Porsche Macan: the uncaged tiger

  • Sideways, up hill and down dale: the Porsche Macan doesn’t discriminate, it just blitzes them all.
  • Hang-on AWD can direct as much as 100 per cent of drive to the front via a clutch system.
  • Novel intake system cleverly channels intake air.
  • These wide tyres are different sizes front and rear.
  • The flagship model's 3,6 biturbo engine develops a massive 294 kW and 550 N.m.
Date:22 January 2014 Author: Anthony Doman Tags:, , ,

Indonesians call it Macan: the feline world’s biggest, meanest denizen, the majestic striped cat revered in the East as the king of the beasts. Anthony Doman travels to Germany’s urban jungle to see the Porsche Macan on the prowl.

There were g’s everywhere. Lateral ones, clawing at my futilely straining neck muscles. Positive ones, mashing my internal organs. Negative ones trying to unmash those selfsame organs.

And the smell. There’s nothing like the smell of burnt rubber in the morning, as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore might have said if he’d helicoptered into the Porsche Macan tech workshop instead of the set of Apocalypse Now.

There’s a certain wicked joy in hearing the tortured shriek of tyres. It’s a sound that generally signifies imminent calamity or, in expert hands, that a car is being driven more or less at the limits of its abilities. In the case of Porsche’s new compact sport utility, the Macan, those limits are quite considerable.

Our drive – to be clear, we were driven by Porsche personnel in these preproduction models – involved several exhilarating laps of the ADAC (German automobile association) test track near Düsseldorf, Germany. There, for three days, motoring media were flown in for an in-depth briefing on the Macan’s technology. We were also given the first seat time with the new car.

Predictably, although the tech was fascinating, it’s the drive that got us all talking. Now, it’s one thing to be impressed by how quickly a car can be driven around on smooth blacktop. It’s another thing altogether when that car is as capable of ambling nonchalantly up a rocky 40 per cent incline or proceeding at a precarious angle on a vertiginous side-slope.

The Macan is all that.

It combines a useful 198 mm ride height – that’s bakkie territory – with the ability to corner flat and very, very fast. Despite having sufficient suspension articulation to cope with off-road conditions, the damping superbly limits body motion in heave to avoid going airborne when cresting sharp rises, too. But the Macan is no killjoy… switch out the traction aids, and the skilled driver will find the Macan astonishingly agile. (I can report that the unskilled driver will find it reassuringly conrollable, too.)

Most of my track time was spent in the entry level S model, my driver gamely dogging the more powerful and therefore more wieldy Turbo and Diesels ahead. The combination of rapidly tiring tyres, understeer and a power deficit put us at a disadvantage. Yet, with the right buttons pressed, wild, but totally controllable, lift-off oversteer leavened the frustration with entertaining (if perhaps less rapid) drifts.

The coming thing
Compact SUVs seem to be the next big thing. Porsche forecasts that demand has grown 300 per cent since 2007 and will account for 1,2 million units by 2018. The Macan is well set to take advantage of that when it goes in sale in April in S, Diesel and Turbo versions.

It’s nominally aimed at the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, but, to hear Porsche tell it, the Macan really has no competition. Is that an idle boast? Our test track driver put it in perspective: in terms of tar road driving, the obvious competitor to the 250-kW 1 865-kg Macan Turbo is another Porsche – the 195-kW, 1 310-kg Boxster S. (He would say that. His day job involves engineering chassis for rear and mid-drive Porsches.)

Although the Macan is developed on the same VW Group platform used for the Audi Q5, it’s been given a healthy injection of Porsche DNA. Its driving position is lower, as is the centre of gravity. Naturally its engines are engineered in the company’s Weissach motorsport centre and built at its Zuffenhausen headquarters. The vehicle is produced in the Leipzig plant, along with the Cayenne large SUV and Panamera sedan.

The design philosophy for the Macan drivetrains was high torque at low engine revolutions; from April it will be produced in three variations: diesel and Turbo.

The 3,6 V6 biturbo engine used in the Turbo is similar to those in the Carrera and Boxster. It’s a longer-stroke version of the S’s 3,0. The diesel, also a 3,0, is a tweaked version of the engine in Porsche’s bigger Cayenne.

Besides power-enhancing technologies such as Variocam Plus continuously variable valve timing, the Macan engine also employs tech aimed specifically at economy and emissions performance, specifically targeting the stringent new Euro 6 regulations. The map-controlled thermostat, for instance, is designed to ensure fast heating up, getting heat into the engine oil quickly, and to reach operating temperature quickly. A variable oil pump avoids the power robbing effect of an always-on pump. The engine has the ability to decouple from the transmission when coasting, further improving efficiency.

A particularly interesting aspect of the powertrain design is the airflow management into the engine bay. An integrated intake ducts air through a “lid” that forms part of the clamshell bonnet, routing it left and right through two nostrils. At a stroke, it saves weight, saves space, lowers the bonnet line and aids pedestrian impact protection. A 5-position active shutter system controls the entry of air through the grille to ensure optimal flow depending on the car’s speed, ambient temperature and engine temperature.

Drive where you need it
An adaptive “smart” transmission, able to learn the driver’s style and sense road conditions, channels drive to the rear, but four wheels can be driven via an electromechanical system with rear diff lock. Porsche describes this as a hang-on layout, as opposed to 4wd with a fixed transfer case; it is able to transfer up to 100 per cent of drive to the front axle, with a response time of less than 100 milliseconds. Although when off-road the Macan doesn’t have a variety of modes to suit specific situations – sand, mud, snow, or rocks, for instance – it nevertheless coped comfortably with our admittedly brief sortie off the tar.

A few suspension options are available, from conventional steel to steel with adaptive damping and, at the top end, air suspension (standard on the Turbo). Tyres range from 18- to 21-inch. The Macan uses a new generation of optimised tyres, in mixed con­figuration with larger tyres at the rear.

Porsche says it has managed to save 35-50 kg using lightweight materials instead of steel. This is crucial to a claimed 9 per cent advantage compared with a typical V8 automatic transmission SUV. On paper, then, the Macan looks like a hard act to beat. In the metal, it is capable of staggering dynamics. At the same time, it oozes quality and refinement. Its Achilles heel, possibly, will be a price – in South Africa, at any rate – that’s expected to get one’s eyes watering. That aside, the inescapable conclusion is that the opposition will have its hands full containing this tiger.

S Diesel Turbo
Engine 3,0 V6 Turbo 3,0 V6 turbo 3,6 V6 biturbo
kW at R/min 250/5 500 190/4 000 294/6 000
N.m at R/min 460/1 450 580/1 750 550/1 350
Transmission 7A (Porsche double-clutch); AWD
Tyres (F) 235/60 x 18 235/60R x 18 235/55 x 19
Tyres (R) 255/55 x 18 255/55 x 18 255/50 x 19
0-100 (S) 6,4 6,3 4,8
Top Speed (km/h) 254 230 266
Economy (L/100 km) 9,0 – 8,7 6,3 – 6,1 9,2 – 8,9
C02 (G/km) 212 – 204 164 – 159 216 – 208

VIDEO: Watch as the Porsche Macan is put to the test in the Arabian desert  just before its world debut at the 2013 LA Motor Show