You can be forgiven for looking past the Macans in the parking lot. Porsche sold 24,716 of them in the U.S. last year. In the same year, they sold only 23,753 911s, 718s, and Taycans combined. Since debuting in 2014, it has become a staple of the background. The most anonymous Porsche on the road. As a fan of those 911s, 718s, and Taycans, you could say the Macan has merit because its massive success helps keep the rest of the lineup alive. That sells the Macan short. It's an exceptional car. When you add in the relative performance bargain of the new Macan T, a model that brings the handling developments of the GTS to a less powerful and more affordable level, you get something special.
It can be a tough sell for longtime Porsche believers. Caring about the Macan requires caring about compact crossovers. Sales figures indicate that the vast majority of buyers do, but it remains a difficult sell for hardcore enthusiasts. After all, aren't these cars built on compromise? It isn't a sedan and it isn't an SUV. That means the Macan is technically in competition with a wide group that includes the Lincoln Corsair and Buick Envision; our colleagues at Car and Driver have the Macan as part of a 25-car segment. So why is Porsche even participating in this game?
A cynic would (correctly) say that they're here to make money where the customers are. Fast crossovers and SUVs with prestigious badges sell exceptionally well. If BMW makes an X3 M and Mercedes makes AMG variants of multiple cars of the size, the market for a Porsche exists. Volkswagen's MLB platform already underpins a wide variety of Audis, including the Q5 and SQ5, so handing Porsche the building blocks to make the car was not a major logistical challenge.
The thing that makes the Macan special is what Porsche actually did with it.
From our first look back in 2014, what stood out about the Macan is how firmly it is not a badge engineered Audi Q5. Back then, Porsche told us that the car shared just 30 percent of its components with the existing Q5. To this day, the car retains very few signs of its Volkswagen family platform origins. On the Macan T, that includes the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Crucially, though, it does not include either Audi's signature Quattro all-wheel drive system or traditional automatics.
Instead, Porsche built its own all-wheel drive system and dropped in an exceptional PDK transmission. The Macan T adds a few further treats to make it something like the GTS of the non-S Macan: Standard PASM adaptive dampers, a unique balance for the unique AWD system, and fabric-insert seats. The Macan T we tested went one step further, adding air springs and PTV+ torque vectoring with a baked-in electronic limited-slip differential.
All together, it makes the Macan T something unique. Not only is it tied with the base Macan as the least powerful car in Porsche's entire lineup at 261 horsepower, the off-the-shelf four-cylinder unit delivers that power in a particularly generic way. From stoplight to stoplight, it could be confused for any other crossover. It's quick enough in a sprint, but its 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds is well behind the 4.6 seconds boasted by its more powerful direct competitor, the BMW X3 M40i.
That made the Macan T confusing at first. Looking around at what comes standard, it's a slightly compromised take on everything you expect from a very good normal luxury crossover. The Macan's latest facelift brings yet another wide touchscreen with Apple CarPlay integration. A tall center console and low seating position seat give the driver a little bit more of an illusion of sports sedans past. The rear seats are small, and the rear cargo area is notably small for the segment, but both are still offering more than you would get in an equivalent sedan.
But then there are the things that make it a T. This example was specced with a Race-Tex steering wheel and headliner, Porsche's equivalent of the alcantara that has become ubiquitous on sports cars with track day aspirations. The massive central navigation system, a focal point of the car's recent second facelift, has a menu option for timing laps to match the centrally-mounted chronograph. The rear spoiler, front bumper, and side bodywork detailing are all outfitted in an Agate Grey meant as the T's signature accent color. All in a crossover that is not particularly fast. It all seems to be projecting something a four-cylinder compact crossover cannot back up, and, in the relatively dense city of Santa Monica, it could not. Then I reached Malibu.
Once you head North past West L.A., the next two hours of the Pacific Coast Highway are dotted by anonymous-looking right-hand turns that lead through weaving canyons. Some are world-famous driving roads, ones you've seen in magazines and YouTube videos. Others are simply the only way in and out of upscale neighborhoods, the sort of places where regular road traffic is only bicyclists, construction vehicles, and hypercars. At the only grocery store along the coast in miles, the Macan ended up parked next to a fleet of 911s, McLarens, and other wonderfully fast things led by Car and Driver's Elana Scherr. For the region, the group did not seem all that out of the ordinary. That's just Malibu.
It took all of five good corners in those canyons to understand the real appeal of the Macan T. Like the basic Macan, the sharp and responsive little crossover feels far more comfortable nearing its limits than anything sharing a segment with the Lexus RX should. Going up to the T, all those confounding Porsche abbreviations from earlier each add plenty to the experience. This is a car that uses every tool available in its arsenal to work with the driver on the task at hand, getting the most out of a great road.
The actual performance is impressive, but what really stands out is how it feels. The responsive, well-weighted steering is an obvious and immediate strength in a category of car that is so closely associated with unresponsive and blobby things. The torque-vectoring all-wheel drive makes every hard exit feel special, the optional air suspension's most aggressive settings tell you everything you need to know about the road beneath without making the whole process uncomfortable, and the PDK gearbox is so obviously sublime at everything it does that it even gives a powertrain anchored by a Volkswagen-sourced 2.0 turbo something memorable.
Sure, it still might not be a 718 or a 911, but it all comes together to stand out as a performance car in its own right. Suddenly, even the track-ready stuff makes sense: If I owned a Macan T, I could actually imagine a world where I take this four-cylinder thing meant to be cross-shopped with a Cadillac XT5 to track days and put that timer to work.
In the considerably more powerful GTS, it all adds up to a genuinely fast car. The T, however, slots right in between the Golf GTI and Golf R in horsepower despite weighing nearly 800 pounds more than either. That makes it a segment equivalent of a "slow-car-fast" performer, a stark contrast from its Audi SQ5 cousin. It certainly does not make the T fast, but it makes the T all the more approachable to drive hard. It seems to always be encouraging you to find its surprising limits.
Is that engine special? No, but the Audi-sourced V-6 in the current GTS is not particularly special, either. The Macan T cuts on the thing that the GTS shares with every other quick car in its segment to give you as much of what makes the GTS great as possible at a significantly lower price point. Porsche has not yet revealed pricing details, but expect it to slot somewhere in between the base Macan (starting at $54,900 this year) and the Macan S (starting at $65,400).
That puts it well below the $79,900 starting price of the GTS and instead drops it in line with the half-measure performance crossovers from BMW and Mercedes, the X3 M40i and GLC AMG 43. Those cars are more powerful, flashier, and built on far newer platforms. The Macan, now on its second facelift but dating back to 2014 and built on a modular platform that its own Volkswagen Auto Group peers had moved on from just a few years later, still feels more special.
And these cars sell at major volume. In decades, the current Macan will be one of the best cars enthusiasts can reliably find on whatever horrifying AI-focused equivalent of Craigslist we land on in 2050. The compact crossover segment frees up companies like Porsche to build the future classic sports cars we love, but the Macan might be a future classic in its own right. In a class that was never supposed to be a one-car solution for enthusiasts, Porsche has been selling tens of thousands of them since 2014. And, by bringing out all of the car's strengths at a much lower price point, the Macan T might just be the one to get.