There are some pairings in life that you intuitively know are against the laws of nature. Foie gras and custard; blue cheese and tempoyak; Kim and Kanye…you get the picture. The purist in me looks at marketing-driven automotive abominations the way a six-year old looks at a syringe.
For the longest time, I have felt that a sports SUV was about as practical as an ingrown toe-nail and just as nice to look at. This proclivity for having clearly defined boundaries – sports car, truck, sedan – however, is also why I would not have made a very good automotive CEO.
To say that the last two decades have been a tad tumultuous for the automotive industry is akin to saying a gorilla is a “bit hairy”. Every proverbial rule has been rewritten and the old formulas are destined for the shelves of history. And this is what makes Porsche as we know it today, particularly interesting. When it comes to pedigree, the air does not get more rarefied than this. The Porsche brand is a veritable almanac of the 20th century’s iconic moments and people. Think James Dean, Hitler and California kitsch. Few names have captured our collective pop and cultural journeys like that of the good Herr Dr.[quote_box_center]To say that the last two decades have been a tad tumultuous for the automotive industry is akin to saying a gorilla is a “bit hairy”. Every proverbial rule has been rewritten and the old formulas are destined for the shelves of history.[/quote_box_center]
I don’t know what the equivalent of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is in German, but Porsche truly made it an art-form. The 911, fifty-some years on is like some mechanical Dorian Gray, seemingly unchanged but just as alluring. Which begs the question, why would a company with such a single-minded focus create the Cayenne (still considered the spawn of Satan by Porsche aficionados)? The simple answer is economics. The new segments are where the money is and any automotive company interested in still being in the game had to move with the times. Porsche has one of the highest profit margins in the industry and today more than half of their sales come from the Cayenne. So no prizes for guessing what would follow.
Cue the Macan. Obviously a name that will get a fair amount of bruising here in Malaysia but we’ll save the ethno-centric references for another day. It’s “Mack –ann”!
The first thing that strikes you about the Macan is how cleverly its creators have worked to mask its size. For a car that everybody thought was not going to be much more than a tricked out Q5, the Macan cuts a stylish if not athletic figure despite its relative bulk. While it shares some DNA with the Ingolstad native, the two are more kissing cousins than fraternal twins.
The styling is distinctively Porsche – read Cayenne – but on the Macan the dimensions seem to all come together. Taut lines that stretch across the flanks give it a sense of dynamism and motion, even standing still. Most importantly Porsche got it right this time with the bum. The sloping roofline actually gives it a hint of “coupe-ness”. No saggy bottoms and no droopy lights.
Stepping in to the Macan was an exercise in familiarity. The interior has the hallmarks of latter-day Porsche. High-quality switchgear, sophistication and an almost obsessive attention to detail really puts the Macan in the stratosphere of interiors. There is no doubting the sense of premium, panache and purpose. The upward sloping central panel with its smorgasbord of buttons is very airplane-like and for the wannabe pilot, a great way to remind yourself of what you’ll never do.
The front seats are comfortable and supple but rear seat legroom is going to be an issue if any of your passengers is tall enough to ride Space Mountain. But I digress, Porsche has made sure that the Macan has every imaginable modern convenience bar a Starbucks. And perhaps there will be some for whom these things are important, (yes, the cup holder mafia is not a myth).
And while I do concede that modern cars are as much about the plush as they are the push, buying a Porsche for its seven-inch colour touchscreen is sort of like wanting to spend the night with Beyonce so you can hear her sing.
And she sings too
And since we’re on the subject of pipes, boy can the Macan hum a sweet tune. At the top of the range is the Macan Turbo. This is a 3.6-litre V6 bi-turbo that will have you grinning so wide, you’ll swear it’s illegal. From a sonorous rumble to a banshee like scream, the Macan Turbo dishes up a veritable symphony of aural delight. With 400 ponies and 500Nm of torque, this engine redefines the concept of piston-envy. What initially impresses is the smoothness and consistency of delivery as the power is fed to the wheels without a hint of hesitation. If there was any turbo lag, I certainly didn’t feel it.
What remains of the experience is how the acceleration on the Macan Turbo is deceptively quick (4.6 seconds for a beast that tips the scales at over 1.9 tonnes) and yet alarmingly nonchalant. The Macan Turbo is so poised that you’ll be hitting naughty speeds before you can say PDRM, and may not even know it. Of course, as you move up the rev range you start to feel like there’s a hand pushing the small of your back and I am sure that if Dante were around, this would be deadly sin number eight because it feels extremely good.
The now familiar seven-speed double-clutch transmission or PDK is standard across the range and is more than adequate in ensuring quick shifts and is also quite clever in that it adjusts to your driving style. Other engines include the 3.0-litre S and Diesel S. While not quite as electrifying as the Turbo, both these engines do not shortchange the experience. The Diesel especially with its 580Nm of torque will leave quite a few red faces in city driving, I suspect.
Point me to the next corner
[quote_box_center]On the handling front, it is one of the most fluid and engaging SUVs I’ve driven. For a car its size, it’s hard to imagine this level of engagement and dynamic ability. Flicking into a series of switchbacks on B-roads, I began to forget the dimensions and for a fleeting minute, thought Cayman?[/quote_box_center]Of course, these are really hygiene factors because this is a Porsche after all and there can be only one reason to buy one. Have the marketing boys written a check that the engineers couldn’t keep? Fortunately for Porsche and for many lucky owners, the Macan walks the talk. On the handling front, it is one of the most fluid and engaging SUVs I’ve driven. For a car its size, it’s hard to imagine this level of engagement and dynamic ability. Flicking into a series of switchbacks on B-roads, I began to forget the dimensions and for a fleeting moment, thought Cayman?
If you brake too late in to a bend while turning, you’ll feel the back gently kick out, and the same happens if you floor the throttle out of a bend. The steering isn’t as heavy as you’ll find in a 911 but there’s almost as much feel. The icing on the cake is that while the Macan is fast and relatively firmly sprung compared to its rivals, it’s a great long distance cruiser and displays great refinement, even at high speeds.
The Macan does all this with the help of Porsche Traction Management (PTM) which one could easily mistake for some sort of hernia treatment. Essentially what PTM does is ensure that power is fed to the right wheels at the right time, based on a myriad of sensors and data.
“With the PTM, a flexible torque split is achieved via an additional flange-mounted transmission (“hang-on” all-wheel drive system). By monitoring the vehicle status on an ongoing basis, the system is able to respond to various driving situations. Sensors continuously monitor the speed of all four wheels, the vehicle’s longitudinal and lateral acceleration and the steering angle, among other elements.” That’s Porsche-speak for “we’ve figured out a way to make the biggest idiot look like Schumacher”.
So how does the one sum up the Porsche Macan?
Well for starters, it is much easier on the eye than any of the other new-fangled designs to come out of Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. The Macan achieves a certain harmony and balance in its design. It’s immutably Porsche but it doesn’t try too hard. Inside, you’ll be hard put to find as premium a layout although if space is what you were looking for, buy a van.
While I’m still not thoroughly convinced about the tempoyak and blue cheese, the Porsche Macan has re-written the rules somewhat on the order of things. Maybe an SUV can be a sports car after all. This could herald a whole new age for the automotive industry as concepts keep getting pushed. Did I hear someone say Sports Bus?
Porsche Macan Turbo
Price RM 785,000 (w/o insurance)
Engine 3.6-litre, V6, turbocharged
Output 400bhp, 550Nm
Transmission 7-sp dual-clutch PDK
Performance 0-100km/h in 4.8sec, top speed 266km/h
Wheels/tyres 19in alloys, 235/55 R19 (front), 255/50 R18 (rear)
(This review first appeared in The Peak in August 2014 and has been reproduced with their permission)