Porsche returned to LMP1 at Le Mans the other weekend, and a desperate shame it was to witness a failure to clinch what – at one stage – appeared to be heading towards the most triumphant of comebacks.
The loss of a race lead must have hurt like hell on the day, but let’s face it – it doesn’t really matter from a reputation perspective. Porsche’s motorsport credentials are so deeply rooted in the collective psyche that the company doesn’t have much left to prove. Unless it’s proving that an SUV can be made to really handle.
And that’s where Goodwood comes in. Or at least why Porsche came to Goodwood recently, decamping at the Motor Circuit for a few days in a quest to convince the motoring media that the Porsche badge signifies genuine performance even when glued to the extremities of a four-wheel drive family hauler.
The new Porsche Macan is certainly a family hauler, albeit its more ‘dynamic’ styling makes it a little less practical than the Audi Q5 to which it is loosely related. You may be surprised at just how loosely – the Porsche has all new body panels, it sits substantially lower than the Audi, it has Porsche’s own Haldex 4×4 system in place of the Q5’s Quattro set-up, and all models feature Porsche’s 7-speed PDK transmission.
Oh, and they’ve dry-sumped the new V6 engine in the quest to lower the centre of gravity… isn’t that cool? You’ve got to hand it to these guys, they don’t mess about!
Porsche turned up at Goodwood with a diesel Macan as well as two petrol variants, but I was really only interested in the 400hp (twin) Turbo S, and that mainly thanks to fond memories of driving the absolutely lunatic Cayenne Turbo on a similar press junket here a few years ago.
It turns out that 400hp isn’t quite enough to instil the Macan with the unhinged performance of the Cayenne, and without its bigger brother’s cartoonish charisma I don’t think the Macan Turbo S is quite as emotionally engaging – unless that badge is the thing that speaks to you most powerfully, of course.
But the Macan is certainly an impressively high achiever and as a technical tour-de-force it probably beats the Cayenne Turbo hands down.
The Turbo S Chrono Sport version has a Sport Plus setting that ‘levels up’ aggression in the throttle response, improves shift speeds for the 7-speed PDK box, and tweaks the optional active air suspension; the combination of upgrades makes this SUV hurtle around the Goodwood Circuit like a 500bhp super-saloon.
Normal road mode, quite predictably exposes compromise when challenged by fast track use. You can do it, but there’s an underlying sensation of floating into very fast turns which undermines confidence just sufficiently to put you off a bit.
With Sport Plus enabled, the car is transformed into a genuine track-warrior, feeling entirely hunkered down, stable, and confidence inspiring as you hurl it between apexes. (Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to drive between apices… even here at Goodwood!)
You even get torque-vectoring, dammit, and dropping into the St Mary’s left-hander is quite surreal as the electronics manage conflicting forces to keep the Macan hustling round, tucked in tight against the kerb.
All of which seems a) terrific fun/utterly heroic and b) a bit like overkill. Because let’s face it, when is anyone next going to drive a Macan of any ilk on anything resembling a racing circuit?
On the roads of West Sussex, where I spent the next hour with the Turbo S, the Sport Plus setting remained switched resolutely off. It’s just too uncomfortably firm for road use in my estimation – here in the UK at least – and selecting it would be aggravating unless you’re under 20 and the Macan is your Dad’s.
This is not a problem in the least, because the Macan’s ‘normal’ performance parameters are perfectly suited to brisk – actually rather fast – road use.
That ‘float’ exposed on the circuit is not evident on the road at all; in fact the chassis feels extremely poised, the ride nicely damped. And (let’s be honest) 400hp does give you quite an advantage when overtaking the slower stuff. Porsche claims 0-62mph in 4.6sec (with Sport Chrono – 4.8sec without) and a top speed of 165mph.
So where does this all leave us? Well, unusually, I’m not quite sure.
Pining for the ballistic insanity of the Cayenne Turbo? Perhaps. Thinking it would be hard to find another luxury family hauler with anything like the Macan Turbo’s A-B ability? Probably.
Believing Porsche can make an SUV really handle? Certainly.
And that’s where we came in.