The idea of chasing a 991 Carrera 4S pace car around a racetrack in an SUV is pretty bizarre, but that is actually what we ended up doing last week on the small test track next to Porsche’s Leipzig factory.
With 340hp to play with, the 1,865kg Porsche Macan S is no slouch, but it was pretty obvious from the word go that the 400kg lighter and more slippery Carrera was simply going to drive off into the distance on power-to-weight ratio alone.
What was also obvious is that Porsche has consigned turbo lag to the history books with its new V6 bi-turbo motors. Blip the throttle at idle with the selector of the seven-speed double-clutch gearbox’s selector in P or N, and the revs rise and fall instantly just as you would expect if it were a well set-up, naturally aspirated motor.
This feeling of low internal engine inertia continues on the move with snappy throttle response and a willingness to play that is both enticing and rewarding to the enthusiast driver.
While the 2015 Porsche Macan S does not quite lay bare its soul or engage you in the way that a Carrera, Boxster or Cayman does, its broad spectrum of driver orientated attributes such as nicely judged electro-mechanical power steering, finely balanced handling, good ride and impressive grip conspire to produce a driving experience that is both well tempered and leagues ahead of any would-be rival.
So just who are the Porsche Macan’s potential rivals? Right now there are none that go directly head-to-head with Porsche’s compact SUV. On the other hand, what is abundantly clear is that any machine that has previously laid claim to being a Sports Utility Vehicle now has to contend with the shame of being exposed as a great pretender. As we quickly established on the day, the Macan alone owns the right to use the Sport word in this segment.
The Audi RS Q3 is in the category below, a fact made abundantly clear by the fact that the Q3 is the smaller brother of the Q5 that serves as the Macan’s jumping off point. The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is not a direct competitor either as it is a crossover rather than an SUV.
And what of Range Rover’s dashing Evoque? Only available with four-cylinder diesel power at the moment, this doyen of the fashionable set finds itself completely outclassed by the V6-powered 2015 Porsche Macan S Diesel in all dynamic respects.
However, on that score, until we drive the four-cylinder Porsche Macan versions that Porsche will launch into the Chinese market at the end of 2014, and then other countries if the demand is there, we are not exactly comparing apples with apples.
In engineering and styling terms, Porsche has sprinkled stardust on the Audi Q5, a good but unexceptional mid-range SUV that compares favourably with its good but unexceptional class rivals.
I asked the Porsche engineers just how much Q5 was actually left in the mix by the time they had the Macan just the way they wanted. The answer of “one third” came back lightening fast, which told me that this is no mere cosmetic makeover, but a complete re-engineering job at the breadth and depth that is so typically Porsche.
In aesthetic terms, the Macan is a handsome car, which I, and many others think is a tauter and better-looking design than the Cayenne. While it may not immediately appear as dashing as the Evoque, a design that you either love or hate, the Macan benefits from perfect proportions from all angles, and a more beefy, purposeful stance on the tarmac.
The clamshell bonnet helps to give the front end its clean and unbroken upper surface contours, allowing a unique look that so neatly incorporates the teardrop-shaped light units.
At the rear, the horizontal light units are crisper than the Cayenne’s too, and the shape of the inset centre not only gives prominence to the LED bars, but also helps to keep the lights cleaner in bad weather.
Take your place in the 2015 Porsche Macan’s beautifully crafted cabin and you see that the architecture takes its cues from other Porsche models, with the crisp, modern centre console taking centre stage. The paddle-shift enabled steering wheel is most un-SUV-like, its core coming straight from Porsche’s 918 Spyder hybrid supercar.
While the outer shell of the roof is 30mm lower than the Q5’s, you would not know it because Porsche reduced the rail height of the Cayenne derived front seats and the depth of the roof lining to compensate.
And because the rear seat does not require the sliding rail feature used on the Audi, the Macan’s rear seat is bolted to the floorpan. The resulting 50mm lower seating position drops the centre of gravity, making the car feel lower and more stable in fast cornering.
There are three possible suspension combinations. The base car has steel springs and conventional dampers to which you can add PASM. The third option of air suspension is a first for a compact SUV. As the Turbo already has the PASM option as standard, specifying air suspension is commensurately cheaper on the top model.
With self-levelling and ride height adjustment facilities, the air suspension option has a 15mm lower static ride height, can raise the car by 40mm for ground clearance off-road, and lower it a further 10mm for improved aerodynamics and stability at speed.
I asked the chassis engineers if the air suspension uses the clever twin chamber air spring design that gives the Panamera its brilliant combination of cosseting ride and supercar handling. The answer was that this more sophisticated (read costly) solution is unwarranted on a vehicle in the Macan’s class.
My Porsche Macan Turbo test car had air suspension, which gives its secondary ride in particular that final touch of sophistication in the way it reacts to bumps. It also has distinct advantages off-road, not least in terms of approach and departure angles, ground clearance and axle articulation.
“One of the main ingredients for good handling is a stiff bodyshell,” explained structural engineer, Hermann Sturm. “At 27,300 Nm/degree of twist, the Macan’s shell is stiffer than the Audi Q5 (26,600 Nm/degree) on which it is based. It also has a dynamic first order frequency of 44 Hz with a solid roof, and 42 Hz with the optional Panorama roof, which is better than its Cayenne big brother.”
On track, this stiff shell coupled to PASM and PTV (Porsche Torque Vectoring) help the compact but relatively heavy 1,880kg Macan defy the laws of physics quite convincingly. If you apply the correct race lines, keeping the car as straight as possible in the bends, the Turbo in particular is just ridiculously fast.
While the Macan S suffered from its weight and relative lack of power compared to the Carrera pace car, the latter was not able to convincingly drive away from the torque rich Turbo.
I know the Leipzig track very well, and on the long right hand sweeper leading to the very slow corner known as the Bus Stop, I always take a very late apex, which allows me to go flat out round the sweeper with minimum slip angle.
The power and torque of the 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo meant that the Carrera in front, who was taking the same line, simply could not open the gap, which stayed consistent all the way round, right into the braking threshold for the Bus Stop.
Once in this slow and technical right-left combo, thanks to the Macan’s quick transient response, sport biased 4WD system and superior torque, I could exit on full bore with the Carrera still unable to pull away until we were two thirds of the way down the main straight.
In fact, the only part of Leipzig’s neat but rather tight circuit where the lighter and more agile Carrera shows a distinct advantage, is in the very tight left-right sequence on the elevated section of the track that mimics the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.
In all cases, if you are on the correct race line, and trail brake to manage weight transfer correctly into a bend, the Macan simply goes where you point it, right to the limit of mechanical grip when the Torque Vectoring system engages to lend a helping hand. At the other end of the handling chain, the electro-mechanical power steering is spot on, with weight and response that feels instinctively right.
The instant-on throttle response of both S and Turbo is simply amazing. No turbo lag to speak of, just crisp and clean response to the throttle, even coming back into it after a big lift for hard braking towards a tight turn on track. Power delivery is also very linear with no perceptible extra rush of power at any particular engine speed.
The larger 360 x 36mm and 356 x 28mm vented disc brakes on the Turbo, denoted by their red coloured brake calipers, were also noticeably more effective than the 350 x 34mm and 330 x 22mm vented discs on the S. Both use six-pot front calipers, but the larger brakes had better sustained stopping power and durability. PCCB ceramics are an option.
While the 258hp 3.0 litre V6 turbo-diesel motor is essentially the Audi unit with software and some other small changes for the Macan, the 3.0 and 3.6 litre turbocharged petrol engines are Porsche’s own in-house developments.
In reality, since all their engines are turbocharged, the only way to meet required power and emissions these days, Porsche are caught between a rock and a hard place with their traditional nomenclature of S and Turbo models.
And there is no way they could call the entry-level V6 the Turbo with the more powerful one Turbo S, since they admitted that there is room for a Turbo S model as well as a GTS in the near future. The more technically and fiscally challenging Hybrid is another matter however, and the engineers were clear that this was less of a priority, and would also be a function of customer demand.
Known by the internal code M4630, the 3.0 litre V6 bi-turbo motor in the Macan S is a derivative of the M4660 motor first seen in the face-lifted Panamera last year, but with Macan-specific air-intake system and cylinder heads.
Its 2,997cc displacement comes from an over-square bore and stroke of 96.0 x 69.0mm, which gives the motor its smooth, free-revving character. While it has become fashionable to apply a longer stroke to modern engines for better torque characteristics, the resultant lower revving ability does not deliver the sporty character required of a Porsche motor.
In any case, whatever torque is lost by the mechanical advantage of a long stroke is easily made up for by the forced aspiration. With a 9.8:1 compression ratio, the 3.0 litre engine makes 340 hp between 5,500 and 6,500rpm, with 460 Nm of torque from 1,450 to 5,000rpm.
The specific output of 113.4 hp/litre is good, if a little modest for a high performance turbo motor, suggesting plenty of headroom for future upgrades, especially as this motor is significantly detuned from the Panamera S installation where it makes 420hp and 520Nm of torque.
Against the stopwatch, the Macan S reaches 100km/h in 5.4 sec, or 5.2 sec if you tick the box for the optional Sport Chrono Package with Launch Control. That 0.2 sec advantage is held all the way to the 160km/h mark, which the SCP version attains in 13.0 sec from rest. Top speed is 254 km/h (157.8mph).
That said, for long-term reliability as well as product differentiation, Porsche decided that the Turbo model should start life with a bigger engine. As 3.6 litres is a familiar displacement in the Porsche 911 flat-six engine family, it is no coincidence that the Macan V6 Turbo motor should also share these iconic numbers.
With its longer throw crank and connecting rods, the 3,604cc M4635 engine derivative has a bore and stroke of 96.0 x 83.0mm, and ends up with exactly 4.0 cc more than the iconic 3,600cc 911 flat-six.
Running a higher compression ratio of 10.5:1, the inherently more torque rich motor produces 400hp at 6,000rpm with 550 Nm of torque between 1,350 and 5,500rpm. Once again in a very mild state of tune, its specific output of 110.9 hp/litre is even lower than its smaller stable mate. This motor should be capable of an easy 500hp with 650Nm of torque, but that would no doubt send the marketing department into a tizzy.
Despite a slightly worse drag coefficient of 0.37 (0.36 Macan S on 18-inch wheels) thanks to its standard 19-inch wheels and larger air intakes, the Turbo is still significantly faster against all measures. In SCP form, it scorches to 100 km/h in just 4.6 sec, to 160 km/h in 10.9 sec, and on to a 266 km/h (165.3mph) Vmax.
It was not that long ago that a car was considered quick if it could reach 160km/h (100mph) in under 20 sec from rest, so the idea of an SUV taking just over half that time is mind-boggling. In fact, just to put things in perspective, the Macan Turbo almost exactly splits the 0-160km/h times of 7.8 sec and 13.6 sec recorded by the Porsche GT3 RS 4.0 and the Golf GTI Mk 7 respectively!
My Macan Diesel S test car had the PASM option, which delivered an impressively taut and well-damped ride even on the optional 20-inch wheels. Porsche rightly expect the Diesel S to make up a big chunk of its European sales, and anyone who buys this model will find it a rapid, relaxed and economical daily driver.
The latest generation Audi derived heavy oil burning V6 motor is quiet, smooth and powerful. In fact, I found it even more refined in the Macan than when I last drove it in the Audi A6, and this is a testament to the refining work that Porsche’s engineers have done on the Macan Diesel’s engine bay encapsulation. Another positive by product of this work is the Diesel’s Cd of 0.35, the best in the Macan range.
Driving a diesel sportingly requires a quite different mind-set since the motor does not rev as fast or as high as a petrol motor. The iron-block, alloy head 2,968cc V6 is under square, with an 83.0 x 91.4mm bore and stroke. The 258 hp is developed between 4,000 and 4,250rpm, and this torque rich motor has a peak twisting force of 580 Nm from 1,750 to 2,500rpm.
While the 0-100km/h time of 6.1 sec with the optional SCP is not going to set the world alight, it equals the 700kg lighter Carrera 3.0 of 1977, while its 16.5 sec 0-160km/h time is faster than all the early 1980s hot hatches. Top speed is 230 km/h (143mph).
For high mileage drivers the great combination of performance, refinement and great fuel economy will be the Porsche Macan S Diesel’s chief attraction. The 6.1 to 6.3 L/100km average, dependant on the wheel/tyre sizes chosen, is impressive for a car weighing 1,880kg (DIN).
For those who view SUVs as slow, lumbering vehicles, a test drive in a Porsche Macan will raise eyebrows and seal the deal on many a sale. For those who have waited a long time for a real Sports Utility Vehicle, their time has come.
No wonder then that Porsche expect up to 80 percent of their volume to be conquest sales from other brands, and are prepared for up to 20 percent cannibalisation from their own Cayenne. The 2015 Porsche Macan goes on sale in Europe in April, followed by the USA in June and China in July.