Porsche Macan review – the SUV that wants to be a sports car

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2020 Porsche Macan review 6Rivals have caught up, but the Macan remains an engaging and appealing sports SUV

The Porsche Macan is an unusual thing. Half huge hot hatch and half baby Cayenne, but this seemingly awkward mash-up actually works and has created a car that delivers a more exciting driving experience than you might expect.

Built on VW group’s MLB platform, the Macan shares around a third of its underbody components with the Audi Q5. The driving experience, however, feels distinctly Porsche, with an emphasis on interaction and enjoyment, rather than the load-lugging approach of the Q5.

Porsche has worked hard to mask the Macan’s mass and height, with the car exhibiting decent roll control and a steering set-up that brings proper interaction. Opt for the driver-focused Macan GTS and things get better still, while the Turbo is impressively quick both in a straight line and around corners.

Although Porsche’s attempts have been successful, and the Macan is certainly impressive, don’t for a second think it comes close to a non-SUV Porsche for driver involvement. Ultimately, it’s a well-rounded package with a price point that will likely see potential buyers of specced-up X3s and Q5s jumping ship for the Porsche badge. It isn’t a proper sports car, but it’s about as close as we’ve seen an SUV come to being one.

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Engine and Transmission

The entry-level Porsche Macan uses a 2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine derived from the EA888 unit you’ll find throughout much of the Volkswagen empire – and in cars such as the Volkswagen Golf R. In this application it actually develops less power than in VW, Audi, SEAT and Skoda’s hot hatchbacks, with 180kW at 5000rpm, but there’s a meaty 370Nm of torque available from 1600rpm so performance is still on a par with many vehicles in the hot hatchback class.

It’s not the most inspiring of engines though, particularly for a car wearing the Porsche crest. Step up to the petrol Macan S and things get more interesting. Its 3-litre twin-turbo V6 produces 260kW and 480Nm of torque, the latter from 1360rpm. The engine here is a marked step above the four-cylinder in the entry-level car in performance, character and response, and feels much more suited to pushing the heavy Macan body along. And, more importantly, more fitting for a Porsche.

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Really, though, it’s the Macan Turbo that delivers the most exhilarating performance. The most recent model update ditched the old 3.6-litre engine and brought in a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 similar to that of Audi’s RS4 and RS5 models. Power has risen by 30kW to 323kW at 5700-6600rpm, and it also gets 550Nm from 1800 to 5600rpm.

It uses a seven-speed PDK twin-clutch auto – the transmission standard across the entire Macan range. It seems that the overlong gearing that blights the Boxster and Cayman is also present and (in)correct with the Macan. The PDK works well enough, with fast and smooth shifting, but if you hang on to gears in manual mode you’re looking at high (and illegal) speeds in second and third. Shifts are very smooth, very fast and particularly responsive to the paddles, though – PDK remains one of the best dual-clutch transmissions on the market.

While none of the turbocharged engines has quite the character of one of Porsche’s (increasingly rare) naturally aspirated flat-sixes, it’s hard to argue with the figures they produce, particularly given the size and weight of the Macan. A basic 2-litre Macan is 1795kg, rising to 1945kg for the Macan Turbo.

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Performance and 0-100 Time

There are four Macan derivatives available and even the least of those, the turbocharged 2-litre, can be considered fairly brisk: at its slowest, the Macan is still a car capable of reaching 100kmh in 6.7sec and going on to 223kmh given a suitable stretch of autobahn.

The petrol Macan S is faster still, dispatching the 0-100kmh sprint in 5.3sec and hitting 252kmh flat out. But it’s the Turbo model that is by far the most impressive: a 4.3sec 0-100kmh time with the Sport Chrono package is coupled with an equally as impressive 0-160kmh time of 10.5sec, and a 268kmh top speed – just a few decades ago you needed a 911 to reach such velocities.

Less impressive on paper, the driver-orientated Macan GTS is nevertheless still quick, its turbocharged V6 delivering a 0-100kmh time of 4.7sec with Sport Chrono (enough to see off all but the quickest hot hatchbacks, despite a 1910kg kerb weight) and a 260kmh top speed. There’s a sporty rasp to the exhaust too, which makes exploiting the GTS’s performance quite satisfying, even if there isn’t the outright punch of the Turbo-badged model.

The Turbo is positively ballistic, though with the recent change to the 2.9-litre unit and muffled by petrol particulate filters, the engine no longer sounds quite as inspiring as it once did. As previously referenced, the Macan’s autobahn gearing means you really need to stick to Sport or Sport+ modes, keep it in the lowest few gears, and select ratios yourself for it to feel truly brisk – a conventional hot hatchback such as a VW Golf R will feel quicker with less effort.

When you’re not trying to reach mile-a-minute speeds though, all of the Macan power plants are suitably cultured and blessed with smooth, consistent responses. For a car capable of worrying Boxsters and Caymans (or those aforementioned hot hatches), the way the Macan can also fade into the background as a quiet and refined cruiser is both welcome and impressive.

Ride and Handling

Of all the crossovers and performance SUVs we’ve driven, the Macan does the best job of disguising its size. At times, it feels not unlike a big hot hatch, doing a great job of delivering interaction and performance that you’d normally expect in a smaller car.

This is largely helped by the Macan’s steering, which is a cut above the competition’s. With plenty of weight and, crucially, some proper feel and interaction when you need it, it almost feels out of place in a five-seat 4×4.

Rather than opting for a super-light steering set-up, which many SUVs use in an attempt to hide their weight, Porsche has instead engineered a system that genuinely makes the car exciting to drive, but never leaves it feeling cumbersome or unwieldy. Combined with strong grip levels, you have the confidence to drive the Macan a lot harder than you would a conventional quick SUV.

Problems can arise, though, when the Macan simply can’t do any more to disguise its mass. That sharp front end and impressive traction can quickly melt into understeer should you overstep the Macan’s dynamic envelope.

As for the ride, the steel-sprung PASM set-up (standard on the GTS and Turbo) is more than acceptable for daily driving when in its Comfort mode, but those expecting a softened-off luxury 4×4 may be slightly thrown by how much stiffer the Macan feels when in its Sport setting. In fact, if you want an SUV for wafting about in, you may find a Range Rover Velar an altogether more comfortable option. But those who want a more exciting drive will find the Porsche’s body control and stability a cut above.

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Ultimately, though, the Macan feels like a balanced and well-executed performance SUV. Grip levels and outright pace are also very impressive, particularly in the Macan GTS and Turbo, which feel quick enough to easily stay with a properly sorted hot hatch.

The GTS is a particular highlight. It’s sharp – best driven in Sport+ virtually everywhere – and reactive, delivering decent feedback too through the weighty steering, and there’s a more interesting exhaust note with the occasional exhaust crackle. Given its weight, the clean steering response and impressive brake power and feel are particularly welcome. There’s even, if you’re brave and there’s plenty of space, the possibility for a little power oversteer.

There’s a sense that the car is ruthlessly bludgeoning the laws of physics into submission rather than deftly bending as a lighter car might, and we’d still opt for a lighter, lower car for genuine entertainment, but nonetheless it’s a deeply impressive display.

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