Porsche's improved Macan S continues to set the ultimate benchmark for just how dynamic the handling of an SUV can be. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The Macan is the Peoples' Porsche. The model to convert the SUV cynics. And an SUV with the soul - and the engineering - or a sports car. You might expect it to be fast and family-friendly. More of a surprise is that it's rewarding and, with the right spec, very nearly race-ready in its responses. Yet it'll comfortably take you off road, deal with the school run and cruise down to Chamonix. And it's very special indeed in V6-engined Macan S guise.
Lots of unlikely models have been described as 'sports cars' over the years. It's always been hard though, to imagine an SUV in that way. Or at least it was until the launch of this model, the Porsche Macan, in 2014. This car re-defined the way an SUV could drive and four years into its production cycle, the Zuffenhausen maker substantially upgraded it to create the contender we're going to look at here.
A key change with this facelifted model has been the introduction of the 354hp 3.0 V6 petrol engine from the larger Cayenne, the unit installed in the Macan S variant we're going to look at here. Otherwise here, the updates are subtle - minor styling changes, upgraded cabin infotainment, a range of fresh options and a series of dynamic tweaks aimed at further underlining this contender's claim to be 'the sports car of the SUV segment'. Of all brands, Porsche should know just what a claim that is to make about a model that weighs nearly two tonnes, is over 1.6m in height and must be engineered to tackle the Rubicon Trail as well as the racetrack.
Much has changed with this revised Macan - handling tweaks, new engines, suspension changes - but much has also remained the same. It still redefines the SUV segment standard when it comes to the way a car of this kind can corner at speed. These days, the powerplants on offer are all petrol units and this 354hp Macan S, which gets a fresh 3.0-litre V6, makes 62mph from rest in just 5.3s en route to 157mph. On the move, the fizzing feedback you get through the 911-style steering wheel and the remarkable lack of lean through each bend together give you such confidence that you can attack each corner almost as hard as you want. Especially with the optional 'Porsche Torque Vectoring plus' system fitted, which keeps the car planted through the tightest turn, firing you on from bend to bend.
This is all further aided on this revised model by the adoption of lighter aluminium front suspension struts, revised anti-roll bar rates and the sharper-responding braking system. Most buyers upgrade to either PASM adaptive damping or full-air suspension, the latter set-up able to better facilitate the off road journeys that the majority of buyers will like the thought of but never take.
You'd really need to see old and new Macan models together to appreciate the changes made to this updated model, but actually there are plenty, perhaps the most significant one being the adoption of sleeker full-LED headlights which incorporate the four-LED 'ice cube'-style design motif that's characteristically Porsche.
The whole 'soul of a sports car' thing might be a difficult concept to swallow from the outside, but you feel it keenly at the wheel, thanks to the way the low-set seat and the high centre console create such a 'cockpit'-style feel. As before, it features peerless build quality and great ergonomics. Changes made to this revised model include the adoption of a much larger and more sophisticated 'Porsche Communications Management' centre-dash touchscreen, which includes online navigation, 4G LTE 'phone compatibility, 'Apple CarPlay' and a 10-speaker DAB audio system.
This monitor's bigger 10.9-inch size has required a re-design for the central vents, but its installation hasn't been accompanied by a change to an all-digital instrument cluster. So the Macan continues with a classic three instrument-tube binnacle layout, the right hand pod incorporating a screen that can bring navigation mapping more directly into your line of sight. Out back, there's a decent 500-litres of room in the boot which extends to 1,500-litres when the rear seats are folded.
The Macan S costs from around £49,000, which is only around £2,500 more than the base four cylinder 2.0-litre model. Prices for the all-petrol range open at just over £46,000, which gets you the entry-level 2.0-litre turbo 245hp model. As is usual in this segment, there's standard auto transmission, a 7-speed PDK set-up with steering wheel paddleshifters.
If you want a credible Macan S alternative, we'd point you towards three particular V6 rivals, all priced similarly and offering around 350hp. For the same money as the V6-engined version of this Porsche, there's the BMW X4 M40i. And for only around £3,000 more, you could have either a Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 or the 3.0-litre V6 petrol version of the Maserati Levante. But we think that all three of these cars would struggle to keep a well-driven Macan in sight at speed on a twisty road.
The range of standard features has been expanded to include LED main headlights and the new PCM infotainment system, with online navigation and Connect Plus. This revised Macan offers the choice of an expanded range of options, plus enhanced assist systems. The optional GT sports steering wheel echoes the style of the Porsche 911. A mode switch integrated into the steering wheel - including a sport response button - is part of the optional Sport Chrono Package.
Porsche is also keen to remind us that the 3.0-litre V6 engine of the Macan S is a much more efficient thing that the engine of that size that was fitted to the original version of this car. It gets two particulate filters, plus it's lighter and more efficient thanks to the location of the mono turbocharger in the engine's inner 'V'. As a result, the combined economy isn't hugely worse than that of the four cylinder variant - quoted at up to 25.7mpg. The CO2 return is reckoned to be 204g/km.
A major Macan buying incentive lies with this car's impressively high likely residual values. When this car was originally launched, buyers were running their cars for twelve months, then selling them on for pretty much what they'd paid for them. It's obviously not quite like that now, but this car still leads its competitors in this regard by a handsome margin. Over three years and 36,000 miles, expect a Macan to hold on to 10 percentage points more of its value than an equivalent Jaguar F-PACE for instance. Independent experts predict a residual value of 62.6% for this Porsche in this period, which is deeply impressive. On the downside, because of the high up-front price of this car, it'll face the higher road tax rate of £450 for the first five years of ownership after the initially CO2-weighted payment that's rolled into the on-the-road price.
This revised Macan S model isn't going to convert anyone who didn't already want a Macan. But for the many who'd like one very much indeed, the changes made here make this car even more desirable. Some rivals have more sophisticated infotainment and all of them include more camera-driven safety kit as standard. Plus we wish it wasn't so expensive - realistically, what you're going to be paying here is the kind of money you'd have to find for a luxury SUV from the next size up. Otherwise though, we like this Porsche very much indeed.
This is, in summary, the car all its rivals would like to be. The car most buyers in this segment would like to have. There are, it's true, more efficient or more spacious choices in this sector. Some premium mid-sized SUVs are better equipped or will take you further off road. And almost all will cost slightly less. For all that though, this is an addictive package, a segment-defining car and a very desirable thing indeed.
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