Even before the Macan compact SUV arrived five years ago, Porsche -- still reckoned by many to be a sports car manufacturer first and foremost -- was selling more five-door cars than coupes and roadsters. But not by much.
Its entry-level family vehicle was such a runaway success, however, that three-quarters of its annual sales are now accounted for not by the 911, Boxster or Cayman sports car lines, but by SUVs and executive cars. Even at the tail end of 2018, when Porsche was preparing to unveil this lightly facelifted Macan, the original version was still flying out of showrooms. The resulting car, which we are testing here, could therefore be the most unnecessary midlife makeover in the history of the motor vehicle.
That isn’t to say the Macan hasn’t been improved. There’s been a minor rethinking of the way the car looks, although the revised front end will appear unchanged to anybody other than the handful of people who redesigned it. The rear is more clearly distinguished with a full-width light bar that gives the Macan some family resemblance with the Cayenne full-size SUV and the Panamera. It’s a similar story inside. The widescreen infotainment system is a useful improvement over the old one and it gives the dashboard a slicker and more upmarket appearance, but otherwise the cabin looks much as it did before.
There is more substance to this facelift beneath the skin. Porsche has tweaked the Macan’s suspension settings with a view to improving both handling response and comfort, while this mid-range S model now has a new engine (the 3.0-litre V6 petrol unit mounts its turbocharger in the valley formed by the two banks of cylinders, which improves throttle response). Its 349bhp is deployed by a rear-biased four-wheel drive system via a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. The Macan S is the second slowest model in the line-up, but it’ll still register 62mph in 5.3 seconds and run on to 157mph.
PORSCHE MACAN INTERIOR AND HANDLING
The Macan has always had an excellent cabin and in that respect nothing has changed. The build quality is good and the leather and soft-touch plastics all feel suitably high-end, although there isn’t quite the same sense of integrity about the cockpit that you immediately get in the Cayenne and Panamera. As you should expect, perhaps. The new 10.9-inch touchscreen infotainment system is among the best of its type with crisp graphics and an intuitive menu system, while the rear half of the cabin is just about spacious enough for taller adults. Boot space totals 500 litres, which is 50 litres shy of that offered by rivals from Audi and BMW.
Although the Macan doesn’t stand out in the segment when it comes to luggage capacity, it has always been head and shoulders above the rest in terms of driving dynamics. The suspension tweaks have ramped up this facelifted model’s ride and handling attributes, but fundamentally the recipe is unchanged: accurate and responsive steering, excellent body control given the elevated ride height, strong grip and supreme traction.
While this car doesn’t quite trick you into thinking you’re driving a lower-riding saloon or hatchback, it does let you drive it like one. You position it on the road with the same confidence that you would a lower car (many high-riding cars have such vague steering that you never feel entirely in command of their direction of travel) and when you stick it into a series of bends with some enthusiasm the Macan remains composed and in control of its mass, rather than rolling and lolling about.
PORSCHE MACAN RIDE AND ENGINE
For the buyer who wants the high seating position of an SUV but not the aloof and disconcerting handling traits, the Macan is without compare. As long as you’re prepared to live with a very slightly connected and fidgety ride quality, at least. The Macan doesn’t bump or bounce around uncomfortably, but nor is it smooth like a limousine. Optional air springs (£1,860) help to improve matters slightly, but if ride quality is one of your fixations you’ll do just as well to leave the car on 18-inch wheels, the smallest Porsche offers (very big wheels and the low profile tyres they’re typically wrapped in are bad for ride comfort).
Is the Macan S ever fun to drive? Not exactly. The far sportier GTS and Turbo models can be fun on the right road, but even in its Sport Plus driving mode and with its £816 optional adaptive dampers switched to their firmest setting, the Macan S is never quite focused enough to be genuinely rewarding to hoof along a twisting road.
The V6 engine is very responsive and full of energy, and on a wide open throttle it does shove the Macan S along very nicely indeed, but what’s more significant is its refinement and effortless muscularity. For the most part the PDK gearbox is very smooth, as well as being snappy and quick-shifting in manual mode, although there are times when you call for just a little more forward momentum but the engine and gearbox bang their heads together and launch you up the road more forcefully than you’d hoped.
With four fat tyres slapping into the road surface, meanwhile, there is a fair amount of tyre roar at motorway speeds, but not enough to really upset the car’s overall refinement levels. In town, meanwhile, the Macan’s compact exterior dimensions make it not only a little more wieldy than the bigger Cayenne, but much more so.
SUVs of all shapes and sizes seem to be taking over the world, or at least the new car market. Given the appeal of the Porsche badge, the quality of this car’s driving dynamics, and the sheer popularity of SUVs, perhaps it’s no surprise the Macan has proven so successful. And post-facelift, it’s better than ever.
Porsche Macan S
Price: from £49,300. As tested £66,977
0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Top speed: 157mph
Fuel economy: 32mpg (combined)
2014 Porsche Macan
Having made its public debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2013, the Macan went on sale in 2014. Beneath its distinctly Porsche exterior it sat on the same underpinnings as the Audi Q5, albeit with its chassis comprehensively retuned by Porsche’s engineers. It was built alongside the Cayenne and Panamera in Leipzig, 300 miles away from the factory outside Stuttgart where Porsche makes its sports cars. The range included the base model Macan, the S in both petrol and diesel forms, the sporty GTS and the very powerful Turbo. In total, the company sold some 350,000 pre-facelift Macans.