The numbers don’t lie. From Shanghai to San Francisco, today’s car buyers -- including a majority of enthusiasts -- prefer four (or more) seats to two. Throw in all-wheel drive, and you’ve got a hot commodity.
Porsche put two and two (usable seats) together in its Cayenne SUV, followed by the Panamera sedan. Now, with the smaller Macan SUV, a company once known exclusively for sports cars may see four- or five-seaters account for a boggling 75 percent of its soaring international sales. Buoyed by a projected yearly run of 50,000 Macans, Porsche expects to set a global sales record of more than 200,000 units in 2015, up from just 162,000 last year.
Porsche’s triumph of comfort and capitalism traces to a former communist stronghold in eastern Germany, where a € 500 million expansion (about $687 million) of the Leipzig facility plunks the Macan on the same flexible assembly line as the Cayenne and Panamera.
Parading undressed prior to assembly, the Macan reveals aluminum underwear from the Audi Q5, right down to Audi rings stamped on some components. But Porsche emphasizes that two-thirds of the Macan’s parts are entirely new, including all the biggies: body panels, engines, suspension, interior, and all-wheel-drive system.
The Macan feels hyper-engineered to improve on both the Q5 and the Cayenne, largely as you’d expect. Lower, 6.5 inches shorter, and up to 500 pounds lighter than a Cayenne GTS, the Macan feels quicker and more agile, less like a bull run amok. Yet it’s fancier and more forcefully dynamic than even the 354-horsepower Audi SQ5.
Inevitably, the Macan is more expensive than any Q5, especially the Turbo model, whose 400-hp, 3.6-liter biturbo blast requires a $73,295 ante. You may be looking at the world’s sharpest-handling SUV, but you’re also looking at the world’s only compact crossover that will top $90,000 with a schmear of options.
The Turbo rocks like a young Dio, only with more induction whoosh and less pure wail. Sport Chrono-equipped versions (which add automated launch control) rip from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, just two-tenths off the moonshot pace of the 550-hp Cayenne Turbo S. Top speed is a trooper-baiting 164 mph.
Yet more buyers will see the $50,990 wisdom of the Macan S, whose name obscures its own twin-turbo claim of 340 horses from a 3.0-liter V-6.
Both models partner with the velvety seven-speed dual-clutch PDK automatic transmission with integrated stop/start function and robust metal shift paddles. A diesel version reaches the States next year, with a plug-in gas hybrid to follow.
To spotlight all this Porsche-ness while shadowing the Audi connection, design chief Michael Mauer and engineers went to work. A tumbling roofline and sharply canted rear glass amplify the Porsche’s saucy stance and tidy proportions. So-called “sideblades” stroke below front and rear doors, either painted or in optional carbon fiber. Slim 3D-effect taillamps mimic those on the 918 Spyder. Seeing the Audi’s clamshell tailgate as the Q5’s design signature, Mauer switched directions: The Macan’s clamshell hood is a complex aluminum exoskeleton draped atop front fenders and Cheshire-grin air intakes. With the hood raised, taller owners can amuse themselves by sticking their heads through cutouts for speed-sensitive adaptive headlamps.
The Macan adopts a version of the 918’s striking multifunction steering wheel in a cabin that amplifies Porsche’s surprising new command of interior design and intuitive interfaces. As in every new Porsche, the familiar sloping center console is replete with analog switches, but they’re more manageable than most screen-based menus. The “flying” roofline still leaves adequate headroom in the rear seats (split 40/20/40), although lanky passengers do find themselves staring at the headliner. One price of style is the stingiest cargo hatch in the class: at a maximum 52.9 cubic feet, it is roughly eight percent smaller than the Audi’s hold.
But here’s what you can’t have on the Audi: a choice of two biturbo dry-sump lubricated engines; Porsche Active Suspension Management (standard on the Turbo) and an optional, height-adjustable air suspension; a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that can quickly divert up to 100 percent of torque to either axle via a multiplate electronic clutch; and available ceramic composite brakes and Porsche Torque Vectoring, the latter distributing rear twist from side to side. In tandem with an electronic rear differential lock, PTV quells the Audi’s omnipresent understeer to plot a neutral, compass-precise path around apexes. Wheels with mixed tires -- meaning wider at the rear -- range from 19 to 21 inches, the latter styled after vintage Fuchs forged alloys. Air-suspended models ride 0.6 inch lower, and the extra cush also allows firmer springs to boost body control with no sacrifice in ride quality. At Porsche’s FIA-certified test track in Leipzig, which pays homage to famed track corners around the world, the Macan largely lived up to Porsche’s billing as “the sports car of the compact SUV segment.” A 14.3:1 steering ratio compares to 15.9:1 for the Q5. And even accounting for the Macan’s extra-burly power, its precisely tuned, finely weighted electromechanical steering and body control seemed its biggest physical edge over its Audi cousin.
Even the base Macan is sprightly, with a 5.2-second scoot to 60 mph (5.0 with Sport Chrono) and a 156-mph peak velocity. Yet on some sections, including a snaking downhill that mimics the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, the Macan betrayed the dynamic flaws of every two-ton-plus high-topper in the business: The fun mostly ends where tire and brake limits begin. The Macan S’s standard brakes waved the surrender flag after half a dozen laps.
Like any hotted-up SUV, the Porsche proves more impressive on an open road than on a track. With 406 lb-ft of torque, the Turbo flies into the stratosphere, its body screwed down like a pickle jar. Attacking autobahn and country lanes alike, the Turbo seems bored by any curve not taken flat-out.
We should mention our side trip to Porsche’s off-roading course at this former East German tank training facility. There, the Macan’s hill descent control and 9.5 inches of air-lifted maximum ground clearance let it traipse over hills, obstacles, and 40-degree pitches with ease.
Those runs may be the first and last time anyone will use this precious Porsche like a traditional SUV. And that begs a question for not just the Macan but for the exploding class of downsized crossovers: Are these SUVs at all, or are they just glorified hot hatchbacks with AWD?
Matthias Müller, Porsche AG’s silver-haired chief executive, acknowledged that the boundaries have blurred. The Macan, he said, is more “the big brother to the 911 than the little brother to the Cayenne.”
But with the majority of Porsche’s business and models now focused on family buyers -- and pulling ever more seats to its luxurious table -- Müller put a damper on speculation that a three-row SUV was a natural step.
“It wouldn’t make sense to make the Porsche Escalade,” he said.
Of course not. Unless buyers start clamoring for an eight-seater that drives like a Porsche.
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