2020 Porsche Macan Turbo first drive review: Bragging rights

The 2020 Porsche Macan Turbo puts up some impressive numbers. Its twin-turbo V6 engine makes a healthy 434 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque. It'll scoot to 60 mph in as little as 4.1 seconds. It comes with Porsche's surface-coated brakes behind 20-inch wheels, and you can add a number of sporty upgrades like torque-vectoring tech, an adaptive air suspension and carbon-ceramic stoppers. It's the most performance-oriented Macan yet.

It makes a great first impression, too. Blasting along winding German backroads east of Porsche's headquarters in Stuttgart, I'm reminded that the Macan is one of the best-driving SUVs available at any price. The entire Macan range received some meaningful updates for 2019, including aluminum suspension components that are stronger and lighter than the previous steel hardware. Combined with the optional, three-stage air suspension, the Macan goes from comfortable 'bahn-burner to taut canyon-carver with the push of a button.

The small-diameter steering wheel is nicely weighted and the lines of communication between the road and driver are crystal clear. You get plenty of feedback through both the steering and seat of your pants, meaning it's easy to carry lots of speed through tight corners, simply because you've got a great sense of your grip at road level. Being an SUV, the Macan has a tendency to resort to safe understeer should you push a bit too hard while entering a hairpin bend, but a quick stab of the throttle puts the optional torque-vectoring system to work, shuffling power side to side to help the rear end rotate. You can drive this thing like a 911 Carrera all day long and it absolutely will not mind. Nor will it ever let you down.

Normally, this is where I'd dig into a caveat about Porsche's surface-coated brakes, which are standard on the Macan Turbo. First launched on the Cayenne, they've been lauded by critics (myself included) for their hard-to-modulate characteristics at low speeds. Happily, Porsche did some more fine tuning, and is now fitting new pads to all of its surface-coated brake applications. Combined with reworked pedal feel, they give the Macan a more natural, progressive stopping experience, whether quickly halting from highway speeds, or slogging through stop-and-go traffic at 10 mph. All Macan Turbo models will roll off the line with these brakes as standard, and any new so-optioned Cayenne built as of this writing will have the better pads, too. You can get ceramic composite brakes on the Macan Turbo, if you'd like, but given how strong and fade-free the surface-coated stoppers are, and now that they aren't herky-jerky to use, it feels like an unnecessary upgrade.

At the heart of the Macan Turbo is a new 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V6, producing the aforementioned 434 hp and 405 lb-ft. That's a 34-hp increase over the previous Macan Turbo, but torque is basically a wash. Still, because the new engine delivers its power lower in the rev range, and with more urgency, the Macan Turbo's 4.1-second 0-to-60-mph time is 0.3 seconds quicker than before. Even without the Sport Chrono pack -- which includes launch control, a Sport Plus mode and the push-to-pass Sport Response button -- the Macan Turbo will hit 60 mph in a definitely not-slow 4.3 seconds.

The Macan Turbo gets a new engine for 2020: a twin-turbo, 2.9-liter V6.

Porsche

Yet there's something about this engine that feels... weak. I'm not talking about the amount of power on offer, more the overall experience. When I stomp on the throttle, I don't get the slam-you-into-your-seat feeling I expect from a Turbo-badged Porsche. The engine note, which is augmented and piped into the cabin, lacks drama. For what it's worth, this isn't a problem that's unique to the Macan Turbo: When I drove the RS5 Coupe with Audi's version of this 2.9-liter V6 last year, I noticed a similar lack of personality. Capable as it is, the V6 is simply too buttoned up for its own good.

The Turbo's engine doesn't feel like a truly meaningful upgrade over the 3.0-liter V6 in the Macan S, which offers 348 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. On paper, the Turbo is nearly a full second quicker in the 0-to-60-mph sprint than a Macan S, but that doesn't really come across from behind the wheel. For the sake of comparison, when you drive a Cayenne S or Panamera 4S, you're impressed with the V6's output. But then you mash the throttle in a Cayenne Turbo or Panamera Turbo and you're like, oh, there it is. Maybe it's because those larger vehicles use more characterful V8 engines in their Turbo variants. Maybe the Macan just needs a V8. (Hah!)

As for the rest of the Turbo, it's pretty much the same as any other Macan, but has a higher level of standard equipment. In addition to 20-inch wheels, Turbos come with adaptive LED headlights, Sport Design side skirts, a fixed roof spoiler and a throatier sport exhaust (which is also too quiet). These pieces work well alongside the refreshed Macan's visual upgrades: the ever-so-slightly tweaked front fascia and full-width LED taillights. You can also get the Macan in a number of new colors including the Mamba Green seen here. And by all means, you should.

Step inside, and you're reminded that the Macan is a five-year-old SUV, despite its recent refresh. While newer Porsches use a backlit center console with flush-mounted, haptic-feedback buttons, the Macan is still a button-heavy mess. All the features you expect from a luxury SUV are there, the experience is just outdated. This will almost certainly be rectified when the brand-new Macan launches in a couple of years. Until then, however...

The 10.9-inch PCM touchscreen is great. But the rest of the cabin is a little outdated. 

Porsche

At least the infotainment tech is excellent. There's a 10.9-inch touchscreen in the Macan's dashboard, running the always-fantastic Porsche Communication Management (PCM) software. Even on this smaller display (Cayennes and Panameras use 12.3-inch screens), PCM looks the business -- bright and colorful, and easy to navigate. The home screen widgets can be reconfigured to your heart's content, and a Wi-Fi hotspot is standard. Apple CarPlay is part of the package, too. But, as is the case with every Porsche, the sad trombone keeps on playin' for Android users.

Every Macan Turbo rolls off the line with comfortable and supportive sport seats, brushed metal trim and an Alcantara headliner. And of course, myriad option packages are available. All in, the Macan is still lovely from behind the wheel -- quiet, nicely appointed and with great fit and finish. That said, if you want driver-assistance features such as lane-keeping assist, lane-change assist, parking assist or adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, you have to pay extra.

At $84,950 to start, including $1,350 for destination, the Macan Turbo is a pretty serious $24,200 step up from the Macan S. All optioned up with things like the adaptive air suspension, torque vectoring, the Sport Chrono pack, 21-inch wheels, some driver-assistance features and a number of other goodies, the Mamba Green tester pictured here comes in at a hefty $100,390. Goodness.

Impressive as the Turbo is, however, it's the Macan S that makes more sense to me; this one's really just for bragging rights. To wit: You can spec an S with big wheels, performance options, driver-assistance features and more, and you'll get a super nice car for around $85,000 -- check the no-cost badge-delete option, and no one's the wiser. Personally, that's exactly the way I'd go, and 90% of the time, I don't think I'd notice the power difference. Besides, if it's a performance-oriented Macan you're after, the inevitable GTS is likely just around the corner.

Mamba Green: $700 well spent.

Porsche

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

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