Porsche Macan: What it’s like to drive the brand’s first compact crossover

March 6, 2015, 7:20 PM UTC

So you’re a serious Porsche enthusiast? Then let’s play word association: Por-sche.

Those two punchy syllables (and please, don’t call yourself hardcore if you pronounce only one) can be evocative enough to elicit any number of associations. There’s quite a range: from James Dean’s sexy 550 Spyder and the Le Mans-winning 917s to the oily smell of Dad’s air-cooled ‘72 911.

But if you’re not a gearhead, Porsche may mean something entirely different to you, triggering stereotypes and images of cold, hard sheetmetal (and the drivers who flog them) or the company’s wildly successful large SUV, the Cayenne. Either way, chances are those emotions are strong enough to make other manufacturers envious, which begs the question: what to make of the Macan, Porsche’s first compact crossover in the brand’s 83-year history? Well, here’s where things get a bit complicated.

Auspicious Beginnings

Porsche purists were rattled when the Cayenne was introduced in 2003. The trepidation wasn’t entirely incomprehensible; after all, it was the first time Porsche strayed from their winning formula of crafting agile sports cars to compete against pricier exotics. Building the Cayenne was a bold choice, one that could have destroyed brand equity but ended up being delightfully disruptive.

As fortune would have it, the Cayenne went on to outsell the venerable 911—no small feat, considering the 911’s relentless cult following. In the intervening years, the sport utility genre has become a holy—if somewhat controversial grail—for high-end automakers, and they can thank Porsche’s trailblazing. Bentley, Maserati and Lamborghini are all toying with the idea of building an SUV, eliciting mixed reviews from their wildly sculpted concepts. Even Rolls-Royce has announced they’re joining the fray, while Aston Martin has unveiled a crossover-like concept of their own.

By the time the enthusiast fringe finally made peace with the idea that the relentlessly sporty folks at Porsche could build an off-road-capable sport ‘ute, Porsche doubled down by spinning off the smaller, even more accessible Macan.

Bold Claims

If Porsche’s marketing department is to be believed, the Macan and Macan Turbo have race-car DNA. As sexy as it may seem that this grocery-getter has strains of Le Mans-winning beasts coursing through its bloodlines, the story might wear thin if you’re hustling this diminutive SUV through canyon roads like you stole it. It’s not that it lacks face-flattening power or kidney-bruising grip—the spunky Macan Turbo can, in fact, whip the venerable 911 Carrera in a sprint to 60 mph, doing the deed in 4.4 seconds while the Carrera requires 4.6 clicks. It’s this five-seater’s smoothed-out sensory experience that draws a dividing line between conventional Porsche wisdom and the direction they’ve chosen with their SUVs.

Porsche Macan
Photograph by Basem Wasef

Allow me to explain.

That Thing

Porsche has an enviable reputation for building fierce little sports cars that feel just right. Their tiniest offerings, the Boxster and Cayman, are nimble mid-engine scalpels that cut through the air and seem to rotate through corners as though they’re turning on a spit. The 911, despite having an engine that hangs off the rear axle like a counterweight, still manages to achieve exceptional handling feel and responsiveness, especially in its über-tuned iterations. And then there’s the $845,000 918 Spyder, a bonkers bit of hypercar madness that defies its hybrid underpinnings to deliver surreally direct driving dynamics.

In fact, Porsche’s sports cars can be so mean, tossable, and raucous that they communicate to the driver exactly how the rubber is meeting the road. Lay off the throttle mid-corner in any Porsche sports car, and the chassis obeys with a polite tuck of the nose. Gas it, and weight transfers palpably to the tail as it kicks out. These are the hallmarks of meticulous chassis tuning and fanatical weight reduction, and in Porsche’s case, a big part of how motorsports history is leveraged into a company’s offerings.

Given that bar, is it any wonder our expectations for the Macan Turbo are high? Is it surprising that we want this 4,244-pound five-door to be as good as a lightweight sports car and fully capable as a people-mover?

The Feel

Inside the cabin there may be little separating the Macan Turbo from its upscale stablemates, the Cayenne and Panamera. There’s a familiarity to the dashboard profile and choice of materials, but a surprising silence upon hard acceleration. A glance at the speedo after burying the pedal reveals remarkable digits, especially given the lack of drama. Credit double-ply windows and generous insulation. Unlike cars that draw the driver into the act of driving, the Macan Turbo takes a step back, feeling more like a swift, silent isolation chamber on wheels rather than an involving sports car morphed into an SUV.

Throw it into corners, though, and the Macan obeys the steering wheel’s cranked position, almost in defiance of the laws of physics. Our spirited romp through California’s Angeles Crest Highway enabled some serious spanking at the expense of the brakes, which work in conjunction with the $1,490 Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus option to help keep the vehicle on the correct course. Our brakes may have smoked after a few vigorous stretches, but such is the price of effortlessly hustling more than two tons of mass.

Similarly effective is the $1,385 Air Suspension option, which includes Porsche Active Suspension Management and enables the Macan to glide over surface irregularities with composure. Spend enough time in its cabin, and you’ll feel spoiled by its soothing demeanor and discrete speed.

Net Sum

Is it okay that the Porsche Macan Turbo doesn’t growl like a muscle car, tuck into corners like a go-kart, or in any way remotely resemble a Cayman on stilts?

That depends on your perspective.

If you firmly believe Porsche’s sporting spirit should run undistilled through every corner of the brand’s lineup, you might find the schism between their sports cars and SUVs disconcertingly deep. But considering Porsche’s excursion into the SUV genre has been accompanied by a new hypercar flagship, re-entry into the top tier of endurance racing and more mouth-watering iterations of the 911 than you can shake a stick at, the brand’s newfound breadth suddenly doesn’t seem so heretical.

Despite its compact size, the Macan Turbo feels tight, sophisticated, and almost defiantly refined, especially in light of its raging siblings. Once your brain is recalibrated around the fact that a Porsche SUV doesn’t have to feel like a glorified sports car with extra cargo space, the Macan Turbo starts to make a whole lot more sense and actually becomes fun to toss around— all distinctions that keep it from getting lost in the crossover shuffle.

Porsche Macan
Photograph by Basem Wasef

Base Price: $73,295

Price as Tested: $93,290

Engine: Twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6

Horsepower: 400

Torque: 406 lb-ft

0 to 60: 4.4 seconds

Top Speed: 165 mph