Porsche considers its 2015 Macan a new kind of compact SUV: the first truly sporty model in the class. Various other luxury brands might suggest otherwise, but there's no doubting Porsche's efforts to provide the Macan with sporting credentials.
It offers a choice of two powerful engines along with a silhouette that's lower and sleeker than those of its rival SUVs. It also has a muscularity that's clearly inspired by both its bigger Porsche Cayenne brother and the sporty 911 coupe, too.
Porsche also says that the Macan's suspension has been developed to provide the driving experience of a sports car. It's a bold claim given that the company's 911 is considered the quintessential sports car. But then again, who better to create the sportiest SUV on record?
What Does the Macan Compete With? The Macan's closest rivals are the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Land Rover's Range Rover Evoque. At 184.3 inches long, the Macan is slightly longer than both the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, and considerably longer than the Range Rover Evoque. In terms of wheelbase, however, the Q5, X3 and Macan are almost identical in size, while the Evoque comes in about half a foot shorter between the wheels.
That the Macan and the Q5 are so close in size is no accident. Both brands are owned by Volkswagen, so the two vehicles share some common parts underneath. Porsche is quick to point out that 75 percent of the Macan's parts are new or revised. The key difference between the two is the fact that Porsche engineered the Macan to provide a sportier drive, but not at the expense of practicality. It offers as much cabin space as the Q5, almost as big a cargo area and a generous array of convenience features as standard.
Although both the Macan and the Audi Q5 provide all-wheel drive, the systems are of differing designs and the Porsche's is set up to provide the characteristics of a sporty rear-wheel-drive car. It does this by channeling nearly all of the engine's power to the rear wheels unless wheel slip is detected, in which case more torque will be sent to the front wheels as required.
How Does It Measure Up? When it comes to power and performance, the Macan has no peers in its class. It offers a choice of two V6 engines, both of which are turbocharged even though only the top model is called the Macan Turbo.
In the base Macan S, the twin-turbo V6 displaces 3.0 liters and is rated at 335 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque. The Macan Turbo gets a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 that bumps output to 394 hp and 369 lb-ft. Both engines are equipped with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Porsche has yet to publish EPA numbers for the Macan.
With a base price of $50,895, the Macan S is considerably more expensive than the $44,400 Audi Q5 or the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque that starts at $42,000.
Is This Really the Sports Car of SUVs? As promised, Porsche's baby SUV delivers one of the most dynamic drives of this breed, but at least as important is that it provides this with real civility. Its ride quality is comfortable over bumpy roads, particularly if the adjustable air suspension is fitted. It's quiet at speed, too, an ambience that stems from a well-crafted cabin constructed from upscale materials.
Minuses include slightly clunky gearchanges at lower speeds when it's in Sport mode. We also noticed that at very high speeds, there's some wind noise around the front pillars.
The base Macan S pulls with pleasingly consistent vigor, its engine's smoothness heightened by the slick-shifting transmission whose gearchanges are best confirmed by the subtle but satisfying "blats" from the Porsche's twin exhausts. It's a strong, capable setup, but the Turbo is noticeably livelier in terms of its feel and sound. According to Porsche, the Macan S accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, while the Turbo needs only 4.6 seconds to reach the same speed.
Overall, it's a better drive than the less expensive Range Rover Evoque, while keen drivers will find it more engaging than Audi's slightly cheaper Q5. That said, the Macan is no substitute for a real sports car even with the bigger engine and most aggressive suspension setup.
How Does the Interior Look and Feel? If you're familiar with modern Porsche interior design, the Macan won't surprise you with its look and feel. While not identical to the larger Cayenne, the Macan features the same triple-dial instrumentation, flat-topped dashboard and a strikingly busy-looking center console. It looks busy because it carries as many as 36 buttons and controls if fully optioned. It doesn't take long to understand their functions because they're logically laid out, but stabbing the right one at speed can be a challenge.
Porsche says it wanted sports car sensations from this compact SUV and has provided a cockpit to match. The tachometer is the most dominant gauge in the instrument panel and the seating position is well-suited to spirited driving. Not many are likely to notice, but its steering wheel design was inspired by Porsche's exotic 918 Spyder sports car.
Despite the sporting nature of the cockpit, the overwhelming impression is of a well-made, convenient and reasonably spacious interior. The rear seats are a bit on the tight side and the cargo space isn't vast, but such is the case with most of the Macan's competitors.
Has It Created a New Category? As impressive as it is, the Macan isn't quite as groundbreaking as Porsche would like you to believe. It feels more capable than most of its competitors in terms of performance, but we expected that. After all, the larger Porsche Cayenne is already an impressive performer when it comes to SUVs, so it stands to reason that a smaller version of it would be even better.
That said, there's nothing holding the Macan back from becoming a dominant force in its segment. It has the looks, the performance and the luxurious feel that luxury buyers are looking for, along with enough practicality to make it useful as a daily driver. It probably won't deliver great mileage and its backseats are a little tight, but if those are holding you back, this isn't the SUV for you.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.