In a market sector it can’t ignore, Stuttgart has built a sure seller – but no star | By Andrew Frankel
Attributes of no practical value are rarely desirable in a car. There are exceptions of course, such as the Alfa 4C’s stunning appearance doing much to offset its many dynamic flaws. But the Porsche Macan’s party trick is of so little use to anyone it is entirely irrelevant, save for the fact it comes close to redeeming a car whose very existence I had started to consider unjustifiable. To whit, if you enter a corner on a slippery race track with the throttle closed it will approach said turn in a lurid slide and, thanks to its rare ability to direct 100 per cent of its power to its rear axle, drift out of the curve power-on and with as much opposite lock as you can handle.
An utterly pointless attribute in such a car you will agree, except to someone searching for some distinguishing feature to separate it from the vast hordes of faceless, mid-sized SUVs that roam the land in ever increasing quantities. Something that makes it a Porsche.
Because on first acquaintance you may wonder just how worthy it is of the shield of Stuttgart on its nose. This is because as even Porsche readily admits, the Macan is no fresh design but one adapted from the now old and always unremarkable Audi Q5 SUV.
Of course platform-sharing is the way all mass-produced cars are created these days – you’ll not find a major model produced by a major manufacturer whose underpinnings are not shared with another: the economies of scale are just too important to ignore.
And, yes, in Porsche’s case there is precedent, for the Cayenne has been built on the same foundations as the Audi Q7 and Volkswagen Touareg for a dozen years now. The difference is that Porsche was still able to turn the Cayenne into an ultimate: the fastest, most entertaining and, if you got a 550bhp Turbo S, simply brutal SUV money could buy. In the way of almost all Porsches for a number of decades now, it could and still can do things no other car in its class could countenance. The Macan has no such obvious talent. It’s not the biggest nor smallest, most powerful, fastest nor visually arresting SUV. Indeed at first it’s hard to see what’s so very Porsche about it. Which is why it becomes so important to find some characteristic to show its creators still know what makes a Porsche a Porsche, even if that thing is not relevant to the everyday duties the car is likely to be called upon to perform.
Porsche makes a stout defence of the Macan’s right to be considered a legitimate son, rather than an adoptee given a new identity and a makeover. It points out that little more than a third of its components are shared with the Audi and that the two petrol engines available – twin-turbo V6 units of 3-litre and 3.6-litre displacement for the Macan S and Macan Turbo respectively – are homegrown Porsche original engines, although they will now be made available to the rest of the VW group. They also make clear that all Macans get not only Porsche’s own PDK double-clutch transmission but the aforementioned, unique four-wheel-drive system with its electro-mechanical centre diff. Nevertheless it should also be said that the Macan Diesel S, which will outsell both petrol models put together, takes its 258bhp 3-litre diesel engine in unchanged form from the Q5. Also the Q5’s 309bhp diesel, which you might think would be perfect for the Macan cannot be chosen, at least for now. Bear in mind too that, model for model, the Macan is more than 100kg heavier than the Q5 and, in diesel form, actually weighs more than the long-wheelbase version of the Audi A8 limousine using the same engine.
Yet from such unpromising raw material comes not just a convincing SUV, but one that can wear its Porsche badges if not with pride, then at least without appearing as a character in an H M Bateman cartoon.
I drove the Turbo first. You’d never know its Audi origins from its interior, which in fact is the standard Porsche cabin pulled, squeezed and stretched around its inherited hard points. So you still get an analogue speedo that’s so difficult to read that Porsche also provides a digital speed read-out, and there’s still a larger tachometer front and centre. The driving position is elevated, but not by enough to persuade those who really buy these cars to look down on people to abandon their Cayennes.
The engine responds to a prod with a purposeful woofle and when you step a little harder there’s just enough time to feel like a stone being pulled back in a catapult before it flings you up the road. The sound is purposeful and more than backed by the accompanying performance. What it’s not is characterful, not in the same way it would be if the same amount of power had been developed using the larger but normally aspirated V8 engine Porsche has at its disposal. These days even a Porsche Turbo can no longer be seen to be above the tedious necessity for decent fuel consumption and the lower CO2 emissions that come with it.
The biggest compliment I can pay its road handling is that there comes a time when you’re driving along, having a perfectly pleasant time, and realise you’ve forgotten it’s a two-tonne SUV at your command. It’s poised and accurate and my only concern is the ride quality, which even in eastern Germany was only just good enough. Were I ordering one for the UK, I’d think hard about optional air springs.
Of course the car most British customers will order is not the Turbo but the diesel or, to be more precise, Diesel S. If you’re wondering why Porsche has given an entry-level model an ‘S’ badge, it’s because it’s only the cheapest Macan you can buy for now. Next year Porsche will bring to market a base Macan that uses a 2-litre, four-cylinder Audi diesel engine and time alone will tell whether that stretches the brand too far. In the meantime the 3-litre V6 diesel confers pleasant, accessible performance and, allegedly, more than 44mpg.
The only car I can’t figure out is the petrol Macan S, which features a stroked down 3-litre version of the Macan Turbo although, confusingly for those familiar with Porsche naming strategy, it has turbos, too. It’s £16,000 cheaper than the Turbo, but there’s a whole host of equipment that’s not included on the S and the engine, while sweeter, has an emasculated mid-range so you have to really rev it to get decent results, which doesn’t seem right in this kind of car. And it’s barely any more economical.
Such reservations notwithstanding, the Macan is set to become the fastest-selling Porsche in history because that badge combined with its price and positioning will make it irresistible to many. To me if a Cayenne can call itself a Porsche then so can the Macan. It is the best car in an admittedly rather underachieving class. And if the requirements of membership of that class have resulted in a car more to be admired than adored, I don’t see that Porsche can be blamed.
Engine: 3.6 litres, six cylinders, twin turbocharged
Power: 394bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 405lb ft @ 1350rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed double clutch
Top speed: 155mph