2019 Porsche Macan: First Drive

You might not love the Macan, but you should respect it.

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Porsche

If you were to look at all of our Porsche coverage over, let's say, the last year, you'd find a lot on the 911, a little less on the Boxster/Cayman and a fair bit to the upcoming all-electric Taycan. You wouldn't find much on the Macan. In just this past year, we've only written one article dedicated to Porsche's smallest SUV—a review of the GTS variant.

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Porsche

Why? Well, it's an SUV. We cover performance cars, and while that does include performance SUVs, they're not our focus.

But maybe we should pay more attention to the Macan. At the Mallorca launch of this facelifted model, a Porsche spokesperson reminded me that this relatively small SUV is the company's best-seller by some margin. In 2017, the Macan outsold the 911, Boxster, Cayman and Panamera combined. Just this year the US—Porsche's second largest market—the Macan has accounted for 42 percent of the brand's sales.

So, the Macan's pretty important to Porsche.

On the surface, there's not much new on the 2019 Macan. The most obvious change is a new full-length rear light bar that brings the Macan design closer to the rest of the current Porsche lineup, while a slightly restyled front fascia, new colors and wheel designs round things out. Bearing its popularity in mind, it's understandable why Porsche didn't change styling much.

Inside the big change is front and center—a 10.9-inch infotainment screen shared with the new 911 running Porsche's new infotainment system. It works quite well. Beyond an optional smaller-diameter steering wheel taken from the 911 and, uh, new air vents, that's about it. Finding more significant changes requires a look beneath the skin.

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Porsche

Sebastian Staiger, lead chassis engineer for the Macan, told me the dynamic goal for the 2019 was to make it feel sharper, with a more neutral handling balance. To that end, the steel forks that connect the spring and damper to the front-axle carrier were replaced with stiffer aluminum units that reduce unsprung weight slightly. The widths for 19- and 21-inch wheels increase a half-inch at the front for better turn-in, and it has newly developed tires. The Macan S gets slightly larger front rotors than before, while the actual brake pedal hardware has been redesigned for better feel.

As before, the base Macan uses the same Audi A4-sourced 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which makes 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. Previously, the Macan S used a Porsche-developed 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, but now, it's been replaced with an Audi-sourced single-turbo 3.0-liter V6 making 348 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. It's the same basic engine found in the base Cayenne and Panamera, as well as the Audi S4, S5, and SQ5, though it gets some software changes. Both engines are paired with Porsche's seven-speed PDK dual-clutch, which has been retuned to offer quicker shifts, and a fully variable all-wheel drive system.

As a driver's car, an SUV is inherently compromised by its high-riding heavy nature, no matter the badge on the hood. Yet, the way the Macan drives actually hints at great Porsches of the past. The steering is crisp—though not darty like an Alfa Stelvio's—and it actually provides some real feel, which is increasingly rare in SUVs.

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Porsche

All the cars I tested sported 21-inch wheels with Pirelli P-Zero summer tires measuring 265/40 up front and 295/35 out back. Turn-in is sharp, and unsurprisingly, I never found the grip limits of the tires. Air-springs are optional on the Macan, though luck of the draw meant that I only drove models with traditional coil springs and adaptive dampers. The anti-roll bars and engine mounts were retuned for the 2019 Macan, and body control is generally very good, though there's pronounced pitch under acceleration.

Staiger told me that if it's ride-quality you're after, get the air springs; the traditional coils are better for more direct handling. Mallorca's incredibly smooth roads make it difficult to judge ride quality, but on the few rough sections I could find, the Macan remained comfortable, even in spite of its relatively small sidewalls. Air-springs bring the ability to raise ride height for off-roading, and if that's genuinely important to you in your Porsche SUV, you're not like anyone else.

All those changes to the braking system seem worth it, because feel is excellent. It's exactly how I like a brake pedal—firm at the top, and easy to modulate. Especially sweet are the larger brakes in the Macan S, which get overachieving six-piston calipers up front, though the smaller setup in the base Macan get the job done fine.

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Porsche

The Macan rides on the same platform of the previous-generation Audi Q5, though Porsche has always been quick to point out that its SUV isn't an Audi wearing Porsche clothes. That was easier at first when the Macan didn't share any body panels or drivetrain components with the Q5, but now, both of its engines are from the four-ringed brand. A Macan Turbo will arrive later, and it'll probably get the 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 used in the Audi RS5 and Porsche Cayenne S.

Regardless of the origin, the V6 in the Macan S is a good engine, if not a great one. On paper, it offers peak torque from 1360 to 4800 rpm, though in the real world, it takes a little while for the turbo to spool up at low revs. Some vibrations enter the cabin at lower engine speeds, too, but both of these problems go away quickly. On boost, this engine provides tons of torque with linear power delivery. It helps the Macan S feel plenty quick, but never mind-blowingly so.

It pairs well with Porsche's PDK gearbox, which proves, as ever, to be one of the best dual-clutches around. It's probably the only one that can match a torque-converter automatic for refinement in regular use, and it certainly beats one with crisp fast shifts. All that said, I did determine one situation where the V6 and PDK didn't quite play nice: When in rolling to a near stop heading towards a roundabout, in Normal mode, the transmission won't downshift to first. In second gear at low speeds, there's a moment where you get on the gas and nothing happens. It's frustrating, though I imagine it could be solved with some software programming. And otherwise, the transmission is top-notch.

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Porsche

A really pleasant surprise was the four-cylinder engine in the base Macan. I only had around an hour in this model, and I expected to be underwhelmed by what is Porsche's least powerful car by a significant margin. This four actually has plenty of power and torque, and in the real world, it doesn't feel all that far behind the V6. More importantly, opting for a four-cylinder Macan over a V6 Macan S shaves 140 lbs off the curb weight.

Owing to its Audi-designed platform, the engine in a Macan is located almost entirely ahead of the front axle. The inline-four weighs less than the V6. In the base car, the steering is noticeably lighter, and the car feels more eager to change direction. It feels a lot more tall hot-hatch to the V6's luxury sports-sedan.

But for all its sporting ability, the Macan makes no sacrifices to comfort. It's an excellent cruiser, quiet and refined, with torquey engines that make passing effortless. If you needed an SUV to do a driving tour of Vermont tomorrow, you could do a lot worse than a Macan.

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Porsche

Given its best-selling status, the Macan is a car that Porsche can't afford to screw up, and for the 2019 update, Porsche didn't. No huge surprise when you consider that ultimately, not that much is different than before.

Driving it, though, I thought a lot about the history of the brand. This is something I tend to do often, but, it's especially hard not to when you look down at the badge on the steering wheel. It just carries so much weight.

Ultimately, the Macan is an odd sort of keeper of the flame. The 911 might be the car that most closely connects the Porsche of today with the Porsche of the past, but without the Macan, the 911 might not exist. At the very least, it might not be as good as it is today. I know I'm not the first person to make this argument—people have been saying the same thing since the Cayenne arrived on the scene in 2002 and quickly proved to be a hit. But, I think it bears repeating.

What's a little less obvious is how the Macan injects Porsche values into what is, ultimately, a very mainstream car. You get the great steering, rock-solid brake-pedal feel, sharp chassis tuning, and best-in-class build quality that made us fall in love with Porsche in the first place. Porsche would probably sell a boatload of Macans even if it drove like every other luxury crossover. The fact that it doesn't means that the engineers and designers behind recognize and value of what made Porsche great.

Driving the 2019 Macan was instructive—not because the car is mind-blowing in any particular way, rather, because it was a reminder of how important this little SUV is. And for keeping the things we love about Porsche alive, it deserves our respect.

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Porsche

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