Pick any sports car brand and you’ll find that it has launched or is in the process of launching a version of a high-performance SUV, but the first to go that route with its Cayenne in 2002 was Porsche.
At the time, the move by the marquee brand from Stuttgart raised eyebrows. An SUV? Made by Porsche? How would that work, and would it dilute Porsche’s identity personified by the iconic 911? Twenty years later, the Cayenne hasn’t just silenced the sceptics but has also broken records by selling thousands of units, and giving the company the confidence to create two more SUVs, the Cajun and the Macan. In India alone, the Cayenne accounts for 17% of Porsche’s sales.
Since it made its global debut in 2014, the Macan has appealed to luxury buyers with its styling and performance. The new 2022 model is built on the VW-owned Audi Q5 platform, which is to say that the two vehicles are the same size and roughly the same dimension, but don’t for a nanosecond believe the drive or performance is anything like an Audi. From the characteristic oblong headlights to the stylized Porsche badge on the tailgate to the smooth but comforting weight of the doors shutting, there is no doubt that this is a Porsche through and through.
Many sportscars today come with a start stop-button but not Porsche, thankfully. The key, which is shaped like a miniature toy Macan, triggers the ignition and awakens a two-litre, 265-bhp engine with a signature sound that is somewhere between a typical supercar rumble and the cat-like purr of a premium luxury car.
In India, the Macan is sold in three variants—the Macan ( ₹83.21 lakh ex-showroom), the Macan GTS ( ₹1.46 crore) and the Macan S ( ₹1.36 crore). It’s worth noting that there is no waiting on the Macan, while the Macan S and GTS have a waiting period of three to four months.
While cars like the Porsche 911 Turbo or the Porsche 911 GTR can be frightening (yes, frightening) to drive because they are shatteringly quick and reach ungodly top-speeds of over 320kmph, the Macan with a top-speed of 280kmph is a much tamer animal and therefore more practical, especially for use as an everyday city car.
The refined, restrained and solid German build quality is all too evident in every feature of the Macan. Upmarket, elegant and without clutter, the interiors are designed to keep the driver’s focus on the driving and the essence of Porsche.
The Macan drives like a well-planted compact UV, with substantial ground clearance that allows the vehicle to glide over the potholes and bumps endemic to Indian roads. Even at slightly higher speeds, this Porsche takes bad roads with impeccable grace, and passengers feel little or no discomfort in the cabin.
True Porsche aficionados are known never to drive anything else. Some sports car lovers look to acquire a range of cars, such as Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati. Others experiment with different kinds of machines. The Porsche driver, however, is both a purist and a loyalist. They might switch to different models within the Porsche universe—from a sporty 911 to the less fearsome Boxster or to family-oriented SUVs like the four-door Panamera, but that’s where the selections start and end.
Naresh Lakhanpal, former president of IT firm Patni Computers in the US, is this kind of “real Porsche driver”, having bought his first one in the mid-2000s. He has owned a 911 Carrera, the faster 911 Turbo, a mid-engined Cayman, a 911 Turbo S and now the Macan S. “If you’re going to drive, it’s got to be fun, safe and well built. Porsche puts a smile on your face—they are well built, safe and allow you to really feel the road. It’s a connection that can’t be described,” he says of his love for these machines.
That’s not hard to understand when I drive the Macan, which fires up and gets moving without a quiver or a tremble. The true petrolhead will insist that real sports cars ought to be driven manually, operated with a stick shift, but the dual-clutch Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) automatic transmission changed that mindset in the 1980s, when it reduced the foot pedals from three to two (brake and accelerator only). Manual gear-loving purists can’t be blamed—after all, there is a certain thrill to being able to command a precision-engineered machine with decisions driven by gear shifts that are literally at one’s hand and foot. However, the seven-speed PDK provides instantaneous gear selection in automatic mode, as well as a paddle-shift option for when you want to take control.
As the speed increases with effortless acceleration and stellar stability, and the speedometer crosses 100kmph, the Macan warms up and gets better to drive. The suspension remains firm, there’s no vibration on any of the interior components, and the steering remains strong, stiff and confident. With its six cylinders coming together to create a unique sound that is low at first and then increases ever so gently, it creates a hum that’s eerily similar to the echo of 100 Buddhist monks chanting in a valley in Bhutan. It’s very different from the raucous growl and thunder of the 911. But I realise that less is more when I push down on the accelerator and there’s plenty of juice left to deliver.
Porsche has a legacy of firsts in automotive engineering. For instance, the exclusive series 959, created in the mid-1980s introduced the variable all-wheel drive, shifting between the rear and front axles as required. This 4WD system is still considered one of the most sophisticated in the world. The 959 generated 450bhp, making it among the most powerful 911-derived cars to date, with an acceleration of 0-100kmph in less than four seconds. It was super-fast, thrilling yet undemanding and easy to drive. These car-building instincts have not changed over the last four decades at Porsche.
The Macan is a versatile SUV. Its size, which is no larger than a Q5, makes it perfect for Indian roads and parking. The rear, which can comfortably seat two large adults, renders the Macan a functional vehicle for a small family. So, is the Macan a sports car, a mini SUV, or a family vehicle? In some ways, it is all of these. It can be whatever you want it to be but ultimately, it’s a Porsche, and that makes it different.