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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.

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…

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