CAYUGA, Ont. — Racing instructor Jonathan Ulrin is ahead of us in a Porsche Macan GTS, with about 100 more horsepower and 100 more foot-pounds of torque than our Macan, as we hit the main straightaway at Toronto Motorsports Park.
His added thrust means he pulls away from us in the straight, but given how close we stick to him through the rest of the course, almost all turns, it’s clear this new Macan, the lowest-price Porsche in the fleet, is still very much a Porsche.
“Even though I had 100 more horsepower, I sure didn’t have much of an advantage over you guys,” the ever-grinning Ulrin says as we stop after five laps for a driver change.
Indeed, the lighter weight overall of the Macan, as well as a lighter front end — given the four-cylinder turbo relative to the V-6 in the GTS — means it may be a touch slower off the line, but faster through corners, than the GTS.
When we’re behind Ulrin — a game of lead and follow around the track — we can see his added weight means he’s sliding a bit through corners while we remain planted, an observation he later confirmed.
Our track day had been preceded by some rain that hadn’t yet fully dried on the course, making a couple of corners rather greasy. Which meant we pushed the Macan past its limits on a couple of turns: before, at and past the limit, the Macan remained composed and predictable. With the car set to Sport+, the stability control intervention is delayed, yet the right correction to a rear-end slide brought it all back together nicely.
At $52,700, you’ll find no lower an entry point to the Porsche brand, and, while there’s a case to be made for this entry-level Macan, it’s still $3,000 more than its nearest competitor and according to Porsche Cars Canada president Alexander Pollich, there’s a reason for that.
Maintaining a level of exclusivity, and thus profit margin, is the core of Porsche’s philosophy.
“We’re not going to start chasing volume,” he says.
In this latest Macan, there are a few concessions to achieving that particular price point. None is a deal-breaker, but the knowledgeable Porsche fan will notice the differences. Trim inside is matte black instead of piano black or other trims as seen on higher-priced models. It’s not quite as attractive, but piano black — my choice — is among the many options typical for Porsche models. Chrome window surrounds become matte black as well, and the dual, twin-port exhaust tips become dual, single-port tips.
As mentioned, the engine loses two cylinders and gains a turbo. That costs it about 1.3 seconds 0-100 km/h relative to the S, but it’s still plenty of engine, able to hit the century mark in 6.5 seconds (6.7 without the optional Sport Chrono pack).
The seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission remains, and there is no manual available. Fuel savings from the smaller engine are significant, 10.6 litres per 100 kilometres versus. 12.2 in the S.
With less power and less weight, the Macan gets a slight downgrade in brakes, with slightly smaller rotors up front and four pistons instead of six.
We noticed no brake fade despite some pretty hot laps around the track.
While there are concessions to price, there are also advantages to help offset the $3,000 price gap to its nearest rival: satellite radio, Alcantara seats, steering wheel paddle shifters, rear-view camera, garage door transmitter, rear side air bags, adjustable lumbar support, tire pressure monitoring and lane departure warning are all standard on the Macan.
Most are optional on most other competitors.
As well, all the bits that make a Porsche a Porsche remain, including multilink independent suspensions front and rear, heavy and responsive steering, shifter paddles on the steering wheel, gloriously comfortable seats and high-build quality.
It’s something that can’t always be said for Porsche’s competitors when they’ve come to market with lower-priced models.
Best of all, as with the other Macan models and the other SUVs and sedans in the Porsche lineup, this Macan is set up as a rear-driver that sends power forward for all-wheel drive rather than a front-driver sending power to the rear. The difference means little for traction in slippery conditions, but means everything for balanced handling.
If anything, given the lighter engine, this Macan is more balanced than its more powerful siblings.
This model brings the number of Macan models to four: Macan, Macan S, Macan GTS and Macan Turbo.
The spread from top to bottom in price is about $33,000.
Porsche Cars Canada product planner Jonathan Thomson said based on previous Macan model sales, he expects the bulk of buyers to add about $12,000 in options, for a price of about $65,000.
I’m a big fan of dual-clutch transmission for performance driving; for regular driving, not so much. The on-off action of the solenoids that drive the clutch plates can be harsh, particularly in stop-and-go driving.
The PDK, however, is proving to be the exception. While it nailed lightning-quick, accurate gear changes on the track — the hallmark of a good dual-clutch tranny — it was pleasant and smooth during normal driving.
A requirement for dual-clutch transmissions, since they lack a torque converter to smooth out shifts, is a system to match revs in the engine to the lower gear during downshifts. This process emulates what race car drivers do with standard transmissions, the so-called heel-and-toe downshift.
With the PDK, set to Sport+, these throttle blips are sublime. Despite having a four-cylinder motor, the Macan isn’t lacking for satisfying engine sounds.
Were I in the market for a premium compact SUV, and didn’t quite want to stretch the budget an extra $7,000 to move up to the Macan S, the Macan would certainly do it for me. It’s combination of ride quality, handling prowess and fuel economy more than makes up for any deficiencies in power.