Life beyond sports cars: the new Porsche Macan and Panamera GTS

The plucky Panamera GTS delivers far more than the modest Macan

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

In case there is anybody on the entire planet with even a passing knowledge of the motoring world still under the impression that Porsche is merely a sports-car company, the German manufacturer's latest two updates to its range should permanently put that thought to bed.

Forget the 911. The Macan is the most important model in the Porsche canon, as its top seller, while the total units shifted of the Panamera almost doubled last year, compared to the previous 12 months.

Our test drives of the two prove rather contrasting: the 2019 Macan's international launch takes place in the ordinarily sunny surrounds of Balearic island Mallorca, but first, we pilot the new Panamera GTS in Bahrain.

The car made its initial bow in 2009, and the GTS was introduced in 2011. Unlike many current Porsches, it is yet to suffer from the continuing trend of engine downsizing, and the latest incarnation still gets busy with a grunty 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8.

It is now a meaner-looking machine than ever before, replete with black grille, tinted tail lights, an adjustable rear spoiler, 20-inch wheels, an air-suspension system and a sports chassis that has been lowered by 10 millimetres. Premium practical points aren't neglected, either, with a new head-up display.

The similarly sporty exhaust makes for a satisfying soundtrack, although unlike many of the Panamera’s stablemates, the spoiler and exhaust control are frustratingly hidden away in the touchscreen menus, rather than as addictively fun buttons on the central console.

A decent chunk of our time across the Arabian Gulf, however, is spent not on road, but taking the Panamera GTS and GTS Sport Turismo round the Bahrain International Circuit, home to the kingdom’s Formula One Grand Prix.

The reason for such a plucky push is that the Panamera GTS comes with upgraded performance: more power (460hp, up 20hp) and torque (620Nm, a whopping 100Nm increase), plus faster acceleration (0-to-100kph in 4.1 seconds) and a higher top speed (292kph or, for the slightly slower Sport Turismo, 289kph).

Our task is largely to keep up with a pro driver haring round in a 911 – and even in the hands of an amateur driver such as myself, the Panamera GTS keeps pace with aplomb, aided by its four-wheel drive and really quite excellent stability. It’s quite the compliment in itself.

In Mallorca, meanwhile, the Macan proves far less of a breathtaking experience, although it isn't entirely anybody's fault but Mother Nature's – the rain in Spain falls mostly on our two days on the island with the luxury compact SUV. Not that the standard Macan was ever likely to make anybody's year in terms of dashing driving experiences, with a mere four cylinders within a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine.

It leads to precisely none of the headline figures we have come to associate with Porsche: 252hp and a 0-to-100kph time of 6.5 seconds are somewhat unbecoming of the storied sports-car brand. If you don't want to yawn yourself off the road, the Macan S is where your smart money will go, with 50 per cent more displacement and cylinders, giving far healthier vital statistics of 354hp and 100kph from standing in 5.1 seconds.

As a bestselling, mass-market model, the Macan is far more concerned with creature comforts such as its broad range of apps, accessed via a 10.9-inch touchscreen. There's one that can record off-road trips, while the Porsche Connect app can help locate your car, which might be handy in a mega-mall car park after a lengthy stint at the New Year sales. The most bizarre app here is Napster, the first time I have seen that name on a car's infotainment system. Somebody call 2001 and tell everyone that the early-noughties' most prominent music-downloading service made it after all.

Outside, things are far more 2019, with an extremely agreeable new wheel design (20 inches, with 21 inches available as an option), while there are five choices of side "blade" trim to personalise your Macan, as well as four new exterior colours. The 3D Porsche lettering in the tail-light strip also brings the Macan bang up to date, as does ionising air conditioning and an internet connection.

In an attempt to fool you into thinking you're driving a rather more rapid Porsche, the steering wheel now comes with a driving-mode switch. Safety kit is comprehensive, too, with traffic-jam assist, which works with the adaptive cruise control to accelerate, decelerate and steer automatically up to speeds of 60kph; the "risk radar" warns of accidents and hazards, including – presciently for my Mallorca trip – bad weather.

A fairly comprehensive package, then, so long as you aren't expecting to turn any journey into a truly memorable drive, particularly in the regular Macan. Not that our underwhelming time with the compact SUV is likely to bother Porsche or its buyers – since its debut in 2014, more than 350,000 Macans have found homes globally, with sales increasing year-on-year in a curve that bucks any worldwide car sales stats. With a starting price at a mite more than Dh215,000, that doesn't seem likely to slow down any time soon.


Read more:

Latest from The National's Motoring section