It’s four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. I’m still 130 km from home, the road glistens after a mid-summer shower, and a highway on-ramp looms ahead. I tap the left-hand gearshift paddle three times, drawing a muted rumble from the engine bay as the dual-clutch transmission primes the engine to power through the bend. A quick tap on the brake pedal transfers some mass onto the front tyres, a light flick of my wrists tucks the car’s nose into the curve, and as the apex slips past, I mash the throttle pedal into the carpet.
A delicious wall of torque finds its way to the asphalt and the car simply scythes around the corner, ready to hunt down the next curve. There’s neither fuss nor drama, just some truly mind-bending trickery that grabs the horison with both hands and nonchalantly drops it in your lap. But there’s a twist to this tale. I’m not driving a high-end sports car, but a sports utility vehicle. With a diesel engine...
Now don’t ask me what kind of magic is at play here, because I honestly do not know. A high-riding SUV really has no right to slice through the bends like this, though I don’t believe that Porsche ever received the SUV rulebook. (Either that, or they simply decided to ignore the rules.) Years of practice at making the big, belligerent Cayenne corner like a top-notch sports saloon really has paid dividends in their Macan mid-sized SUV-crossover, for this new Porsche represents a car manufacturer at the pinnacle of their art.
That art can’t really be found on the surface, though. The Macan is an attractively-styled vehicle, though some eyes might find it a bit bloated around the 911-styled rear haunches, while the rounded nose with its Cayman-like headlights present some difficulty in placing the car in a parking bay. With that said, it looks like nothing else out there, which is an important consideration for the trendy and well-heeled buyers who'd consider such a vehicle in the first place.
And if the exterior is styled to resemble other Porsches, the same goes inside the cabin – right down to the rev-counter getting pride of place in the instrument cluster, and the identical aluminium-look buttons festooning the centre console. The layout takes some getting used to, but operating it becomes second nature soon enough. Build quality is pretty much flawless, and the cabin is lined with materials that are both easy on the eye and nice to the touch.
The seats are extremely comfortable, yet supportive enough to keep you in place when the road gets twisty, but rear legroom is a bit limited. That sloping roofline also eats into the rear headroom. By contrast, the luggage compartment measures a voluminous 500 litres, expanding to 1500 litres when the rear seats are folded down – quite enough to get your mountain bike to the start line.
The standard equipment list could however be a little more generous, for there are a number of options that really should be included as standard at the Macan S Diesel’s list price of R862 000: you’re going to pay extra for navigation, xenon headlights, a rear-view camera and even Bluetooth connectivity, let alone frivolities like a panoramic sunroof or keyless entry.
But the stingy standard specification and slightly tight rear seat both fade into the background when you consider the Macan’s brilliant blend of abilities. It can venture surprisingly far off the beaten track – van Zyl’s pass would be a no-no, but the odd foray onto muddy dirt tracks and loose surfaces won’t be a problem. As with all Porsches, it boils down to technology: while the Macan doesn’t have any axle articulation to speak of, the computers have some tricks up their sleeves to keep you going.
There’s a little button marked “Off Road” next to the gear lever, which changes the operation of the Stability Control System to emulate a differential locking system. It applies the brakes at any wheel that’s spinning the power away, to send torque to the opposite wheel, which in turn keeps the car moving. Clever.
There’s further proof that Porsche actually designed the Macan to sometimes leave the tar road in the Hill Descent Control, which has a variable speed function, allowing the driver to set a crawl speed as slow as 3 km/h. Given all this trickery, it’s fair to suspect that, with only the addition of a set of All-Terrain tyres, it might just go where very few soft-roaders have gone before.
Getting to the trail is as much a pleasure as the Macan’s off-road prowess is surprising. In spite of its sporty handling, there’s very little penalty to be paid in ride comfort. The ride quality is far less stiff-legged than you might expect from a car with firm springs and 19-inch (optional) alloy wheels, although some sharp bumps still make their presence felt. Noise intrusion into the cabin is also well-contained, except when the accelerator pedal is mashed to the floor and the beast under the bonnet wakes up.
Don’t be deceived by the fact that it runs on the same liquid as any farming implement, for the engine that hurtles the Macan S Diesel along is something pretty special. Derived from the Volkswagen Group’s stellar 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, the engine has been retuned for this application to deliver 190 kW and 580 Nm, as well as an addictive roar when it’s worked hard. It responds sharply to accelerator inputs, and teams up with an excellent 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox to provide instant, effortless urge at any speed.
Sprinting to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds is not to be sneezed at, and it feels equally urgent well past the point where you might as well cut up your own driver’s licence. The Macan is also surprisingly economical for a tall and heavy AWD car, officially drinking only 6.1 ℓ/100 km, though you’d need to treat the accelerator pedal with extreme caution to achieve that number.
The absence of serious compromises in any single area turns the Macan into a most unusual (and unlikely) SUV-sports car. In fact, the Macan is really a whole fleet of cars. It’s a game viewer that will also devour long distances in comfort, while the Porsche DNA will show up to paste a grin on its driver’s face when the roads get twisty. Pricey? Absolutely. But it might just be worth it.
R 862 000
2967 cc, V6, turbocharged diesel
Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all wheel drive
Power and torque
190kW @ 4000 - 4250 r/min and 580Nm @ 1750 - 2500r/min.
Acceleration and top speed
0–100 km/h in 6.3s and 230 km/h
500 - 1500 litres
Audi SQ5 TDI, BMW X4 xDrive30d, two Kia Sportages.