CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – Compared with the levels of incredulity that followed Porsche’s initial decision to dip its toes into the luxury SUV market, the Cayenne’s premium midsize Macan sibling in 2014 enjoyed a decidedly warmer reception. This came along with a greater understanding of why this expansive strategy was ultimately adopted and, considering the successes of similar-sized VAG products like the Volkswagen Tiguan and Audi Q5 (not forgetting Seat and Skoda), much excitement around what a Porsche-badged stablemate might offer.

Currently the brand’s best-selling model, in 2018 Porsche shipped 250 000 Macan units to new owners around the world. With a view to consolidating this success, a recent facelift and product refresh more closely aligns the Macan’s exterior styling with that of big brother Cayenne, while in terms of drivetrains, signals a shift away from unfashionable diesel combustion.

While an updated front-end includes redesigned intakes and LED-infused headlamp clusters, the rear of the Macan is reshaped to incorporate the brand’s latest design DNA, including a taillamp-linking light bar. With four new exterior colours available, further customisation is offered via a choice of five side-blade finishes and various wheel designs, ranging in size from 18 to 21 inches in diameter.

Of the highlights of an updated interior, the inclusion of Porsche’s 10,9-inch PCM touchscreen infotainment system lends the cabin a welcome modernity both in terms of look and feel. From an impressively supportive driver’s seat offering a wide variety of adjustment (including the ability to drop handily low), I was also pleased to be reacquainted with the brilliant actions of the brand’s seemingly out-of-favour (and since deleted from the 911 package) PDK gearshift lever. Sited tall and offering a wonderfully weighted manual shift action, the presence of this lever goes a long way towards making the Macan’s driving experience one of the most focused in this segment.

In consolidating the locally available Macan range, and ahead of the arrival of future GTS and Turbo derivatives, Porsche has introduced a new entry-level contender powered by a 2,0-litre turbopetrol engine sourced from VAG's broader portfolio. Indeed, tuned to deliver similar outputs to those of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Pack, the EA888 inline four-cylinder unit fitted to the most affordable Macan delivers 180 kW and 370 N.m of torque, the latter available between 1 600 and 4 500 r/min. Mated with a 7-speed PDK transmission, torque delivery favours the rear wheels until such time as slip is detected up front, or once the vehicle’s drivetrain is locked into a prescribed (50:50 split) off-road setting.

While updates to the Macan’s standard suspension include the replacement of steel front springs with lighter aluminium items, as well as revised anti-roll ratings all round, all the models made available during our local test drive were instead fitted with optional (R47 590) air suspension, configurable through three ratings. With a simple-to-dial-in launch control system activated, the 1 800 kg Macan 2,0T is capable of a claimed 0-100 km/h sprint time of 6,5 seconds, while top speed is listed as 227 km/h.

Usually whilst driving a Porsche of any description, you patiently await any opportunity to floor the throttle ahead of both a meaty shove in the base of your spine and corresponding tingling in your ears. This non-diesel entry-level Macan, however, introduces an altogether new character that makes both light work of traffic and offers just enough punch to deliver thrills when required. If there are potential downsides to this setup, especially when it comes to how a modern Porsche performs, it’s that there is an inevitable slight delay between full throttle and full steam ahead and, depending on how pure your Zuffenhausen-tinted blood is, you may not savour the fact that your Porsche sounds distinctly like a GTI on full-throttle upshifts – as purposeful as these shifts may be.

Obvious gains in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions (8,1 L/100 km and 185 g/km) aside, another advantage of having a four-cylinder mounted longitudinally within the Macan’s engine bay is weight saving, particularly where it pertains to the distribution of overall mass, front to rear. Here, on a decidedly wet and treacherous Franschhoek mountain pass, I was impressed with how nicely balanced and confidence-inspiring the car felt while pushing on.

Driving the new entry-level Macan I was reminded of when Ford introduced its current Mustang coupé. Like the Porsche (including the models to come), the pinnacle of the modern Mustang range offers both more power and more corresponding theatre within its package compared with most affordable models. And yet, despite having to field questions around engine size, straight-line performance and, indeed, exhaust notes, the average 2,3 EcoBoost-powered Mustang owner (as validated by monthly sales figures) still craves the experience of owning a “muscle car”. While the idea of a GTI-powered Macan may not immediately sit well with purists, as an entry point into the otherwise special world of Porsche, the still very capable cheapest Macan makes a compelling argument.



FAST FACTS

Model: Porsche Macan PDK
Price: R849 000
Engine: 2,0-litre, four cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 180 kW @ 5 000 - 6 000 r/min
Torque: 370 N.m @ 1 600 - 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 6,5 seconds
Top Speed: 227 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,1 L/100 km
CO2: 185 g/km
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch
Maintenance Plan: Three-year/100 000 km