Brand extensions are tricky. Sure, businesses always want to expand their reach and attract new customers, but veer too far from the core mission and you frustrate your fans and alienate the true believers. For as many successful examples of the business maneuver (the iPhone, Yamaha motorcycles, Virgin Airlines) there are more failures (Paula Deen Kids Furniture, Men’s Vogue, Virgin Water Purifiers, McPizza).
These days, a Porsche SUV shouldn’t irritate anyone aside from the most passionate of Porsche purists. It was 2002 when its first SUV, the Cayenne, was introduced with a name that implied spiciness. Now comes its little brother, the Macan, which takes its name from the Indonesian word for tiger. As the company founded by Dr Ferdinand Porsche in 1931 proclaims, Porsche is “expanding its range to include a whole new class of vehicle.” Not only that, the Macan is an all-new model entering the fastest-growing segment of the auto industry—compact SUVs. The keyword here being fast.
The all-wheel drive Macan arrives in two models: the Macan S (equipped with a V6 twin turbo engine that touches 156 mph) and the Macan Turbo, which takes the title as most powerful of all compact SUVs and can do 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. (For comparison, the race-bred manual 911 Carrera S legs it in 4.3 seconds.) The Cayenne and Panamera already proved that Porsche’s sports car genetics could be engineered into completely different vehicle types, and the Macan continues along that vein and at a more stomachable entry-model price ($49,900 for the S).
As for its appearance, there’s no mistaking the Macan for anything but a Porsche. There’s the strong sloping roofline that echoes the 911 and Cayman, the large oblong LED headlights that are set as wide apart as possible and, of course, there are those “magic hips.” On the inside, the driver’s controls will be familiar to anyone who’s ever taken the wheel of one of Zuffenhausen’s finest.
From the front, the styling is strikingly aggressive. The massive black grille is guaranteed to not go unnoticed in any rearview mirror on the highway and the wraparound clamshell hood is one of a few design elements adopted from Porsche’s 918 Spyder. (The multi-functional sport steering wheel, the 3D LED taillights and the shape of the side blades at the bottom of the front and rear doors are also borrowed from the hybrid hypercar.)
When viewed from the rear, the Macan is a stripped-down study in minimalism, as if Richard Meier had a hand in the design. There’s not even a grab handle to open the trunk—a release button at the base of the rear wiper does the job.
Back to successful brand extensions: Porsche’s core mission has always been fixed on the race track, so the critical point is how well the Macan drives. First thing one notices is how low the vehicle sits—almost three inches lower than the Cayenne, giving it a proper sporty feel. When put through the paces at the Willow Springs Raceway in the High Desert of southern California, the Macan Turbo was startlingly fast off the line and had little trouble keeping up with the Cayman S leading the charge around the circuit.
To say it’s unnerving to engage Sport Mode and dive hard into the turns in a SUV that weighs over 4,000 pounds is an understatement. But the staggered wheels (narrower tires at the front for increased agility, wider tires at the back for stability, just like the 911) and the Porsche Active Suspension Management handled it all without any protest.
Then it was time for a go on the off-road course. Steep inclines, precipitous drops and chasms in the desert were all negotiated with ease as the Burmester surround sound system provided the score. Will buyers of the Macan actually take it out to the track, or to the desert for some off-roading? Unlikely. But always nice to know you can—and in a Porsche.
Photos by Michael Mraz