SPORTS CENTER

May 12, 2014 8:46 pm
Porsche Macan at home on twisty mountain roads—like many sports cars. But this one can handle nastier terrain, too. PHOTO PROVIDED BY PORSCHE ASIA PACIFIC

Porsche Macan at home on twisty mountain roads—like many sports cars. But this one can handle nastier terrain, too. PHOTO PROVIDED BY PORSCHE ASIA PACIFIC

THE Porsche Macan is confused. It thinks that, like its 911 sibling, it’s a sports car. Despite having four doors and a huge cargo bay that is accessed through a hatch, it insists it isn’t like its other sibling, the Panamera, a large sedan with four doors and a huge cargo bay that is accessed through a hatch. It denies it is like its big bro Cayenne sport-ute, too, even if it shares a similar loftier-than-usual ride height, plus those same four doors and huge cargo bay that is accessed through a hatch.

It believes that the way it drives should clear things up.

Presumably aware of this identity issue, Porsche, in bringing in the new Macan to this part of Asia, opted out of the hours-long product presentations that usually come with new-car launches. Instead, the legendary carmaker sent the Macan on a drive where it can impress its prowess upon car writers who were invited over for the launch program. Recently held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, the gig involved a brief tech talk, which was followed by driving over city streets, coastal highways and twisty mountain roads.

Marvelous Macans
Launched at the LA and Tokyo motor shows last year, the Macan has been touring the car-show circuit since, with Porsche never failing to stress its latest model is the “sports car in the SUV segment—” as the case also was at the Taiwan program. And one of the major reasons for this is that, simply, the Macan packs the most potent engines among sport-utes of its size and posh, along with an equally sporty gearbox to accompany these.

Three of the model’s four variants have landed in the region, but all four is forcast to get to the Philippines as early as this month, if not in June at the latest. Topping the range is the Macan Turbo, followed by the gasoline- and diesel-burning Macan S pair, and the standard Macan, which is powered by a 2.0-liter engine that is already seeing duty in the Audi S3.

The Macan Turbo is hurtled along by a 3.6-liter V6 engine that’s boosted by two turbos, helping it spin out 400hp at 6,000rpm and 550Nm of torque at 4,500rpm. This V6 is sourced from the 3.0-liter propelling the gas-drinking Macan S, which despite not having a “Turbo” in its name, also boasts a pair. In the smaller-displacement engine, Porsche rates power at 340hp from 5,500rpm to 6,500rpm and 460Nm at a broad and low—meaning diesel-like broad and low—1,450rpm all the way to 5,000rpm.

As spinoffs, both engines get the corporate VarioCam Plus continuous and variable valve-lift control for the intake and exhaust valves. They also have direct, high-pressure fuel injection and dry-sump lubrication typical among Porsches. In the Macan’s case, an added bonus to this motor racing-derived system is a low center of gravity while still allowing for a higher ground clearance—all part of the new model’s bipolarity.

Like its gasoline sibling, the Macan S Diesel packs a V6 with a turbocharger. With common rail direct injection, this mill makes 258hp from 4,000rpm to 4,250rpm and twist that exceeds even that of the Turbo variant—580Nm from 1,750rpm to 2,500rpm. Dispelling any concern that diesels are dirty is that the Macan S’s version of it slides by Euro6 emission standards.

Bolted to any of these engines is Porsche’s sequential, seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox called PDK. In true sports car fashion it pitches for manual rowing through the cogs by means of a separate slot in the gearshift’s base, or via paddle shifters. Porsche said PDK lets for a seamless link with the Macan’s automatic engine start/stop system, as well as with a “coast” function that also drops engine revs when the car is, well, coasting. Another thing going for the PDK are instantaneous upshifts and downshifts, and this, according to Porsche, benefits the Macan’s off-road abilities, thanks to the absence of shift lag.

Speaking of all-terrain talent, the Macan can swagger with a healthy dose of this as its Porsche Traction Management affords it an all-wheel drive system taken from none other than the 911 Carrera 4, a car that takes grip to reptilian levels. Also wonderful about this system is that 100 percent of the oomph it receives it can send to either of the car’s axles, with computerized wizardry determining which of the two has better grip underneath.

Now how does the Macan ready itself for nastier terrain? Well, it appears to be always ready, but if things should go rougher there is an off-road mode button on the dash that can be activated at speeds of up to 80kph. Porsche, it must be said, is no stranger to the dirty stuff—its 356s and 550 Spyders had taken on the mythical Panamericana while the 953 and the iconic 959 proved themselves worthy of Dakar.

For all other performance concerns, know that the Macan lugs Porsche Active Suspension Management (an adaptive damper control system), Porsche Torque Vectoring that sees to it that any given wheel won’t slip, six-pot brakes (exotic ceramics are available for variants fitted with 19-inch and 20-inch wheels), a tire-pressure monitor, and electro-mechanical steering lifted straight off the 911, among a litter of athletic equipment.

Further boosting the Macan’s sports-car credentials are staggered-size tires. The Macan S duo rolls on 235/60 R18 rubbers up in front and 255/55 R18 in the rear while the Macan Turbo wears 235/55 R19 and 255/50 R19 front and back.

Cabin features? Besides the by-now Porsche-signature, Vertu-reminiscent center console, the Macan flaunts a panoramic moonroof that opens up, Bose audio, a touch-screen multimedia system that integrates all the techie features known to modern man (not to mention serving as a monitor for the reversing camera), power-operated everything (tailgate included), and dual-zone climate control whose temperature capability is an arctic below-14-degree Celsius, among an extensive list of other premium stuff.

Now wrap all these goodies in a package that’s a cross between a 911 and a Cayenne, then throw in performance-car pieces that hallmark the company’s sportsters, as well as other premium touches like chrome (or satin black) trim and LED gemstones. The Macan looks awesome.

Cruising Kaohsiung
Spec sheet-reading is one thing; driving is quite another. And, as stressed above, it was apparent Porsche wanted more of the latter. So from the relatively free-flowing traffic of “downtown” Kaohsiung the mob of Macans headed toward the freer-flowing expressways where occasional blasts of speeds were possible.

Well, “encouraged” was more like it, especially so when the Macan’s Sport and Sport Plus buttons, located on the center console, were pressed. Because then the car’s engine revs more willingly and the steering sharpens up even more. Suspension damping also tightens a notch at a time depending if you’ve pressed Sport or Sport Plus. And in both settings, you can also opt how firm damping gets.

On expressways, it does not really matter how firm it becomes. Because what is instantly noticeable is the speed by which PDK rows through the cogs. In Sport, shifts are about as fast a really good driver can manage with a stick. But in Sport Plus shifts adapt an urgency possible only through the cleverest engineering. I’d like to say it’s brutal, but it is just super-quick and positive and completely devoid of jerking. The result is a silken, persistent, hasty arrival of velocity—as well as a truck or econocar pulling into the fast lane.

But then brakes are a Porsche specialty, and even in the Macans that did not have the exotic ceramics, shedding speed is still an awesome mix of reverse thrust, control and stability. Hit the anchors hard and the Macan will not squirm or resort to any theatrics. It will just haul itself down to a stop, period.

All right, in traffic-crawling speeds, the brakes could feel a tad too sensitive. But the culprit here is the PDK, which shifts into a lower gear as the car slows down. Couple this with powerful brakes and coming to a halt can be jerky, although nothing added seat time cannot cure as your reflexes adapt, learning to touch the stop pedal lighter in anticipation of the downshifts. Also, disengage Sport or Sport Plus in such a case.

When the roads turn all mountainous though, you would not want anything but—especially Sport Plus. And it isn’t only because of the throatier exhaust note each of the two settings let the Macan have; you can enjoy this music on any road. It’s the manner in which an already sporty car, left in normal mode, becomes vastly more athletic. The Macan, not markedly smaller in dimensions from the Cayenne, starts to approximate 911 agility in Sport Plus mode.

Its steering is quick and transparent regarding what the chassis is up to. Power—or more important in this case, the linearity and speed at which it arrives—is never lacking. Brakes give rise to confidence, if not utter cockiness. And traction, even on a badly surfaced but still twisty section of the route where some parts were even gravelly, is always, always epic. Put it this way; the Macan’s limits rest on your driving skill.

Until around a decade ago, Porsche had never built anything other than sports cars. Now it has a luxury sedan and, with the Macan’s birth, two sport-utes. Or, come to think of it, more likely another sports car.