Tiger, Tiger?

3 days on the road with the new Macan

 

What exactly is it that makes a Porsche a Porsche? In the early days that was easy, an air cooled engine at the back of the car, but thatís ancient history now. As far back as the 70ís the transaxle cars introduced front engines, V8ís, inline 4ís, water cooling and all manner of modernity. The 90ís saw even the sacred 911 go water cooled and share a platform to make the mid engined Boxster. These were the cars which kept Porsche afloat through hard times, and ultimately made it the powerhouse it is today, yet the diehards still decry each change.

Recently the Cayenne and the Panamera have become the new family breadwinners, and predictably they have been howled down too, often I suspect by people who have never driven them. I confess a soft spot for the Panamera, it may be a long way from an early 911, but drive one and there is no denying that there is something in the DNA that runs through the brand. Itís not just speed or power either, there are any number of fast cars that donít have that Porsche feeling, yet itís hard to define. Itís something about the poise, the feel, the feedback through your fingers and feet that a Porsche gives you that is missing from all the other bruisers out there, good though they are.

Now we have the Macan, Porscheís new "Tiger" and itís an SUV of all things, platform shared with an Audi. It has been well enough reviewed in the motoring press, but I have seen little love for it in the forums from the armchair pundits. My instinct is to agree with them being no lover of the SUV cult myself, it would be easy to form an opinion based on prejudice alone, but as a fan of Porsche I felt I should do better. With the generous help of Marcus Robertson at Porsche Centre Edinburgh I concocted a proper road trip, 3 days of real world driving to answer the all important question Ö tiger or pussy cat? Ö is it a real Porsche?

The plan was simple, a trip from Edinburgh down through the Scottish Borders roads to test its A and B road behaviour, then a slog down the English motorways to spend a couple of nights with friends in Cheshire. There I could test the kerb appeal outside the wine bars of Knutsford, as well as perhaps do some off roading amongst the notoriously tricky paddocks of the horsey set. Perfect, all bases covered. What follows is not really a road test in the conventional sense, no 0-60 times, no techy stuff about gear ratios, Iím assuming you know all that already, or can look it up. Nope, this is one manís search for some Porsche DNA.

3 days ago I handed my trusty Cayman over in return for a shiny black Macan S, the V6 3.0 litre petrol twin turbo version with 340 bhp. Being a factory specced demo car it was dripping with fancy extras, and a price tag hovering around £60k. It had half a tank of fuel, as I set off for Moffat.

The A701 from Edinburgh to Moffat is a jewel of a road, twisty but visually open, much loved by the motorcycling fraternity, so often patrolled at the weekends, but this was a Tuesday morning and I pretty much had it to myself. There was no denying that the Macan was making swift progress, after all with lots of power, huge 21" tyres, and vast brake callipers it would be hard not to, but I was finding it very unsatisfying. I was braking too early, unsure of the grip and turn in, then accelerating rather clumsily trying to use the gearchange paddles, and generally just not driving well. Trying to hustle a tall, heavy, unfamiliar car just felt all wrong, the steering didnít seem to be telling me much, and I couldnít get any "flow" in my driving. It was a disappointing start to the trip, and I certainly wasnít finding that Porsche DNA I was looking for, and whatís more I was aghast to see that by Moffat the petrol gauge was reading almost empty, the reading showing just 20 mpg so far. The Tiger took a hefty bite out of my debit card, while I cheered myself up with a bacon roll at the wonderful Ariete Cafť.

Next came a long trawl down the M74/M6 and the car showed a new side of its character. This is a fabulous motorway cruiser, with a commanding and supremely comfortable driving position, great ergonomics and powerful air con on a very hot day. At the unofficial motorway limit of a tad over 80, the engine was purring at only 2,000 rpm, and if you lift off it drops into "sailing" mode and settles to 800 rpm, and re-engages seamlessly with a touch of the throttle. I had tried this on a PDK Cayman, where it didnít feel right, but in the Macan it makes for effortless progress on the motorway. Geeks might like to note that it actually idles at 600 rpm, but sails at 800rpm, I just love details like that. No idea why. One problem is that the car is so quiet and effortless you need iron resolve to avoid the speed edging up into figures that will attract trouble. Using the cruise control can help of course, but it seems to disable the sailing function, odd. However, the car certainly scores full marks as a long distance express.

News of my arrival (or more likely rather the cars arrival) had spread amongst my small circle of friends in Cheshire, and I was much in demand to show it off and give passenger rides. All of these friends are car fans, although none of them are presently Porsche owners, and are not really the sort of folk who would join a car club either, so their civilian opinions were of interest. To a man (and woman) impressions were universally favourable, several even commented that it seemed good value, which is a bit of a shock to a Scotsman. Richard, drives an Audi A5, and has an Evoque on order said he would change his order to a Macan were it not for the two year waiting list he was quoted. Charles, a dyed in the wool BMW owner, said he would even consider one as a future car. Given that Porsche are deliberately targeting the Macan to make conquest sales, this sort of feedback must be music to their marketing mens ears.

Off road? Yeah well Iíll admit I hardly scaled Ben Nevis in it, but I did poke it down some narrow farm lanes without any problem, and the ground clearance and four wheel drive made short work of a canter round a horse paddock with tall wet grass, somewhere I would not have taken a regular car. Iím presuming that as a tow bar is offered in the extras list, we can look forward to seeing lots of Macans with matching horseboxes at every weekend equestrian event. It then took Caroline and I to Crosby, to see Anthony Gormleyís "Another Place" the ghostly figures on the beach, which I have wanted to see for years. I was knocked out by them, just fabulous. I so desperately wanted to get the Macan on the beach for a photo opportunity, but I couldnít see a way down to the sand, and at the back of my mind I didnít much relish explaining to Porsche Edinburgh how I came to get their demo car stuck on a beach with an incoming tide, so there is just a picture of me instead! We then wafted into Formby for lunch, where the car seemed quite at home amongst the footballistís mansions and the parked Bentleys. Correct image? Yup, another tick on the score sheet.

Tooling round Knutsford in it made me smile, especially when I saw the car reflected in the window of the McLaren dealership, with Jensonís F1 car inside. I thought it would make a deliciously ironic photograph, but the traffic and the parking restrictions ruled it out sadly. The Macan is a pretty chunky bit of kit, but not so large as to make it too difficult in town, and I even managed to park it in the notoriously tight spaces of Booths supermarket car park. I suppressed a snigger as I remembered Alexei Sayleís rant about "four wheel drive being so important for the Sainsburyís car park". This may sound a trivial point, but Porsche will no doubt be expecting to sell boat loads of these to female customers, and such details as actually being able to park the damned thing count. I know that my wife harbours a desire for a Cayenne, but finds the sheer size of it too intimidating, and it physically wouldnít fit in her tiny office car park. I do wonder if the enormous 21" wheels and vast tyres mine was shod with actually make the car look bigger than it really is. Along with the black paint, and the black interior, they gave the car a decidedly thuggish look, like a bouncer in a dinner suit. I wonder what it would look like on some more restrained wheels, but I doubt weíll ever see one!

So far then the Macan has got an impressive scorecard; great cruiser, easy to drive, attracts non Porsche owners and is no doubt a brilliant mud plugger too. Good value if you stay away from the staggering list of toys, and bang on the money with the style set. It is starting to make a case for itself as the only car youíd ever need for all circumstances, but you guessed it, something is still bothering me. I had planned to go home by a different route, but I wonít be satisfied until I have another crack at the road out of Moffat.

Day 3 and I pack my bags to head home. My friendís daughter Sophia is working her university summer holidays in the family bakery (go on then, a plug for Rays Bakery in Prescot) and has blagged me two of their fabulous meat pies to sustain me on the journey home. Two pies in a paper bag look a tad incongruous in the elegant luggage area, but hell, a chap has to eat. I finally make enough sense of the sat nav to locate an office building in the wilds of Lancashire, say my goodbyes, and set off for home. The sat nav finally takes me to the new office premises of Alex and Tony, two hard headed northern property developers I used to work for years ago, for what is really just a social catch up call. Inevitably we end up in the car park, as the lure of the Macan is too strong, even for these Audi and Mercedes chaps, which again bodes well for the new Porsche.

The road snakes uphill out of Moffat for a few miles to the dramatic Devilís Beeftub, and I can hardly believe my luck as I can see for miles and there is not another vehicle in sight. I slip the car into Sport mode and "make progress". I have now built up much more confidence in the car than when I came this way a few days earlier, and instantly the car starts to come alive in my hands. It powers up the hill with ease and flicks from corner to corner with hardly a trace of body roll. This is much more like it. This is what Iíve been looking for. This starting to feel like a Porsche!

I find a forestry road at the top of the hill and pull in to take some photos. The hill has been stripped of forest, and in its place they are planting yet more ugly wind turbines. Damn, but I hate these things which now seem to pollute every view in Scotland. The thought of the meat pies cheer me up. One is more than enough, but I cannot decide what to do with the other one. I need a slick luggage transfer when I get back to Porsche Edinburgh, and the last thing I need is to look like a numpty holding a pie in a greasy bag. I could stick it in my holdall, but Iíd only get greasy clothes. I could throw it away, but the first one was too damned good, so I have a brainwave. I eat it. I know Iíll get indigestion, but it was worth it. So hereís a Scotsman, sitting in the Borders, with a German car, eating traditional English meat pies, fulminating about wind turbines being installed by some European contractor, which are probably making money for some foreign investor. Itís a funny old world.

Indigestion and windmills are forgotten the instant I start driving again. The car is now in Sport Plus, maximum chassis stiffness, and at last the pussy cat shows its tiger claws. The secret, as ever, is lightness of touch, and the Macan responds like a thoroughbred. I realise that previously I had been hanging on too tight, under-confident, over-driving it. The next ten miles are an absolute joy, as good a drive as Iíve had in a while, and I marvel at how such an unlikely car can handle with such delicacy and precision, with only the lightest of inputs form the driver. I know the diesel version is probably just as fast in the real world, and I shudder to think what my fuel consumption over this ten miles must have been, but this 3.0 litre twin turbo engine is an absolute honey. No Audi cast off this either, this engine is 100% Porsche, a cut down version of the 4.8 V8 which first appeared in the Panamera, now reduced to 3 litres, but with twin turbos, not that you could tell as the response is so instant. If you can live with the thirst, this is the engine to have. The Sport Plus calibration is not as manic as in some of the other Porsches, and is really well judged. The whole car just sings through the balls of your feet, the seat of your pants, and the tips of your fingers, just like it should. In todayís nanny state you wonít get the chance to drive like this often, the tiger feet will have to morph back into pussy cat pads for most of the time, but itís good to know the DNA is all there. It may have taken me three days, 600 miles, and an awful lot of petrol, but I found what I was looking for.

A real Porsche? Oh yes.