Once upon a time there was a company from Stuttgart that made sports cars. Little ones that weren’t the most powerful beasts and had droopy butts when everyone else was making sleek and sexy, or butch and macho machines. Nevertheless, those little sports cars captured the hearts and imaginations of racers and enthusiasts (and those desiring an image boost) the world over, and have done so for many generations.
Push the right console buttons and the Macan squats down, shifts aggressively and acquits itself impressively around a road course. Change the setting for off-road duty and the Macan stands up on its tippy-toes to claw its way back to the tarmac.
Other sports cars came from this company too. Some were bigger and heavier and more comfortable and others have been smaller and cheaper, but nearly all possessed a certain level of performance, panache and driver engagement found in only a rarefied assemblage of machines.
But then a time came when specializing in sports and GT cars wasn’t enough. A shift in desires happened in the marketplace and herds of buyers followed one another nose-to-tail into dealerships that offered premium-brand Sport Utility Vehicles and making premium little sports cars no longer paid all the bills. Thus, that little Stuttgart company decided to take a piece of that SUV action and so began the love-hate relationship with Porsche’s wildly prosperous venture into making SUVs – first with the Cayenne mid-sizer, and then with the Macan compact ute.
And by gum, they’ve done one heck of a job making those SUVs genuine Porsches in all their physics-defying glory, capitalizing on their popularity (not to mention aggressive cost-recovery on the options sheets) all the way to the bank.
The Macan has been around for a few years now. When given a first opportunity to drive the Macan S a few years ago, I was stunned by how deep its bag of tricks was. Push the right console buttons and the Macan squats down, shifts aggressively and acquits itself impressively around a road course. Change the setting for off-road duty and the Macan stands up on its tippy-toes to claw its way back to the tarmac if one has an ‘off’ on said road course and ends up a few kilometres into the woods.
At the time, that was the entry-level Macan (and since then a non-S model that starts at $52,700 and offers a 252 hp V6 has been introduced below the S) and there’s also the fierce $85,800 Macan Turbo that takes SUV performance to a whole ’nother level.
The $26,600 gulf between the S and the Turbo left Porsche with a gaping opportunity to offer up a GTS model, and that’s exactly what you see here, starting at $73,100.
Of course you’ll never find a Macan GTS for $73,100 because a Macan GTS at that price doesn’t even include heated seats or navigation. My tester featured both of those necessities, a few other minor (though pricey) details and a $3,500 paint job and tallying around 85-large. I spent a bit of time playing with the online configurator and if one throws out caution (and good taste – you need matching red wheels, dash inserts and seatbelts, don’t you?), it’s possible to build a Macan GTS that rings in at $140,000 before fees and taxes. Yowza!
Porsches are expensive – this should be news to absolutely no one – and with that cost of admission comes some exclusivity and certainly some snob appeal.
But much more importantly, that is also the cost of Porsche engineering, quality and legitimate performance chops, even from an SUV like this.
In recent years, Porsche has seen fit to add a GTS trim to each model a few years after introduction to keep things feeling fresh. The GTS trims fall one step behind the hairy-chested Turbo models, but often represent a purists’ choice with many of the Turbo’s handling and braking upgrades and a modest power boost over the S model. Such is the case here too with the Macan GTS turning up the boost to get 20 more horsepower than its Macan S stablemate (360 versus 340 hp) and shaving 0.2 seconds off the rush to 100 km/h from a rest according to Porsche (5.2 versus 5.4 seconds).
The suspension has been tweaked for better handling, too and dropped 15 mm versus the S, and my tester rode on 20-inch “RS” wheels – blacked out of course, along with several key trim bits – to contrast boldly against the bright Carmine Red paint. The overall look is svelte, yet sufficiently overt and aggressive – especially for what could ostensibly be a (wealthy) family’s vehicle. And it’s unmistakably a Porsche.
All this results in an SUV that thinks it’s a very high performance sport sedan. Driven around with the Sport button pushed, ride height lowered and suspension stiffened, the Macan GTS rides like a sports car – but a German one – which is to say it’s firm, but the sharp edges of bumps have at least been dampened. The handling is beyond impressive with remarkably little body roll and virtually no dive or squat when braking and accelerating. The steering is quick and offers a very clear sense of what’s happening at the pavement level.
Travelling some of the back roads north-east of Toronto at speed, the Macan GTS frequently had me forgetting that I was piloting a Sport Utility Vehicle, feeling like a full-on sports car, given its blazing quick reactions to steering inputs and the rapid-change shifts of the PDK transmission. Those shifts are audibly punctuated by a sassy little exhaust belch too to help sell the sporting feel.
I’m sure it would take a fairly calibrated butt-dyno to fully appreciate that extra 20 hp in the GTS versus the lesser Macan, but you can be assured 360 feels plenty strong in this ute weighing in at less than 1,900 kg. Acceleration from a standstill is strong, though not the startling kick in the backside one experiences in some turbo Porsches. It feels just right to be exciting, and well-matched to the chassis and transmission. Balanced performance is clearly something Porsche’s engineers sought with the GTS, where every performance metric feels engaging without being overwhelming.
During all this well-balanced performance driving, front seat passengers are contained in GTS- specific buckets trimmed in leather and Alcantara – the latter serving as a particularly grippy surface for one’s posterior. They’re firm and supportive and proved to be sufficiently comfortable even for multi-hour trips behind the wheel.
Rear seat space is as one would expect in a sporty, compact SUV, which means a little tight for two adults, tighter for three adults, but perfectly comfortable and sufficient for a pair of kids. Likewise, the cargo hold is about what one finds in a compact hatchback and should be enough for small families to getaway for a long weekend, unless they all have a tendency to over-pack.
The otherwise dark and shadowy interior of our test car was brightened by the panorama roof, and outward visibility is good all round except for the rear three-quarter view that’s limited by the tiny windows and large head rests. With Porsche ParkAssist and Surround View as fitted to my tester, it never proved an issue for parking.
Porsche’s current generational practice of creating a waterfall of buttons down the centre console will appeal to those who fantasize about piloting modern aircraft, and given the mixed results other manufacturers have had with control-by-touchscreen functionality, I find proper knobs and buttons a welcome change. Once one learns the placement of all the key controls, operation becomes second nature despite the vast quantity of touch points.
The Macan GTS also features the latest version of Porsche’s Communications Management infotainment system. Graphics are bright and sharp and the overall system is cleanly integrated into the dash. Functionality still takes a bit of practice to master, but the redundancy buttons can help expedite finding the screens or functions one seeks.
Porsche’s Macan GTS definitely hits a sweet spot in the compact SUV line up, and represents one of the highest performing choices of any sport ute, but there are other newcomers from both Maserati and Jaguar that are threatening to steal some of the premium sporty sport ute sales from Porsche. Plus, other choices like the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG represent more subtlety in styling and greater practicality without giving up much in the fun-to-drive department.
Still, none of those are a Porsche and for many, the solid feel, the legendary brand and the consistent reputation for quality may help the Macan GTS remain top choice in the segment despite the newcomers. For those lusting after one of that Stuttgart company’s sports cars, but with a lifestyle that requires a sport ute, fear not, the Macan GTS is truly a brilliant combination of both.
4 years/100,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 7 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/100,000 km roadside assistance
|Model Tested||2017 Porsche Macan GTS||Destination Fee||$1,115|
|Base Price||$73,100||Price as Tested||$86,595|
Carmine Red paint, $3,560; ParkAssist with Surround View, $1,360; Navigation, $1,980; Connect Plus, $1,510; Premium Package Plus, $3,870