MONROVIA, Calif. – The base four-cylinder Porsche Macan might be easy to find on dealer lots, as plenty of people buy them, but finding a car reviewer such as yours truly who has actually driven one is awfully difficult. You see, when the 2.0-liter turbo was introduced, there was hardly the usual fanfare associated with a new Porsche variant – no first-drive events that we can recall, nor have any of our editors driven one since. Until now. The 2023 Porsche Macan T finally puts a spotlight on the base engine by showing that it’s good for something other than dramatically lowering the point of entry of both the Macan and the entire Porsche brand.
Immediately, it’s clear that the 2.0-liter turbo inline-four (versus the 2.0-liter turbo boxer-four in the 718), which produces 261 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, provides competitive thrust for the compact luxury SUV segment. It doesn’t wow you, but it’s also quick enough that you don’t stare at the steering wheel’s Porsche badge and go, “Really?” That said, the 0-60 sprint is clocked at 5.8 seconds, which is actually a tick slower than the Audi Q5 that uses a less powerful version of roughly the same engine.
Of course, the Audi doesn’t benefit from the Macan’s exceptional PDK transmission, which snicks through gears with precision, and typically upshifts and downshifts when you would. Should you actually want a taste of the old school, using the big-old paddle shifters is a tactile treat and brings about rapid reactions from the PDK.
Ultimately, the thing that most stands out about this engine is that it doesn’t stand out at all. It’s very quiet, as if Porsche’s engineers were just as reticent to put a spotlight on the 2.0-liter as Porsche enthusiasts are. A sport exhaust can be added, and although our test vehicle was not so equipped, it’s easy to recommend checking that particular option box even though it goes for $2,930. The Macan T could use a little (or a lot) of the audible drama those louder pipes would provide, since it seems like the missing piece to what is otherwise an exciting little SUV that provides far more enjoyment than the segment norm and absolutely feels like a genuine Porsche behind the wheel.
Like other Porsche T models, the 2023 Macan T takes that base engine and pairs it with a connoisseurs’ choice of performance-oriented features that would otherwise be options or available only on upper trim levels such as the GTS. The “PASM” adaptive damping system is standard (as it is on the V6-powered Macan S), along with the Sport Chrono package that adds a Sport Plus mode, launch control, the dash-top clock and a steering wheel equipped with a mode switch dial and Sport Response overboost button. Compared to the base 2.0-liter Macan, the all-wheel-drive and Porsche Traction Management systems have a greater rear-biased power distribution.
Optional enhancements, which came equipped to our test car, include an adaptive air suspension with T-specific stiffened anti-roll bars, tuning inspired by the Macan GTS and a 10-millimeter ride height drop. Also optional is the brake-based Torque Vectoring Plus system tuned specially for the T.
That such a consequential feature as air suspension is optional does make it even harder to determine the Macan T’s advantage over lesser versions (remember, we still haven’t driven that base Macan). However, I can at least report that the Macan T sure feels like the last Macan I drove: the GTS. It may not have all the thrust or noise, but everything feels similarly taut, precise and connected to your body. From the tips of your fingers to the seat of your pants, you constantly feel engaged with the car in a way that you just don’t get from other SUVs. Actually, it doesn’t feel like an SUV at all apart from the constant cognitive dissonance of your forward vision being higher off the ground than every other sensation indicates you should be.
Like the GTS, the Macan T provides the sort of exceptional ride and handling balance we’ve come to expect from Porsche’s air suspension. Although the ride in Normal mode is firmer than the class norm (say, an Audi Q5), it’s never harsh or tiresome even on imperfect pavement. You feel the road without punishment. It doesn’t even beat you up in its firmest setting, which you often have to skip in Porsche’s sports cars because it not only bounces you about like there’s an ongoing seismic event, but can also upset the chassis through mid-corner bumps. Much as the Macan GTS shrugged off such imperfect pavement when we charged one up Pike’s Peak back in 2016, the Macan T similarly benefits from the greater suspension travel afforded by a taller vehicle, as well as the air suspension’s capability to adeptly balance increased control and maintained composure.
Also noticed during our trip up San Gabriel Mountain Road (and trip down … and another trip up and down again), was the rear end rotating itself through and out of corners, no doubt the result of the rear-biased all-wheel drive and Torque Vectoring Plus system. It makes the Macan feel more like it’s rear-wheel drive. Likely helping that endeavor is the 129 pounds missing from atop the front wheels compared to the V6 Macans – indeed, the Macan T’s little four-cylinder actually gives it an advantage. Theoretically. Without a back-to-back drive, it’s difficult to determine just how sharper the nose turns in or how generally more agile it feels (if it does at all), but removing that much weight has to count for something.
Visually, the Macan T gets standard 20-inch wheels finished in “dark titanium.” These are optional on other Macan variants, but the Agate Grey Metallic trim found on the grille, mirrors, side blades, roof spoiler and rear logos is unique to the Macan T. The tinted LED taillights are a Porsche Exclusive customized option. The interior gets an exclusive striped cloth upholstery accented by contrasting silver stitching that extends to the headrests and steering wheel.
Our test car came with the optional Race-Tex suede-like steering wheel and carbon fiber trim, both of which I’d happily do without. There was also a boat load of other options on our test car, none of which have anything to do with added performance and that are optional on other Macans. By our estimate, the test car had more than $22,000 worth of options on top of an estimated base price “in the low $60,000 range” (official pricing will be announced at a later date).
However, if you just consider a basic, no-option Macan T, you’re looking at something that costs roughly the same as adding PASM, the Sport Chrono package and other added features to a base Macan that starts at $56,250. In that scenario, though, you’d be going without the T’s special design elements and rear-biased Porsche Traction Management system, and would also not have access to the T’s enhanced versions of the air suspension and Torque Vectoring Plus. Furthermore, a base Macan T should cost a few thousand less than a base Macan S. In other words, the T represents good value (very relatively speaking) if you want a performance-oriented Macan but don’t want a thirstier engine.
And indeed, that’s where the Macan T really makes sense. It’s a smart extension for the range, especially in light of increasing fuel economy concerns. Even if your head was saying that the base four-cylinder was a good call, your heart was saying that a Volkswagen Group 2.0-liter turbo just seemed wrong for something wearing a Porsche badge. And you wouldn’t be wrong, as the engine is pretty characterless. But, with the Macan T’s various enhancements, the base engine seems easier to overlook, as the rest of the dynamic package is so obviously consistent with what one expects from a Porsche. Of course, you do need to check the right options boxes, specifically the air suspension … which is also what one expects from a Porsche.