm) of torque between 1350 and 5500 rpm. Once again, it’s in a very mild state of tune, the specific output of 110.9 hp/liter even lower than its smaller stablemate. This motor should be capable of an easy 500 hp with 540 lb-ft (650 Nm) of torque, but that would no doubt send the marketing department into a tizzy.

Despite a slightly worse drag coefficient of 0.37 (Macan S on 18-in. wheels: 0.36) thanks to its standard 19-in. wheels and larger air intakes, the Turbo is still significantly faster against all measures. In SCP form, it scorches to 60 mph in just 4.4 sec. (4.6 without SCP), to 100 mph (160 km/h) in 10.9 sec, and on to a 266 km/h (U.S.: 164 mph) Vmax.

It was not that long ago that a car was considered quick if it could reach 160km/h (100 mph) in under 20 sec. from rest, so the idea of an SUV taking just over half that time is mind-boggling. In fact, just to put things in perspective, the Macan Turbo almost exactly splits the 0-160km/h times of 7.8 sec. and 13.6 sec. recorded by the Porsche GT3 RS 4.0 and the Golf GTI Mk 7, respectively!

My Diesel S test car had the PASM option, which delivered an impressively taut and well-damped ride, even on the optional 20-in. wheels. Porsche rightly expects the Diesel S to make up a big chunk of its European sales, and anyone who buys this model will find it a rapid, relaxed and economical daily driver.

More European diesel models are finding their ways to the U.S. market, and Porsche will add to the crowd with the Macan S Diesel, which will join its gas-powered siblings there early in 2015.

The latest generation Audi-derived oil-burning V6 motor is quiet, smooth and powerful. In fact, I found it even more refined in the Macan than when I last drove it in the Audi A6, and this is a testament to the refining work that Porsche’s engineers have done on the Macan Diesel’s engine-bay encapsulation. Another positive byproduct of this work is the Diesel’s Cd of 0.35, the best in the Macan range.

Driving a diesel in a sporting manner requires a quite different mind-set; the motor does not rev as fast or as high as a gas motor. The iron block, alloy head 2968cc V6 is under-square, with an 83.0 × 91.4 mm bore and stroke. The 258 hp is developed between 4000 and 4250 rpm, and this torque rich motor has a peak twisting force of 428 lb-ft (580 Nm) from 1750 to 2500 rpm.

While the 0-62-mph (0-100km/h) time of 6.1 sec with the optional SCP is not going to set the world alight, it equals the lighter (by about 1,500 lb) Carrera 3.0 of 1977, while its 16.5 sec 0-100-mph (0-160 km/h) time is faster than all the early 1980s hot hatches. Top speed is 230 km/h (143 mph).

For high-mileage drivers, the great combination of performance, refinement and fuel economy will be the Macan S Diesel’s chief attraction. The 6.1 to 6.3 L/100km average, dependant on the wheel/tire sizes chosen, is impressive for a car weighing 1,880kg (DIN).

The Porsche Macan rewrites the rules for compact SUVs. It is a large enough car for most people and will attract customers who already own a Porsche sports car but for whom the Cayenne is too big as a daily car.

It will definitely pull customers away from rival manufacturers, and Porsche expects up to 80 percent of the volume to be conquest sales, with up to 20 percent cannibalization from the Cayenne. The Macan goes on sale in Europe in April, followed by the USA in June and China in July.

In creating its sixth model line to capitalize on the fastest growing segment in the automotive world, Porsche has made yet another great commercial decision that will ensure a bright future. But the Macan is far more than just another SUV. A car that finally validates the Sports label in SUV, it is also an authentic Porsche.

Also from Issue 219

  • Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1
  • 1957 Carrera Speedster
  • Low-mileage 914/6
  • 356/911 SC mashup
  • 2014 Rolex Daytona 24
  • Tech Primer: Racing Wheels
  • Porsche’s South African Racing, Part II
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