MALLORCA, Spain — When you hear the name “Porsche,” your mind’s eye conjures something low, compact, possessed of a famous silhouette that even a kid could imitate in a few pencil strokes, and that howls angrily at every stab of the throttle, right? Well, I hope so. And so does Porsche. The 911 is the brand’s icon and the bedrock of a prodigiously successful business, yet it remains a cult hero. Very few ruthlessly executed profit centers command such a misty-eyed sense of purity amongst enthusiasts and customers.
But what you’re reading about right now—a compact SUV with the engine in the front, a platform shared with more prosaic VW Group brands, six cylinders in a V rather than horizontally opposed, and a curb weight of 4,200 pounds—is Porsche’s bestselling vehicle in the U.S. It is responsible for around 40 percent of all sales in our market, so the refreshed 2019 Macan qualifies as a Very Big Deal, certainly more so than a GT3 RS or 911 Turbo. And the $59,650 Macan S, which we drove on the Balearic Island of Mallorca, is by far the most popular variant of this biggest-selling model.
So what’s new? For a start, the engine. The old 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged unit is gone, replaced by a V-6 of similar displacement but with a single, twin-scroll turbocharger. That turbo is now mounted within the valley between the cylinders in a ‘hot vee’ configuration, in German-engineer-trying-to-sound-cool vernacular. The new engine is lighter and more efficient, and it’s also more powerful, of course. The S model produces 348 horsepower from 6400 rpm and 354 lb-ft from barely above idle—1360 rpm—all the way through to 4800 rpm. The seven-speed dual-clutch PDK automatic now shifts even faster in Sport mode. Porsche claims a top speed of 151 mph, as well as a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds (4.9 if equipped with the Sport Chrono package). That latter figure puts it just a tenth behind the outgoing 360-hp GTS model. The entry-level Macan retains the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 248 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque and starts at $50,950.
The Macan S might be a philosophical universe away from the 911, but Porsche labels it the “sports car of the segment” and has gone to great lengths to further sharpen the dynamics. New aluminum spring forks reduce unsprung mass by 3.3 pounds, new anti-roll bars and revised dampers are said to enhance agility, the new engine’s mounts are said to offer greater consistency and control, and the width of the front wheels has been increased from 8.0 to 8.5 inches in an effort to create a more neutral balance. Essentially, all of the foregoing is about getting the front to turn-in more quickly and precisely.
The geekiness of the engineering is delightful. For example, there’s a new composite brake-pedal assembly that’s 300 grams (0.7 pound) lighter than the old steel setup, and which acts on a shorter arm to the master cylinder to cut response time and improve feel. This is the sort of stuff you expect to read in a specialized track car’s press kit and either speaks volumes about Porsche’s commitment to the cause or shows just how far it has had to go to improve upon the last Macan. The brake discs are bigger, too, because of course they are. You want ceramics on your compact luxury SUV? Porsche has you covered. In fact, the striking Miami Blue example we drove had every conceivable dynamic option ticked: the PCCB ceramic brakes; the Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus rear differential; the Sport Chrono package that includes the steering-wheel-mounted rotary switch to toggle between Normal, Sport, Sport+, and Individual modes; and the air-suspension that also includes the PASM adjustable dampers. That’s around $15,000 in performance options.
On lightly trafficked highways like those we traversed on Mallorca, the sports car within the Macan S is pretty well hidden. Th crossover rides with a relaxed fluency, the PDK ’box shifts almost invisibly, and the new engine produces plenty of easily tapped torque. It feels extremely well-built too, and the new 10.9-inch touchscreen and infotainment looks good and works intuitively. Like all Porsches, the Macan S possesses a polish that runs deep, and while it might not have the design flair of something like the Range Rover Velar, there’s a timelessness to the Porsche’s look that provides a reward all its own.
Up in the hills, the Macan S simply drives away from the competition. The steering is a little heavy but it’s wonderfully accurate and provides just about enough feedback to live up to the sports-car billing. The front tires never seem to give up no matter how much you ask of them, and the old Macan’s slightly contrived tendency to create an abrupt yaw moment has been buffed away. The balance remains slightly rear-biased but it feels more consistent and natural. The overall weight catches up with the dynamics eventually, and the air suspension means the Macan’s not as crisp as we’d like when it’s being flicked back and forth on these mountain passes, but when you remember the mass you’re trying to cajole it’s pretty damn impressive.
The new engine provides plenty of performance and linear response but it’s not exactly inspiring. It sounds a bit strained as you rev it out, while the odd pop and crackle from the exhaust is mildly amusing but doesn’t inject any real character. On this evidence the Macan S is definitely the sports car of its segment, but it still isn’t a sports car in the traditional sense.
We’ll admit we’re being picky. The Macan S drives extremely well, exhibits superb body control, and has consistently powerful and feelsome brakes (even the non-ceramics). We sampled another Macan without the air suspension, and while the ride is a shade less supple, it has a more natural, honest feel and seems to better control weight transfer, too. Suddenly the Macan feels lighter and more alive with barely a penalty in terms of refinement.
Is the new Macan it fit to wear the new-for-2019 Miami Blue or Mamba Green paint, colors more closely associated with Porsche’s sports cars? Well, it will be a very long time before we picture an SUV when we imagine a Porsche tearing through canyons. Even so, it’s nice to know that when design details from the iconic 911 are supplanted onto a completely different sort of vehicle that Porsche cares about the dynamics. The new Macan S is better than the old Macan S, which means it’s better than all its rivals, at least if you prize driving fun. It seems that’s mission accomplished.
2019 Porsche Macan S Specifications
|ENGINE||3.0L DOHC 24-valve turbocharged V-6; 348 hp @ 6400 rpm, 354 lb-ft @ 1360 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine AWD SUV|
|L x W x H||184.3 x 82.6 x 63.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9–5.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||151 mph|