A headline in a sister publication to this magazine recently posed the question, “Who’s on the SUV Bandwagon?” More pertinently, perhaps, it should have asked who isn’t, for there’s hardly a car manufacturer in the world these days that’s not churning out Chelsea tractors as fast as it can build them (and of the few that still aren’t, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce are all gearing up to do so very soon).
Unlike the handful of remaining holdouts, Porsche took the 4x4 plunge long ago, launching the Cayenne sports crossover way back in 2002. At the time the quintessential luxury-sports-car company incurred the ire of purists who regarded such vehicles as a form of automotive solecism, but with the Cayenne today firmly established as the undisputed driver’s choice among SUVs, all that has presumably been forgotten – and possibly even forgiven. Indeed, in retrospect the move seems remarkably prescient, for not only is that car now well into its second generation (with a replacement scheduled for as early next year), but it’s also become the company’s biggest-selling model by far, its annual production of around 80,000 examples contributing handsomely to Porsche’s overflowing coffers.
It’s a wonder, then, that Porsche took so long to replicate that success further down the range, for it wasn’t until 2014 that it introduced a downsized SUV, the Macan. Sharing the same platform as Audi’s Q5 but with bespoken bodywork, powertrains, suspension and cabin, this newer “baby” – I use the word loosely, as the Macan weighs a couple of tonnes and measures almost 4.7 metres long – is positioned as a more compact and sporting alternative to the Cayenne. And the GTS variant, which arrived in Asia just a few months ago, promises even more athleticism and driver engagement.
Although bearing a close family resemblance to its more corpulent sibling, the Macan (apparently the name means “tiger” in Bahasa Indonesia, though Wiki also reveals an intriguing echo in Serbo-Croat: “tomcat”) is the better proportioned of the two designs. It combines the persona of a hatchback mildly built up by steroids with such distinctively Porsche styling cues as faired-in headlights à la Boxter and Cayman, a quartet of gaping intakes at the nose, pronounced rear haunches and big, big wheels – and with the possible exception of Jaguar’s new F-Pace, no SUV looks better. The GTS is meaner still, thanks to the lowered suspension (15cm with regular springs and 10cm with the optional air), the 20-inch alloys, the matt-black highlights around the lower bodywork, the four exhaust pipes poking out at the rear and, if you option it, the signature Carmine Red body colour of my test car. Slotted into the model hierarchy beneath the range-topping Turbo, the GTS comes with a 3-litre, twin-turbo V6 that gets a modest, 20bhp power boost over the regular unit in the Macan S, with maximum output of 355bhp and 500Nm of torque, all of the latter being available at a fraction above idling speeds. A revised exhaust system adds the dual benefits of improved aspiration and, in sports mode (my preferred setting) and above, a more assertive soundtrack that announces one’s presence with a rowdy fanfare. The engine proves wonderfully flexible and pulls strongly throughout the rev range, with little evidence of the low-end lag that’s so typical of forced-induction units.
Power is directed to all four corners of the car via the peerless, seven-speed PDK gearbox – it offers warp-speed changes in sport-plus mode when the Sport Chrono package is optioned – and an active all-wheel-drive system that vectors torque between the front and rear axles as well as all four wheels, with the bias palpably towards the stern. Further massaging the additional urge is Porsche’s Active Suspension Management system, which cleverly and continually adjusts the damping in response to driving style and conditions, while the fiercely effective brakes come from the Turbo.
While not exactly incendiary, the GTS is however more than merely rapid. Against the stopwatch, 100km/h is reached from a standstill in a creditable 5.2 seconds (it’s a couple of tenths quicker with Chrono), though the 256km/h maximum does seem nigh on blistering for an SUV. Fortunately, this is a car in which you’d feel totally confident doing it, for notwithstanding the exhilarating crackles and barks from the exhaust system the chassis is the genuine star here – and the key to the Macan’s astounding dynamic abilities. The GTS’s lowered stance imparts a reassuring proximity with the road and in sports mode, with its tauter damping and quicker though nonetheless meaty steering, it feels massively sure-footed, enjoyably pointy and utterly immersive.
Throwing the Macan into corners engenders virtually zero in the way of body roll and the Porsche Traction Management ensures such an abundance of grip that it’s easy to forget you’re in control of a machine of such considerable height, girth and weight. Perhaps the only downside here is the occasional intrusion of tyre nose, and thumps from the low-profile rubber over rough concrete surfaces and expansion joints. You won’t be performing such antics on the school run, of course. Indeed, by selecting driving normal mode you discover the GTS’s sporting mien is an obstacle neither to comfort nor practicality, with supple ride quality and comportment that’s never less than civilised. Further enhancing that air of relaxation and refinement is a cabin that verges on the impeccable – or at least if you’re occupying the front row.
Divided by a high, broad and handsome console packed with buttons – the effect is more jetliner than motorcar – the special GTS seats are superbly positioned and supportive, from which the stubby gear selector falls perfectly to hand. Granted it isn’t quite so accommodating in the rear, where grown-up passengers are likely to find space and headroom limited, but the excellent fit and finish, the contrasting stitching and use of Alcantara on steering wheel and doors, the businesslike design and the Chrono timer placed at top centre of the dash all combine to create an ambience that’s really
rather special. The latest Porsche Communications Management and touchscreen deserves a word, too, as this latest iteration of the device is more user-friendly than ever and can offer Apple CarPlay and even Google Street view compatibility.
The clincher for me, though, is that the Macan GTS feels so much more like a Porsche and less like a 4x4 that it’s difficult to think of it as an SUV at all. With the fetching proportions of a car rather than a main battle tank, it looks way better than it has any right to. It’s practical and relatively roomy, as well as polished and comfortable, yet its speed, sharpness and verve are of an altogether different order.
So forget about comparing it with Chelsea, Toorak or any other variety of posh suburban tractors. Quite simply, the Porsche Macan GTS is the un-SUV.