Payne: Porsche Macan's sport(ier) utility
Fifty years after racing success made Shelby and Porsche household names, the performance icons still produce some of the world’s most recognizable sports coupes. This year the snake’s blue stripes tattoo the hood of the snarling Mustang GT350. Porsche’s crest punctuates the latest, road-carving 911.
But Porsche has extended its good name far beyond sports cars. Which is why, at the Shelby National Convention at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this June, I found myself chasing a parade of GT350s in a Porsche SUV.
With its introduction of sport utes (the Macan, Cayenne) and four-door coupes (the Panamera), Porsche is now richer than God. Analysts estimate the profit margins on Macans alone at a gazillion dollars (I’m rounding here). When Stuttgart introduced the Cayenne in 2002, purists denounced the move as heresy. My Porsche friends threw holy water on the demon beasts. Clothing was rent. Then they saw the bottom line.
Over a decade on, all is forgiven. The utes have tripled Porsche sales. They are cash registers on wheels. More important to the faithful, the profits are plowed back into Porsche’s racing program which continues to polish the famous crest. This year a Porsche (the 919 hybrid) crossed the line at the 24 Hours of LeMans for a record 18th time.
Why didn’t I think of that?!! cries every manufacturer. What if Ford had made a Shelby Mustang SUV? Or if GM had greenlighted a Corvette Crossover? Sounds weird? So did “Porsche SUV” not long ago. Now everyone’s doing it: Jaguar F-Pace, Lamborghini Urus, Maserati Levante. C’mon Ferrari, what are you waiting for?
At Mid-Ohio the steward signals the track is open for track touring. I slide into the Macan S and turn the key left of the steering wheel (just like the race cars!). VRRROOOM! growl the four pipes out back, each as big around as a drain pipe. The signature console sleeve of buttons offers multiple performance options. I tick each one off like a jet pilot before takeoff.
SPORT MODE. Check.
TRACTION CONTROL. Off
I floor the S’s 340-horse V-6, its turbo boost nailing me to the seat as I chase a Shelby out of the paddock. Up the front straight, into the famous, 180-degree Keyhole turn, and ... WHOAAA, BESSY!
The 4,112-pound boat wallows through the turn, my arms working the steering like a skipper in a tempest — it felt so sports-car firm just a moment ago! — to get over to the corner apex which seems to be floating ever further from my grasp. With throttle I eventually bring the stern around and get the vessel straightened out for the long, back straight where the pipes can sing again.
Alas, not even the engineering wizards at Porsche can transform the physics of the SUV.
Flog a 911, Cayman or Boxster and you know instantly it’s a Porsche. Razor-sharp handling. Stiff chassis. Flat-six exhaust note. Sure, my all-wheel-drive twin-turbo Macan might eat for lunch the classic 306-horsepower, solid-rear-axle ’65 GT350 in front of me over the course of a lap. But it wouldn’t be pretty.
Such is the nature of hatchbacks that are jacked a foot into the air. And no amount of tuned-shock, double-wishbone suspension German engineering can change it. Probably not even a 6-cylinder boxer engine would help — that’s the famous engine architecture that brought a low center of gravity to Porsche sports cars, yet is curiously missing in the Porsche SUVs most in need of it.
Why no boxer? Maybe because the SUV-four-door coupe customer ain’t a sports car customer. But SUVs are where the money is made.
At a Bloomfield parking lot outside Trader Joe’s, a fashionable couple emerges from their Panamera — a sort of stretch 911 limousine. I ask the driver if it has the V-6 or V-8 under the hood. “You know, I don’t know — and I don’t know what’s in my wife’s Panamera, either,” he says. Blasphemy! Any sports car owner would know what was under the hood, but the larger luxe demographic doesn’t care. Heck, they won’t bat an eye that Macan shares a platform with Audi’s Q5, either.
It’s good enough that the Macan is the best-handling SUV.
The Jag, Maserati and Lambo will have something to say about that, of course. Indeed, the double-wishbone F-Pace I recently rowed over the Rockies is one nice-handling stagecoach. We’ll await the full-spec track comparo from our pals at Car & Driver to know for sure, but the Macan’s smaller size and multitude of buttons likely make it King of the Hill. But in truth it’s still a handling-challenged SUV.
Which brings me back to the VW Golf GTI which, as you’ve heard me say a thousand times, is the best hatch on the planet.
Better yet, give me the GTI’s steroid-fed twin, the Golf R-AWD like the Macan. Similar cargo room. 292-horsepower pushing 800 fewer pounds. Zero-60 in 4.5 seconds vs. Macan S’s 5.2. More intuitive console controls. Cheaper by $30,000. And with a much lower center of gravity, it will run rings around the Macan S in the twisties.
But of course the badge matters. You want a Porsche in the garage next to your classic ’65 Shelby.
The Macan’s truer competitor is obviously the Q5. And here I have some quibbles. The next-gen Q5 (like the three-row Q7 I reviewed this April) will come equipped with the sensational Virtual Cockpit — the Nvidia-chip driven, sci-fi instrument display that is today’s gotta-have-it dash tech. Porsche’s three-ring instrument display and buttons may be iconic, but its slow, hopelessly complicated console pales next to the Audi. Vhat, Brother Porsche, you don’t have ze Nvidia chip? Ha! Oktoberfest around the VW family table must be chilly.
Macan makes up for its interior shortcoming with a well-apportioned exterior. Big Brother Cayenne has always looked awkward to me — a fat 911 on stilts. The smaller Macan makes more visual sense — especially in back where broad hips give it an aggressive stance. And since Cayenne doesn’t offer three rows (like Audi’s Q7), the Macan is a more sensible budget choice.
For $10,000 less, the Macan S offers two more seats than a convertible Boxster S sports car, a full-length moonroof to give it an open feel, and similar horsepower. Just don’t compare it to the Boxster through Mid-Ohio’s Keyhole. You’ll start to question this whole Porsche SUV thing.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV
Price: $48,550 base ($73,320 Macan S as tested)
Power plant: 2.0-liter turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder; 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 (Macan S and GTS); 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 (Macan Turbo)
Power: 252 horsepower, 273 pound-feet torque (4-cyl); 340-380 horsepower, 339-369 pound-feet torque (twin-turbo V6, Macan S and GTS); 400 horsepower, 408 pound-feet torque (twin-turbo V-6, Macan Turbo)
Transmission: Seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic PDK
Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.2 seconds (Macan S as tested, manufacturer); top speed: 156 mph
Weight: 4,112 pounds (Macan S as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 mpg combined (Macan S as tested)
Highs: Porsche style; smooth, dual-clutch tranny
Lows: Looks like a Porsche, handles like an SUV; boxer engine, please?
Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★