Macan Turbo

A real-world drive of the Macan Turbo

Photo: Macan Turbo 1
July 27, 2015

In our initial drive of the Porsche Macan, author Ian Kuah came away impressed, lauding the car’s driving dynamics and going so far as to say the vehicle “rewrites the rules for compact SUVs.” Obviously, we stand behind our longtime contributor’s words. Nevertheless, we felt compelled to experience a Macan on our own turf, far removed from the orchestrated confines of a press preview and the pristine tarmac of Porsche’s Leipzig development track.

We wanted to drive a Macan, especially the top-of-the-line Turbo model, on our own terms, subjecting it to everything from mundane freeway miles to winding pavement to bumpy gravel roads. Plus we wanted to see how the vehicle would deliver on the utility front, something that is hard to do on a press event. With all this in mind, a multi-day excursion was in order, and we knew just where to head: Point Arena, a three-hour drive north from San Francisco.

Remote, lightly populated and quirky, the city of Point Arena sits on the Mendocino County coast all by its lonesome. Highway 1 bisects its downtown, but most drivers pass through this four-block-long stretch without even taking notice. Yet Point Arena has one of the most dramatically beautiful coastline’s in all of California, with tall cliffs, unique geographical formations and forested backdrops.

For our purposes, however, it was the getting there that was key. Freeways take you less than a third of the way; the rest of the time, a driver needs to negotiate twisty, undulating backroads, which just happen to be some of the best in Northern California.

Shortly after the Agate Grey Metallic Macan Turbo was delivered, photographer David Bush and I began loading it up for our adventure north. Though it looks very similar to its Cayenne big brother, the Macan is significantly smaller: seven inches shorter, three inches narrower and four inches lower. With a 4,244-lb curb weight, the Macan Turbo weighs a substantial 573 lbs less than a Cayenne Turbo.

Photo: Macan Turbo 2

Even compared to the Audi Q5 on which it is based, the Macan is smaller, with a one-inch lower roofline and a sloping D-pillar that reduces its cargo volume compared to the Audi by a third. With loads of camera equipment, enough personal gear for a three-day weekend and a bike—did we mention that Point Arena has great mountain biking?—we wondered if it would all fit. It did, but just barely.

Obviously, we needed to maximize cargo room by stowing the rear seats. Doing so makes for a nice, flat storage area that offers up a respectable 53 cubic feet of space. However, the narrow rear opening made inserting the bike a little difficult; we needed to remove both wheels to perform the trick. Relatedly, the tiny backlight limits rearward visibility. Thankfully, this Porsche came equipped with a backup camera, bundled with ParkAssist as a $1,460 option.

Hitting the Road

Once underway, we immediately came to appreciate the Macan’s interior. Aesthetically pleasing, ergonomically sound and decidedly upscale, the cockpit is a wonderful place to spend time. Of course, our press vehicle’s long list of options, including $1,730 worth of leather surfacing, a $4,290 Burmester sound system and a $1,290 Sport Chrono Package helped on this score, but the $72,300 Turbo comes standard with excellent seats—comfortable, supportive and heated.

We were especially impressed with the hushed quiet of the Macan’s cabin. The city sounds of San Francisco all but vanished once the doors were shut, as did most road noise. Our press vehicle’s Thermally and Noise Insulating Privacy Glass ($990) certainly had something to do with this, but we suspect even with the standard window panes the Macan maintains a decidedly luxury-sedan-like demeanor on this front.

Photo: Macan Turbo 3

And sedan is the apt word to use in this context. From allowing guests onboard, to comporting itself in city traffic to being parallel-parked, the Macan does a fine impression of a car, certainly a more convincing one than its Cayenne big brother.

While the Macan’s nominal seat height is certainly high by sports-car standards, it is low compared to other SUVs, even compact ones, including the Audi Q5. This allowed Porsche to provide an acceptable amount of headroom and, more importantly, lower the Macan’s center of gravity. Its CG is one-inch lower than the Cayenne’s. While that may not sound like much, it makes all the difference in terms of driving dynamics. You don’t get the sense of sitting on top of this machine, as is the case with so many SUVs, but more down in it. On the other hand, the seats are high enough to provide the improved forward visibility and ease of ingress/egress that draws so many consumers to SUV/crossover ownership. Porsche got the balance right on this score.

Speaking of balance, our vehicle’s sticker price would exact a heavy toll on a potential customers saving’s account balance. Thanks to no less than $24,430 in options, the tally came to a whopping $96,730. Second to only the sound system in expense was the $3,300 21-inch 911 Turbo Design Wheels option. That’s some pricey rolling stock. Also tall. Twenty-one inches just seems absurdly tall to us, especially on an SUV. Sure, these wheels look cool, but they also mean this off-road-capable vehicle rolls on tires with puny sidewalls—265/40R21 front, 295/35R21 rear.

One drawback of this wheel/tire combination was almost immediately felt: Our Macan’s ride quality was noticeably brittle at low speeds, making our San Francisco traverse on the way to Point Arena less than cosseting—even with the suspension in its softest setting. (Our tester had its Air Suspension coupled with Porsche Active Suspension Management, a $1,385 option.) Fortunately, the ride smoothes out dramatically at higher speeds as we experienced once we’d crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and entered the freeway.

With its twin turbos spooling up 400 horsepower, the Macan simply inhaled the hill up and over the Marin Headlands. There is virtually no turbo lag to speak of, lending this engine the immediacy of a naturally aspirated engine. Abetted by the ultra-fast shifting twin-clutch PDK transmission, the deep well of torque—406 lb-ft at a mere 1,300 rpm—can be accessed at will, sending the tachometer spinning in a hurry and shoving occupants back into their seats with conviction. At full chat, the engine declares a brawny earnestness, but the exhaust note is otherwise rather subdued—likely too quiet for some enthusiasts.

Photo: Macan Turbo 4

While the Macan Turbo’s outright thrust is impressive, it’s the effortlessness with which it deploys its power that leaves the more lasting impression. The largish V6 revs freely and smoothly, pulling strongly right to its 7,000-rpm redline. Porsche’s base twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6, while enormously competent, leaves us feeling unconvinced. Not this 3.6-liter one. It is more robust in every measure—generating 60 more horsepower and an additional 67 lb-ft of torque—yet just as silky smooth and eager to rev, retaining the same short-stroke character. Both Macan V6s share no relation to the Audi V6s, other than their 90-degree angles.

Interestingly, the Macan Turbo fares no worse than its Macan S sibling in terms of gasoline consumption—both drink the stuff with gusto—so customers can opt for the Turbo without feeling guilty for guzzling more gas.

Make no mistake, the Macan Turbo is fast. Indeed, with this Porsche having attained triple-digit speeds with such ease during our first accelerative foray, we relied on cruise control to keep us out of trouble for the rest of our time on the freeway. Our pulse-raising antics lay ahead, once we hit Highway 1 along the coast.

Corner Carving

We expected the Macan Turbo to handle well given Porsche’s track record in this department, but its Audi Q5 foundation lowered our expectations. Sure, Porsche sharpened the donor car’s cornering prowess, we thought to ourselves, but it’s still a compact SUV; how much fun could it be in the twisties? Boy, were we were in for a surprise.

Photo: Macan Turbo 5

The Macan Turbo dispensed with the first few tight bends with such nonchalance that it goaded us into picking up the pace. Into each successive corner, we found ourselves carrying more speed, amazed at how much front-end grip was at our disposal. We just could not believe how hard the Macan turned in. The ultra-precise steering allowed us to make mid-corner corrections, yet the increased lock didn’t seem to result in any push. Plus the steering input resulted in so little body roll.

Then, at corner exit, the Porsche’s abundant, all-wheel-drive traction allowed us to get on the power early and blast off to the next turn. When it came time to change direction yet again, the powerful brakes (360-mm front rotors, 356-mm rear rotors, six-piston calipers all around) and quick-downshifting PDK transmission scrubbed off speed with reassuring ease.

Soon we were flogging the Macan as if we were driving a tarmac special stage in a WRC rally—at night, no less! The Bi-Xenon headlights with the optional Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus ($580) were doing an incredible job illuminating the path ahead, swiveling based on steering angle and speed, and giving us the confidence to explore our inner Sebastien Loeb. On one corner we did just that.

Remembering this particular hairpin from past experience, we kept the car to the outside as long as possible under braking before diving for the apex and getting hard on gas, knowing the bend had some banking to it. The moment we hit the throttle, we thought we’d overcooked it and were expecting the Macan to plow. Instead, the Porsche rotated in a sublimely controlled fashion, quickly transitioning into a glorious four-wheel drift as the mighty engine catapulted it to the next bend. Did we just do that? Not by ourselves we didn’t; we’re not that good. Credit must be given to where credit is due: Porsche’s driver-aid systems.

The way Torque Vectoring Plus transforms this hefty machine’s handling balance is a revelation. Any whiffs of initial understeer at turn-in are immediately squelched, leading to satisfyingly neutral handling. But it’s the way Torque Vectoring, working hand-in-hand with Porsche Stability Control, allows the car to drift at corner exit that most impressed us. We were expecting competent, but we got playful—thanks largely, we think, to Torque Vectoring. It makes the Macan Turbo feel like a rear-wheel-drive machine. On this score, Porsche has other manufacturers of high-performance all-wheel-drive vehicles beat.

Photo: Macan Turbo 6

But the Macan’s good handling isn’t all about electronic trickery. There is an inherent balance to this machine that’s lacking in most SUVs, even the Cayenne. The extensive reengineering required to lower the Audi Q5’s center of gravity clearly paid huge dividends. As a result, the driver-aid systems are able to enhance the driving experience, not merely serve as Band-Aids to fix inherent problems, something that is usually the case with SUVs.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention our test vehicle’s optional 21-inch tires, as they certainly played a role in the Macan’s sharp turn-in rate and overall roadholding ability. With meaty, 265- and 295-mm section widths and ultra-stiff sidewalls, this rubber provided the Macan with extra grip and sharper transient response than the standard 19-inch wheels and tires. They were perfect for our tarmac special stage. As for their off-road performance, we planned to subject them to Fish Rock Road, a stretch of unforgiving gravel near Point Arena.

On the Loose Stuff

We arrived at our destination adrenalized yet without the fatigue that often accompanies the piloting of sharper-focused machines. When we backed off the pace, this Porsche immediately reverted to its luxury-vehicle role, with the seats proving to be especially comfortable over the course of three-plus hours in the saddle. We couldn’t wait to climb back into them the next morning, when we planned to scour the area for great photo-shoot locations.

We didn’t have to look very hard, so beautiful is Point Arena and its environs. The weather was on our side, too. We were greeted with sun in a town that’s often shrouded in fog, though some of the wispy stuff was on hand to make photographer Bush happy. Having captured moody stills on neighboring farmland, we headed for the hills to grab some speed shots.

Photo: Macan Turbo 7

Mountain View Road leads east out of town, traverses the coastal ridge and plummets into Anderson Valley. Essentially a paved logging road with several sections that choke down to a single lane in width, it is a true test of driver and machine. The Macan Turbo passed it with aplomb, and, again, it made us look good. No, it wasn’t as much fun as the Boxster we drove over this same stretch a while back, but its cornering prowess and outright speed never ceased to amaze us. This thing just shouldn’t be able to do what it’s doing, we kept telling ourselves. Few vehicles of any ilk, much less those with hatchbacks, would keep up with a Macan Turbo on this road when it’s shown the cane.

But how did it fare on Fish Rock Road? Well, let’s just say wide, low-profile rubber and gravel don’t go well together. Though we drove the Macan at a modest pace, it felt noticeably out of its element on the loose stuff. Despite the ministrations of its electronic helpers, the Porsche understeered at corner entry and lost the fluidity it had on pavement. We suppose an expert rally driver could unlock its potential, but he or she would definitely have to defeat the Macan’s driver aids in order to do so and not give a damn about its beautiful grey paint.

A set of base 19-inch wheels and 255/50R19 tires probably would have improved the situation but not transformed the experience. Just as the Macan doesn’t feel like an SUV on the road, it doesn’t feel like an SUV off the road. We don’t doubt its capabilities; certainly, the Macan can perform some impressive feats in the dirt, with the 1.6 inches of lift afforded by the air suspension extending its reach, if you will. No, this critique is a matter of inclination: The Macan simply does not beg to be driven off-piste.

That said, as a result of the off-road capability that was baked into the Macan, including steep approach and departure angles, you never have to worry about scrapping this Porsche’s front spoiler or dragging its rear end, which was greatly appreciated on our test route, with its sudden elevation changes, as well as urban parking lots back in San Francisco.

Given the fact it isn’t all that happy on dirt roads and is fairly curtailed in the amount of utility it offers, the Macan is a bit of a strange creature in the SUV marketplace. If it is not an SUV or even a crossover in the strictest sense of those terms—as if proper definitions ever existed—then what is it? Good question. Fortunately, no answer is necessary; it just doesn’t matter how you categorize the Macan Turbo.

What matters is that it is a true, high-performance driving machine that serves up thrills and luxury in equal measure. On that score, it epitomizes what a modern Porsche has become. The Macan Turbo does indeed rewrite the rules for compact SUVs, yet Porsche accomplished so much more with this impressive vehicle; it created something that is both truly unique and highly desirable.

Also from Issue 231

  • First drive of the 500-hp 991 GT3 RS
  • A rare 1964 901 with a remarkable history
  • A 997 Turbo-based Ruf Rt12
  • We lift the veil on a Type 645 prototype
  • A beautiful pre-A 356 Continental Coupe
  • A 1980 924 with only 11,000 miles
  • We tour Porsche’s new American HQ
  • How Porsche’s AWD systems work
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