PALMA, Mallorca – Flagship models may be the most expensive (and, least cost effective) examples of their respective ranges, but many South Africans cannot resist buying them. Here’s an example: in the local range of the award-winning Volkswagen Golf, the GTI version is the bestseller. Granted, the GTI is an iconic nameplate, but the new vehicle sales figures of the Volkswagen Amarok double-cab bakkie follow a similar trend: as many as 70% of buyers opt for the 3,0-litre TDI V6 versions.

And, sometimes, buyers favour products that are fundamentally surplus to their needs. If you compare Porsche’s local new vehicle sales statistics for the Cayenne and its smaller Macan sibling, the larger, more expensive luxury SUV easily trounces the executive SUV. I just can’t help but wonder: how many buyers really utilise the full occupant and luggage carrying capacities of the Cayenne? Surely a well-specified Macan would suit most of those purchasers’ needs perfectly?

With the introduction of a more affordable Macan model (powered by a 2,0-litre four-cylinder turbopetrol motor), the range will start from a lower base than before, separating the entry-point of the Macan line-up further from the Cayenne.

Behind the wheel

However, while attending the international launch event of the updated Macan, the S version really caught my attention. Equipped with a 3,0-litre turbopetrol V6 (as used in the Panamera and Cayenne), it develops 260 kW and 480 N.m; improvements of 10 kW and 20 N.m respectively over the outgoing S model.

In terms of the exterior design, notable upgrades include a more distinctive front grille replete with side air intakes, while the side blades are now offered in no fewer than five trims and colours. At the rear, the horizontal LED light bar (incorporating the Porsche name) bridges the tail-lights clusters. The wheels range from 18-inch alloys up to flashy, bigger-is-always-better 21-inch items.

By virtue of its cosmetic upgrades, the Macan looks more modern and sharply styled than is predecessor (especially in S guise) and, as expected, its stance is as bold and purposeful as what we’ve come to expect from a Porsche SUV.

Mallorca offers a good variety of roads, including some sensationally tight, hairpin-littered mountain passes. The 200 km evaluation route offered ample opportunities to explore what the updated Macan has to offer, driving-wise. Offering permanent all-wheel-drive (most torque is sent to the rear wheels most of the time) in conjunction with PTV (Porsche torque vectoring) Plus and the optional GT sports steering wheel (marginally smaller than the standard steering wheel), the Macan S is a rather playful executive SUV. The seven-speed PDK (dual-clutch automatic transmission) swaps cogs briskly, and the S enables you to lean on the throttle early when exiting corners. As the roads where wet during certain parts of the drive and the PSM (Porsche stability management) was set to the Sport mode, the rear end could be provoked to step out on tighter corners.

Our test unit was fitted with the optional Sport Chrono Package, which enables a driver to select the driving mode (normal, sport, sport plus or individual) on the fly by toggling a rotary switch on the bottom half of the steering wheel.

Further upgrades

Make no mistake, even though this is “but a facelift” of the Macan, virtually every aspect of the SUV has been honed. On the front axle, the steel spring forks of the previous version have been replaced by aluminium units, which has led to a reduction in unsprung mass. The brakes have also been upgraded; the front discs on the S have increased in size (diameter and thickness), while the model can also now be ordered with PCCB (Porsche ceramic composite brakes).

Although the engine will readily rev to its redline (6 800 r/min), its mid-range is the veritable pleasure centre. Peak torque is available from 1 360 r/min to 4 800), so you can either short shift through the ‘box and can ride the wave of torque, or delay upshifts to access the power at the higher end of the rev range.

As before, the perceived quality of the Macan’s cabin is of a lofty standard. A combination of real aluminium trim and perfectly stitched leather gives the interior a contemporary, luxurious feel. The 10,9-inch touchscreen also offers the latest technology offered from the Porsche Communication Management system together with Apple CarPlay (FYI, over 80% of Porsche customers use iPhones). You can now even record your off-road trip and share it on social media.

Summary

The Cayenne remains in a different category to the Macan, but after a while behind the wheel of the S, I don’t believe you’d be short-changed if you opted for the latter. I appreciated its compactness; it’s easier to place on the road (or in a parking lot) than its bigger sibling, yet it offers enough space for most families.

For commuting, the entry-level Macan will tick most boxes and leave you with change to spend on options. However, should you prefer the added performance and equipment of the Macan S, its bigger performance envelope is hard to resist.

As the now discontinued turbodiesel was the bestselling pre-facelift Macan in South Africa, it will be interesting to see which of the updated versions buyers will favour. Given “our” predilection for top-spec models, I anticipate it will be the S…