Road Tests

First Drive: Porsche Macan Turbo, before it goes electric

Macan, that’s Porsche’s most popular model, isn’t it?

You’re correct, but that little prize for first place is only true outside South Africa. Locally the Cayenne continues to outsell the Macan but that’s not to undermine the Macan’s importance in flowering Porsche’s profits. Most customers will gladly save R500k, buy the 3.0-litre 6-cylinder Macan S with a healthy output 260kW,480Nm and leave the Macan Turbo version to those real Porsche anoraks who refuse to see this as anything other than a Porsche 911 Carrera for the family.

Sounds juicy

Don’t get too excited, this is a segment densely populated by powerful 6-cylinder engines, and the occasional 8 cylinder. Power outputs of 324kW and 550Nm are eclipsed by the X4 M, GLC 63 AMG and the Velar SVAD. The 0-100kph time of 4.3 seconds and a top speed of 270kph is only a fraction quicker than the outgoing Performance Pack model but still down on the GLC 63 AMG, BMW X4 M and Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV.

Frightening how blase we’ve become about these sportscar-esque numbers. The engine itself has conceded to downsizing, reduced from 3.6-litre to 2.9-litres although Porsche is quick to point out that power is up by 29kW. Torque remains identical at 550Nm. Fuel consumption is down from 12.2l/100km to 9.8l/100km.

Macan Turbo Africa

To ensure there’s enough clear air between Macan S and Macan Turbo, the latter’s engine is fitted with a second turbo which besides calling for a total repackage of pipes and heat exchangers, reprofiles the throttle response at all speeds. The result is ears pinned back, needle racing up to the 6,500rpm limiter and before you can blink there’s another crack at the tacho’s red numbers with a satisfying leap up the road, seven times over. It’s my type of engine this, vibrant and bright with lots of flavour at the top. You can be going along quickly at 7thns throttle and then lashing on big chunks of speed with that final flex of the big toe.

But the new engine’s tone is conspicuously subdued – even with the exhaust flaps supposedly at their throatiest – and downsizing isn’t entirely at fault for this. When I drove the Audi RS4 with the same engine I remember the fizz and pops, which have now been engineered out of the Macan. With the expectation that new Macan will be fully electric, perhaps this is Porsche’s way of easing us down gently.

Have they given it that visual muscle?

Depends on the colour. In mainstream silver I think the new Cayenne Turbo is the better looking SUV from Porsche, but you can quickly change this status quo by ordering a Macan in Miami Blue or Mamba Green. German numberplates would have added to the drama.  But these are colours available on Macans, irrespective of engine, so the difference with the Macan Turbo is really down to the fixed roof spoiler and 20-inch wheels, beefier performance brakes, four pipes in silver and discreet badging. By contrast, BMW and Mercedes loosen the reigns on their flagship models a lot more.

Macan Turbo 2020

You drove it in the Cape on twisty roads

International press units spilled out on South African shores with the steering wheel on the left. During uncertain moments like these you rely on naturally good proportions and accurate steering because even familiar corners now feel alien. You sit deeper than I would have wanted so I lost sight of the front arches – such a critical marker on a Porsche – but the communication streams in so even as the road narrows to 1.5 lanes of mountain pass, the Macan still opens with precision before delivering substantial force.

For the new Macan Turbo the engine mounts supress roll movements under load – not that we remember the old one being wobbly. Noticeable are the brakes with which attribute the immediacy to a shortened control arm acting on the master cylinder. Nerds will be happy that Porsche has skimmed 300g from the brake pedal’s design. The damper system features lighter aluminium forks to improve rigidity and reduce unsprung masses by 1.5kg.  

Macan remains a professional piece of kit. The words taut and direct downplay the technical genius behind them, while being able to trim the apex mid-corner with lock and throttle are joys usually reserved for sportscars None of the jittery behaviour of the BMW X3 M when you’re cruising at speed and better wheel control than a Range Rover Velar.

Suppose it’s like a Cayenne inside?

Macan deviates from the modern Porsche architecture of Cayenne, Panamera and now 911. Is that a bad thing? If you like sturdy rows of buttons either side of the gearshift, the Macan Turbo is perfect for the on-the-move functionality. Prefer buttons smothered in glossy surfaces that by contrast slip under your finger? Then the Macan Turbo is not the coolest SUV out there. Both designs have their strengths; sometimes I look at the Macan’s interior and wonder if a separate button for air fragrance was necessary. Other times the straightforwardness is a technological release. Driving modes via the rotary dial on the steering wheel make other systems look clumsy.

Macan Turbo 2020 South Africa photo

In the past we’ve been standing in a choir that sings about screen size – not pausing to question that bigger is usually better – and sure the Macan’s 10.9 does a reasonable job of squeezing in there without expensively rearranging the Macan’s interior design – but surely a configurable display ahead of the driver is just as, if not, more important?  On that thought, the Macan’s lack of head-up display and basic dials overshadow the Turbo’s standard equipment upgrades to include Bose audio, wireless charging and Wi-Fi hotspot.

Thought there would be more

It’s common knowledge that the new Macan will have a similar platform as the Taycan – in other words it will be electric. This has put a freeze on all development into the Macan’s existing platform and architecture but assuming that you haven’t been driving the rivals, I doubt you’ll be all that concerned by Porsche’s beleaguered evolution of Macan. This is a fast competent SUV with all of Porsche’s genes to savour from a familiar cockpit. Luxury or tech are not the headlines; fast practicality is. In which case, why not buy an Audi RS4? I would. Andrew Leopold

Porsche Macan Turbo specs

  • R1,600 000
  • 2.9 V6
  • 324kW
  • 550Nm
  • 4.3 secs
  • 9.8l/100km
  • 224 g/km
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