Porsche Macan drive 1

Opening up a new segment is a sure-fire way to gain more traction in the marketplace, especially if you happen to be a sports car maker, and going the downsizing route surely helps – in a world that has become more austere, making it smaller and cheaper isn’t seen as a bad thing now, even for the lofty.

Indeed, making it more approachable for buyers is the trick, because after all, there are only so many two-seaters one can shift. Flash and clout will continue to sell, but hey, if it can be had for smaller and cheaper, why not? You also open up the brand to new customers, and if you happen to have a spanking new factory, you do need new – and more – customers.

Case in point, the Porsche Macan. It’s the automaker’s sixth model line, and looking at how it’s all shaping up, the tiger is likely to be one of Stuttgart’s best sellers. The third attempt at pitching four-doors and versatility is far better resolved than the two that came before it – it looks the business, correctly plays the right downsizing cards and sounds attractively priced (well, until you really start ticking the options boxes). All points to a proper volume seller, then.

The adage that big things don’t usually look pretty (or don’t look pretty in big) certainly holds true here, all amplified by the Macan’s arrival – the Cayenne looks ungainly and tired standing next to its new compact sibling, and that other four-door attempt, the Panamera, well, wasn’t exactly the prettiest thing to begin with…

Porsche Macan drive 9

This one is handsome, with good visual appeal coming off its lines in the flesh – the shape has a good tautness about it, and in terms of sleekness it more than holds its own against the more angular Range Rover Evoque and far edgier (and cheaper) Lexus NX. To this writer’s eyes, it’s definitely more winsome than the F26 BMW X4, another of its competitors. Inside, the cabin is prim and proper Porsche, and contrasting trim colours seem to fair nicely in this one.

In Malaysia, the premium compact SUV – which was launched last September – is available in four variant forms. The entry-level Macan, priced from RM420,000 in its base configuration, features a Volkswagen-derived 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, paired with a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. The Porsche-tweaked mill offers 237 PS at 5,000 to 6,800 rpm and 350 Nm from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm in the way of output, and performance specs include a 0-100 km/h time of 6.9 seconds and a 223 km/h top speed.

The next petrol model up, the Macan S, ramps things up considerably – its 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine puts out 340 PS from 5,500 to 6,500 rpm and 460 Nm of torque from 1,450 to 5,000 rpm. It gets to the century in 5.4 seconds (5.2 if the optional Sport Chrono package is present) and has a 254 km/h top speed. Pricing for this one starts from RM560,000.

If you prefer your S model as an oil burner, there’s the Macan S Diesel, which is slightly cheaper than its petrol alternative at RM545,000. The variant’s 3.0 litre turbodiesel V6 engine turns out 245 PS at 4,000 to 4,500 rpm and 580 Nm of torque from 1,750 to 2,500 rpm, and gets the S Diesel to 100 km/h from standstill in 6.3 seconds (6.1 seconds with the optional Sport Chrono package) on to a top speed of 230 km/h.

Porsche Macan drive 14

The range topper is the Macan Turbo, which starts from RM785,000. Its 3.6 litre twin-turbo V6 lump pushes out 400 PS at 6,000 rpm and 550 Nm from 1,350 to 4,500 rpm. As expected, it’s the fastest Macan, doing the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.8 seconds (4.6 with Sport Chrono on), and the top speed is 266 km/h.

Identification of the variants is a simple enough affair – the tailpipes and brake calipers provide the necessary clues as to which is which. For the former, the base Macan wears two rhombus-shaped tailpipes, while the Macan S and Macan S Diesel get quad round pipes – the Macan Turbo also has quads, but they are rhombus-shaped.

As for brake calipers, black identifies the base Macan, silver the Macan S and Macan S Diesel and red, the Turbo. Of course, owners can go yellow with the optional Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) system. Sounds colourful, no?

Speaking of options, well, there are plenty to be had – the dress-up route for the Macan is extensive, from going the larger wheel route (up to 21-inches, if you want) to specifying items such as chrome highlights, aluminium roof rails, exterior/interior carbon-fibre add-ons and air suspension, it’s all here. In typical Porsche fashion, packages abound, with the limit being your wallet (and mental resistance).

So yes, it looks snazzy, and there’s plenty in the way of choice and kit, but what’s it like to drive? Sime Darby Auto Performance gave us the chance to find out with a half-day run on the SUV to Ipoh and back. The sampling platter consisted of three of the four variants (the base Macan, Macan S and Macan S Diesel), with the Turbo left out.

With two to a vehicle and three to try, mostly on the expressway, drive time on each was naturally limited, so this first drive report isn’t going to be very long. First impressions were good – as expected, the Macan S was lively on the uptake, tracking cleanly and soaking up road imperfections nicely, but the real positive were the hints of its agile, light-footed nature, already felt out on the highway.

The underlying character is very different to that of its larger sibling, no surprise given the difference in age, bulk and technical evolution between the two platforms. If anything, the Cayenne feels that more ponderous, now that this one is here.

Fast and responsive to throttle, both petrol and oil burner S models shone through their powertrains, but the real, absolute surprise was how well the base 2.0 litre Macan drove and how dynamically impressive it was for a 1.8 tonne vehicle.

Porsche Macan drive 11

Keen and willing would be the best descriptors, displayed best on the B-road stretch of the run – into the corners, the 2.0 offering drove beautifully, with poise and conviction. Communication levels were high, the steering sharp and tracking, incisive. With the least nose heavy feel of the trio, its sharpness and nimble balance made for the most driving fun.

In this regard, it feels far more supple than the BMW X4 – which is technically very accomplished but feels a bit too heavy-set in disposition – and the Evoque. Driving dynamics won’t really matter for most buyers, but for those who cherish such things, this one arguably defines the rubric of the premium compact SUV segment at the moment.

As for power, despite its on-paper credentials being lacking compared to the S versions, the 2.0 litre mill doesn’t feel too short going into close quarters and the accompanying twisty bits. In the end, the runt was easily my pick of the assembled trio over the short sampling run.

Compelling? It is, but there’s a caveat concerning pricing – RM420,000 for the base Macan makes it sound immensely attractive (compared to the X4 and Evoque), and it would be if it were that. That, however, just gets you a Plain Jane car, and the reality is that options boxes will need to be ticked to get it glowing, easily taking things past the RM500k mark.