First drive: 2015 Porsche Macan

 

“Don’t do anything in this that you wouldn’t do in a RAV4 or CR-V,” the Porsche representative cautiously reminded me from the passenger seat, as I climbed behind the wheel of the Macan S on the Horse Thief track at Willow Springs outside Los Angeles, California.

“This one is the base $50,000 model, so it can’t do the stuff the others can. It doesn’t have the Torque Vectoring Plus, air suspension, or Sport Chrono,” he added.

Outwardly, I was nodding with understanding. Inside, though, I was scoffing; I didn’t quite believe him.

“This is a Porsche,” I thought. “Porsche wouldn’t make a car – even in base form – that couldn’t handle a track.”

Moments later, though, I found out I should have heeded the rep’s warning. Coming down the first hill around 70 mph that curved slightly to the left, which lead to a sharp left-hander, the Macan began four-wheel drifting toward the edge of the track and a big cement wall. I instantly let off the gas and let the compact crossover settle back down.

Though we didn’t go off, the incident proved useful for two reasons: A.) It re-instilled the fear of God in me. And B.) It gave me a broader appreciation for my experience with the compact crossover.

In short, I had greatly overestimated the 2015 Porsche Macan.

Engineering

The now-infamous Porsche brand was founded as an engineering firm, and, although it now makes cars, it still considers itself a haven for engineering innovations. And it rightfully should. On paper, the Macan is a marvel.

From a platform that shares its origins with the all-new Golf, Porsche has created a seriously track-capable compact crossover. At the heart of this family-hauler are two engines: a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 making 340 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque, which powers the Macan S, and a twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6 churning out 400 hp and 406 lb-ft., bolted under the hood of the Macan Turbo.

2015 Porsche Macan engine full

Both V6s are mated to Porsche’s PDK seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which sends power to all four wheels through an intricate all-wheel drive system.

All told, the Macan S will sprint to 60 from a dead standstill in 5.2 seconds (5.0 with Sport Chrono) and onto a top speed of 156 mph, while the Macan Turbo tackles 60 in 4.6 seconds (4.4 with Sport Chrono) and sails onto a top speed of 164 mph.

Simply choosing engine size is – in true Porsche form – far from the last decision to be made at the dealer. Of all the trims and accessories that can be specified, three options forever change how the Macan is used for the rest of its life: Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV Plus), Sport Chrono, and three chassis setups.

Choosing PVT adds an electronically controlled rear-axle differential lock, which improves on- and off-road stability, and improves steering behavior through targeted brake intervention. In essence, this option makes the Macan a tail-happy track wrangler and a convincing, rock-crawling overlander.

Sport Chrono can be quickly recognized not only by the sensation in the seat of your pants but also by the addition of the “Sport Plus” on the center console and also by the analogue stop watch on the top center of the dash. In Sport Plus, transmission gears are held longer and the exhaust sounds a bit louder, a bit raspier. In addition to the two new interior features, Sport Chrono adds launch control, which drops the 0 to 60 times down by 0.2 seconds.

Lastly, we have the three chassis options. At the bottom, we have the standard five-link suspension with steel springs, like we discussed earlier. Then we have the second tier, again with steel springs but the addition of Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM). The PASM incorporates electronically controlled shock absorbers that interact with the aforementioned Sport Chrono system. The standard setting is Comfort. From there, the suspension stiffness can be stepped up to Sport or Sport Plus.

 

Finally we have the air suspension setup. Standing as an exclusive option to the segment, the air suspension sits 0.59 inches lower than the previous two chassis configurations. Not only does the system make daily driving a bit cushier, it also improves the Macan’s off-road intentions. Punch the off-road button and the air suspension climbs to 1.58 inches above “Normal Level”, with a maximum ground clearance of 9.06 inches.

The real benefit of the air suspension, though, is found on the track. There, when in Sport Plus, the air suspension hunkers down 0.39 inches, lowering the center of gravity, making high-speed cornering a much more composed escapade.

Sports-car DNA

Now that we’re out of the engineering weeds, let’s talk a bit more broadly about the Macan and its supposed “sports-car DNA”.

I’ve said it before: Porsche doesn’t make a bad car. It just doesn’t. And though the Macan is in no way bad, it’s not particularly good either. Let me explain.

Driving between Pasadena and Willow Springs, I was struck with how unremarkable the Macan was. Earlier that morning, Porsche had made a concerted effort to instill in us the impression that the Macan had significant sports-car DNA.

The 918 Spider inspired its lights, hood, and other elements. The driver sits 2.7 inches closer to the ground in the Macan than the Cayenne. Even its rear tires are wider than the fronts – a true sign of sporting intentions.

In the real world, though, none of that seemed to come together. Zero to 60 felt plebeian; it lacked any excitement or energy. Cornering felt a bit wallow-y and the steering was totally dead, lacking in any sort of feel. I could sense the car was well planted on the road, but from my seat I had no indication of that. To top it all off, the exhaust and engine notes were all but nonexistent.

2015 Porsche Macan front angle

On the track, the story was different. In top spec, the Macan Turbo with Sport Chrono, air suspension, and PVT came alive. Chasing a 911 Turbo S, I four-wheel drifted and cornered like a mad man, with any hint of understeer quickly snubbed out by electronics. On Willow Springs, the Macan drove like no other crossover on the planet at any price point.

Conclusion

The Macan’s track capabilities, though, have almost no relevance. Of the thousands of Macans Porsche will sell over the next few years, I estimate perhaps six will ever see the track. And those will likely never see a track more than twice.

This begs the question: Why spend more than $80,000 on a compact Porsche crossover, if it’s never used as intended?

I figure you shouldn’t.

So as hard as it might be for me to say it: Don’t get the Sport Chrono, or the air suspension, or the PVT. Onlookers will never know the difference. Your passengers will never know the difference. And nor will you. Unless you’re driving it on the edge of sanity on a racing circuit or rock crawling on a mountain, those bits really never come into play.

Save the $20,000 and get a Macan S with the steel springs, the standard rear axle, and make due with only a Sport button. And then drive it like you would a sensible compact crossover family hauler, like a RAV4 or CR-V. That, after all, is why you’re buying it in the first place.