The name Porsche conjures images of fun time behind the wheel. For me, that means tooling around in a friend’s 1969 Porsche 912 on sunny Colorado afternoons with the top down. Of course, while many of us grow up dreaming about cruising winding roads in a roadster, reality ends up looking like squiring our kids and groceries around sprawling suburban streets in something with at least two rows of seats.
Like every other carmaker that wants to stay in business, Porsche has embraced the SUV. Indeed, the Macan was the Stuttgart-based OEM’s best-selling model worldwide, with nearly 100,000 shifted in 2019. (The Cayenne was second, with 92,055 sold—we truly live in an SUV-ified world).
Launched in 2014, the Macan is still in its first generation, albeit with a modest makeover in 2019, the visuals of which are seen mostly in the interior and in new front and rear fascia. From a performance standpoint, last year’s refresh made the front wheels a half-inch wider, added some new tires, and swapped out steel for aluminum in the forks that connect the front-axle carrier to the spring and damper. There is little change to the 2020 model.
If you want to get into a Macan on the cheap, the base configuration is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, which starts at $50,900. But those never show up in the press fleet. Our review model was the $59,400 Macan S—a 3.0L turbocharged V6 with 348hp (259kW) and 354lb-ft (480Nm) of torque. That powerplant will take you from zero to 60mph in 4.9 seconds with the Sport Chrono package, topping out at 157mph (253km/h). The engine is partnered with fully variable all-wheel drive and a seven-speed transmission. EPA says to expect 20mpg (11.76L/100km) overall—18mpg (13.06L/100km) in the city and 23mpg (10.23L/100km) on the highway. We got 18.7mpg (12.57L/100km) in a week of mixed, early-winter driving.
Based on my brief experience with the Cayenne E-Hybrid and the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid last summer, I was looking forward to a week with the Macan S, Porsche’s subcompact SUV. The Cayenne was all kinds of fun, and it felt like a well-thought-out and coherent design. The Macan S… not so much.
Needs more Porsche
That’s not to say that the Macan S isn’t a really good compact SUV. I’d rate the seats to be about the most comfortable I’ve ever settled into, and I have no complaints about the Macan’s speed or handling. Both were outstanding—the SUV is extremely responsive to the driver’s wishes, and while it rides a bit high and can feel slightly heavy in curves, it steers very nicely. So what’s the problem?
Let’s start with the interior, which is beset by some unfortunate design choices. First and foremost is the radio. There’s no way to change stations without interacting with the gorgeous 10.9-inch infotainment screen. There are no steering wheel controls (aside from volume) like you’d find on just about every other vehicle on the market, and no physical radio controls aside from a volume knob and tuning knob underneath the display on opposite sides. If you’re like my colleague Jonathan Gitlin, who hops in a car, tunes into channel 43 on SiriusXM and never changes the station, that’s no problem. But I’m always changing stations, if only because there might be a song on another station that I like more than the one I’m currently listening to. So that requires either touching the appropriate part of the display or essentially reaching over to the passenger’s side of the center console to change stations. Not only is that bad ergonomics, it increases the opportunities for distracted driving.
In contrast, the center console itself is full of buttons and switches. There are even six buttons for controlling which vents emit hot or cold air. It’s far more complicated than it needs to be, and the space could have been better used for other stuff—like maybe some physical radio controls.
Small potatoes? Maybe, but the experience of poking around the display and console looking for the right control really distracts from driving, which is a shame.
The other issue with the Macan S was more surprising. It doesn’t feel very Porsche-like. Yes, it’s fast. It handles nicely. And it definitely looks like a Porsche. But the cabin is really well insulated from outside noise, and that includes the engine. The result is a surprisingly quiet ride that really left me feeling disconnected from the road. Driving the Cayenne S Turbo is visceral, where you experience the glorious roar of the engine and connection to the pavement. I never felt that way from in the Macan S. I was instead left with a feeling of disconnection from both winding road and straightaway. Dare I say it felt a little too… Audi-like?
If you grew up with a poster of a Porsche 911 (or 356) in your bedroom and want your next SUV to have a Porsche badge on it, the Macan S is the obvious choice. If you’re simply Porsche-curious, that’s where things get complicated. It can be a fun drive—the throttle is responsive, it’s a truly comfortable ride, and it’s a sharp-looking SUV.
But Porsche could do better.
The biggest issue I had with the Macan is that I never fell for it in the way I did the Cayenne. Part of that is due to the baffling interior design choices I mentioned above. But really, the Macan S feels too much like an Audi trapped in a Porsche’s body. I never had that immediate and visceral feeling of joy behind the wheel of the Macan.
And the Macan is expensive.
The most obvious competition comes from the six-cylinder BMW X3 x40i and Audi SQ5, both of which start out a few grand less than the Macan S. And the options add up on the Macan. Our $74,840 review model would be about $4,000 more if we wanted things like the full suite of driver-assist technology and a panoramic sunroof. Adding any premium interior options jacks up the price more. You’re really paying a premium for the Porsche badge, and I can’t say it’s justified with the Macan S. If it drove—and sounded—like an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio at that price, it would be a different story.
Listing image by BradleyWarren Photography