"It's the sports car in its segment." That's the phrase used to describe the 2015 Porsche Macan by Porsche management. But what, exactly, does that mean? And is this the sportiest crossover you can get?
(Full Disclosure: Porsche brought me all the way to Germany to try out their latest non-911. Our hotel, like all hotels in Europe, had no iron in the room. What's the deal Europe? Why can't I press my shirts?)
The Macan is a big deal for Porsche. A really big deal. They invested about $500 million into their Leipzig plant to accommodate the new car. They hired 1,500 more workers. They worked like mad to differentiate the Macan from its Audi Q5 stablemate.
And differentiate it they did. Two thirds of the Macan is changed from the Q5 platform (VW's MLB architecture) that it's based on. If a Q5 were your daughter and she went to the surgeon to look more like a Macan, it would be akin to a sex change. The quattro all-wheel drive system is gone, replaced by an electrical Haldex system exactly like the one you get in a 911 Carrera 4S. The eight-speed automatic is gone, replaced by Porsche's stellar seven-speed PDK. Engines are all new. No body panels are shared at all. Nothing was good enough for Porsche.
If you didn't know this was a Q5 based car, just looking at it wouldn't tip you off at all. The Macan is a rather attractive crossover, borrowing a number of elements from the amazing Sport Turismo Concept that appeared at the Paris Motor Show two years ago. Details like the shape of the tail lights and the LEDs in the intakes come straight from that glorious wagon. I also quite like the side blade, but opinions were divided on that one.
Combine that with the broad shoulders and steep rake of the rear glass, and you have something the resembles more tall hatch than crossover. Think Mercedes GLA45 AMG.
If you've ever been in a Porsche, you'll be immediately familiar with the Macan, because it's exactly the same as every other. There are fantastic seats, a center console covered in buttons, and a great new steering wheel derived from the one in the 918 Supercar. I'd look for this to become the standard across Porsche's lineup since it's just leaps and bounds better than the other wheels that they offer, even in the 911. Other elements, like a cover for the CD player, feel cheaper than anything in the Audi.
So outside it looks leaps and bounds better than any other crossover in this class, and the interior is right on par. But you don't care about that. What you want to know is how it drives. And if it really is the sportiest car in its class.
I say it definitely is. The minutia of what that means though, that's the important part of the Macan.
Porsche had us drive the Macan on their race track at Leipzig. A crossover on a race track. That's like Caterham having people drive four kids to a soccer game in a new Seven. It's a foreign language.
And the Macan acquits itself very well. Steering is communicative and actually has some feel, unlike the Audi SQ5 which feels like the steering wheel is connected to absolutely nothing. It also has a hunkered down suspension to reduce body roll and the option of carbon brakes keeps it in line when you need to stop. Trail braking gets the rear end to step out a bit, but it's composed. When it starts to understeer, torque vectoring kicks in to rotate the tail around. We were lapping the track behind a lead 911 C4S, and could tell that no matter how much we hustled the Macan, the 911 was barely even working. Not that you'd expect the Macan to outperform a 911 in any way at all ever.
The engine in the Turbo, with 400 horsepower and 406 pound feet of torque, is an absolute Leviathan. Power is immediate with basically no turbo lag. Combine that with Porsche's PDK, which is still the best gearbox out there, and you have a combination that is at home on track and in Sport Plus is brutal. The Macan S and its 340 horsepower is definitely slower than the Turbo, but it's still a strong combo. A strong, heavy combo that cooks its brakes after just a few hard laps on track. And even though it's not made to do this, it's a ton of fun.
But there's something about being in a crossover on a race track that feels wrong, akin to dreaming about a step cousin.
The Macan can also go off-road, which Porsche let us try on a short course behind the track. It can climb an 80 percent grade, conquer mud, it has hill descent for going down a steep hill, and can hold its own with any other light duty off-roader.
And just like the race track, this is not a place where anyone will ever drive a Macan. Porsche has to demonstrate that it can go off-road, because SUV's by definition can go off-road. Porsche has to demonstrate that it can go on a race track, because a Porsche by definition needs to be track capable. In the real world, all but a statistically insignificant amount of these will only be found on the highway or toodling around town.
On the Autobahn, ride quality in a car with an air suspension is sublimely smooth while the standard suspension is a bit choppier but well controlled. On German B-roads, it feels like any other car, not special or incredibly fast or sporty. Steering is still better than anything in class, the gearbox still rocks, the engine is still a monster, but no buyer will ever really approach the handling limits of it on the road. In the truest of Porsche axioms, the Macan is way over-engineered. On the road, the excitement and fun factor don't come close to when you flog it on a race track. It's a new, more aggressive type of crossover, the hot rod wagon of the segment. It needs to be pushed to be fun, and people on the road will never do that.
Starting with VW's MLB platform cost Porsche a lot of money, because they didn't want to use modular architecture. I heard that it actually cost more to develop the Macan off already existing architecture than it did developing the Panamera from scratch. But Porsche accomplished what they intended: The Macan feels nothing like any other car on the MLB architecture.
I truly like the Macan. If I were looking for a car in this class, the Macan would be my first choice. Compared to cars like the GLK, Evoque, and Q5, it's the "sportiest" offering in the segment. I wouldn't call it a sports car, though. Driving it is not an event or something you'll look forward to. It'll be great at taking kids to school or getting to the mall, but it'll be bought by people who don't know or care that it can go on track or off road. When's the last time you've seen a Cayenne going fast on the road? It'll be the same with the Macan.
The buyer of the Macan will also need to be wealthy. A base Macan S is $49,900 and the Macan Turbo is $72,300, which is far more than anything else in class. With options, a Macan Turbo will be touching $95,000 and a Macan S will be around $65,000 once it has all the performance options attached.
But like other Porsches, that doesn't matter. People buying the Macan won't care that you can get a larger Range Rover Sport for less money. They'll buy a Porsche because they want a Porsche. Porsche knows this and will sell every single Macan they can build, which could be more than 50,000 each year.
Too bad none of them will ever be really tested.