Pint-sized Porsche Macan SUV proves agile, quick, and lustworthy

An SUV for driving connoisseurs, not bargain hunters

Last updated: August 19, 2014 09:00 AM

If the name Cayenne wasn’t already taken by Porsche’s midsized luxo-SUV, it would suit the Macan very well, because this new compact crossover may be the hottest, sportiest-driving SUV to date.

The peculiar Macan moniker supposedly comes from an Indonesian word for tiger. (Not to be confused with Volkswagen’s Tiguan, named for both a tiger and iguana. Don’t ask.) Natural competitors would include the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLK, but the Macan is an order of magnitude pricier.

We just bought a Macan in the lower of its two trim lines, S. With its typical array of options, our Macan set us back $63,290. For someone like me, who happens to have a 160-mile daily commute, the Macan is proving to be an exceptionally enjoyable and engaging way to munch those miles.

Driving impressions: The Macan delivers everything that Porsches are famed for—superior agility; quick but gracious acceleration; invigorating sound; a tasteful, restrained-luxury interior; and a somewhat eccentric control layout. But compared with, say, a 911, Boxster, or Cayman, it brings a whole lot more day-to-day practicality. Theoretically, it will seat five but the rear seat is cramped. Both Macan trim lines, the S and Turbo, have a twin-turbo V6. This potent powerplant is good for 340-hp in the S and 400-hp in the rarefied Turbo, which has a starting price of $73,000.

The sole transmission choice is a seven-speed automated manual that Porsche calls PDK. It delivers quick, decisive shifts on the gallop, but it somehow stifles an immediate throttle response when loafing around town. So far, the onboard computer reports that we’ve been averaging 19 mpg—not bad considering the 340 horses onboard and the temptation to flog them. Sport mode adds some welcome steering heft and quicker throttle response, and it cancels the sometimes irritating start/stop feature.

Behind the wheel you’ll find yourself ascending to high speeds quickly, smoothly and effortlessly, treated to a subdued baritone bark on start up and a muted backfire-like blurt on some of the upshifts.

Handling is agile in a way that is practically unheard of for an SUV. While it shares some platform components with the very nice Audi Q5, the Macan takes agility to another level. It is taut, yet feels lithe and nimble, willing to tackle any corner and bend with gusto. It answers the helm promptly and remains settled and even-keeled. The steering is well weighted and provides good feedback.

And yet, ride comfort is rather commendable. Yes, there is a distinct underlying firmness, most noticeable at low speeds, but the suspension absorbs bumps quite effectively, and once on the open road, it becomes steadier and makes an express dash a rock-solid sail. The cabin is tight as a drum, quiet and impressively well-isolated from the outside world.

Large, well-shaped and very supportive front seats make for fatigue-free long-distance running. The tight rear seats make this car better suited to a young couple shopping at Whole Foods than a family expedition to Costco. But the split 40/20/40 rear seat and decent cargo area revealed by the power rear gate give plenty of versatility in a small package.

The cabin is festooned with aromatic leather, brushed aluminum, and real wood, giving it an impeccable high-end ambience. Coupe-like styling compromises the view to the rear, but an oversized sunroof with a power shade brightens up the snug interior.

Viewed as a sporty, all-wheel-drive hatchback that also happens to be an exclusive luxury item, the Macan hits the mark dead on. It goes without saying that the same amount of money can buy a lot more utility, but that’s missing the point. With the draw of the brand and a price that’s approachable for at least some people, we won’t be surprised if the Macan becomes Porsche’s best-selling model.

Gabe Shenhar

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