First drive: 2015 Porsche Macan at Jebel Jais UAE
Depending on your views, Porsche either keeps launching a lot of new models, or they rarely launch new models. That’s based on whether you think every single variant of the 911 debuting like clockwork every few months is a new model, or whether you consider an entirely new vehicle line to be a new model. We are in the latter camp, and we were interested to see what Porsche had cooked up for the compact crossover segment, with the all-new Macan.
In terms of looks, it’s hard to fault — it is what it is. The front-end looks like a more aggressive version of the Cayenne, while the rear is a laboured effort to a crossover a swoopy profile without compromising on practicality. If they’d just gone the boxy route like the Cayenne, there wouldn’t be much of a difference from the Audi Q5 with which the Macan shares one-third of its parts and platform, as regional Porsche boss Christer Ekberg pointed out at the presentation in the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah where we were put up. As such, it appears to be much smaller than the aforementioned Audi, let alone the Cayenne.
Cars made available to us included both the Macan S and the Macan Turbo, although don’t let the names fool you — both have turbocharged engines, the former with a 335 hp 3.0-litre V6 and the later with a 395 hp 3.6-litre V6. The Macan S can also be had with a turbbodiesel engine in some Middle East markets. All cars have all-wheel-drive and a 7-speed dual-clutch “PDK” automatic transmission.
Surprisingly, both versions are so similar that we could just write one review overall for the Macan. Outwardly, the only differences are the shapes of the front foglights and some lower trim as well as wheel designs. Inside, the 911-inspired cabin is heavily leather-lined, better than anything else in the segment, although few surfaces were actually padded. It’s spacious up front, with good overall headroom, but rear legroom is scarce. Boot space is decent, with good floor area, but don’t plan on carrying an upright fridge or something.
Both versions were well-specced, although settling for “just” 19-inch alloys instead of the prettier optional 21-inchers in anticipation of some mild offroading.
And by “offroad”, we mean a course set up on the beach, mostly as a demonstration of the adaptive traction control, the electronically-managed all-wheel-drive, the hill-hold/hill-descent feature, and the class-leading ground clearance made possible by the optional height-adjustable air suspension. With its wide meaty tyres, it did perfectly fine in these basic situations, and should handle minor dune-bashing just fine as long as you don’t get stuck, since there is no low-range gearing.
The next day, we went on an instructor-led drive up and down the new Jebel Jais mountain road in Ras Al Khaimah, a partially-finished twister with fresh tarmac and the occasional gravel strewn about, just to scare you a bit.
The air-suspended Macan rides fairly smooth, with some harshness only showing over speed bumps and potholes. It is also reasonably quiet in the cabin, with the exhaust only growling if you select one of the “sport” modes. And mind you, it is a wonderful growl, whichever of the turbo engines it is.
Porsche kept bragging that their Macan is the “sports car” of the compact crossover segment. As much as we’d like to call them out on that, they’re actually correct. We can’t think of any recent rival that handles and scoots as well as the Macan.
As we chased down the Panamera driven by a Porsche race-instructor at moderately-high speeds, we never really reached the limits of the neutral-handling Macan, hearing a bit of tyre squeal only once maybe. The car accelerates hard at any speed, the PDK shifts crisply whether in auto or manual mode, and the brakes are firm. The steering is direct enough, with nice weightage, although the feedback leaves something to be desired. And the driving position is a bit high off the ground, yet low within the cabin, so you’ll feel like you’re floating over the action in a bath-tub. Still, it is a crossover that’s playing sports car, so that’s justifiable.
The Macan is everything Porsche claims it to be. The only real issue we forsee is whether people will be willing to fork out near-Cayenne levels of money for a compact crossover, no matter how well it can chase sports cars. Around here, people want it to be obvious how much they’ve spent on a car, and the Macan looks like an Audi Q5 or BMW X3 rival, even though it actually plays at a higher level. No other competitor comes with more than 300 horses as standard, height-adjustable suspension and handling that good. We’ll go as far as calling it a 911 on stilts.
For detailed prices and specs, visit the Porsche buyer guide.