In our imagination, Porsche's marketing department in Stuttgart is surrounded by a herringbone pattern of perfectly parked cars, each expertly maneuvered into a space with only fractions of an inch to spare. Why do we imagine that? Because Porsche folks are so good at finding niches.
Consider how narrow the slot is for the revised Macan GTS, which slides in between the existing S and the range-topping Turbo variants. All three utilize turbocharged six-cylinder engines and have all-wheel drive and dual-clutch automatic gearboxes as standard. Yet, the GTS doesn't feel like a compromise. In fact, based on our first drive of it in Portugal, the GTS is almost certainly the one to pick.
A Family Affair
Porsche quietly dropped the GTS after 2017, two years before the Macan's facelift. This updated GTS is incrementally better because Porsche knows how to evolve. Like the range-topping Turbo, the GTS uses a twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6, variants of which can be found in the Cayenne S and Panamera 4S as well as a host of Audi models. The engine employs a hot-V design, with two turbochargers mounted in the valley between the cylinder banks, to help reduce turbo lag. With 375 horsepower, the GTS splits the difference between the 348-hp Macan S, which uses a single-turbo 3.0-liter, and the 434-hp Macan Turbo.
In this segment, where many rivals produce power outputs that start with a five, the entire Macan clan looks outgunned. But Porsche's engineers would seem to be taking a different approach. As drag racers have long proved, adding enough power will make anything go fast. But making a baby SUV handle like a proper sports car is a considerably bigger ask.
For anyone who doesn't live like Toretto (i.e., one stoplight at a time), the GTS is plenty quick. It launches well, and the V-6 pulls hard and without the hesitation we've noted in the Macan S. It reels in 6800 rpm with none of the tightness the previous GTS showed at redline. While it doesn’t have the aural appeal of some of its V-8-powered competitors, the GTS still produces a muscular burble down low and has a raspy top end. (The U.S.-spec Macan GTS forgoes the exhaust particulate filters mandated by European emissions regs, so it may sound even better than the Euro-spec models we drove.)
The transmission is another highlight. While the best conventional automatics have come close to the speed and snap of dual-clutch units in recent years, they still can't match the precision of Porsche's PDK. Sport and Sport Plus deliver shifts with savage speed and a satisfying bump of torque. And credit to whoever specified the thick metal gearchange paddles and their satisfyingly heavy action.
Poised for Action
Air springs, standard on U.S. models, lend the GTS an impressively pliant. The adaptive dampers prevent unwanted harmonics even when dealing with gnarly surfaces at inappropriate speeds. When you dial up the dampers in Sport, there's still some compliance, and even in Sport Plus mode, they aren't excessively harsh. We drove the GTS on both the standard 20-inch wheels and the optional 21s, and we couldn’t find any dynamic reason not to spring for the bigger ones.
Steering is excellent: precise, well weighted, and capable of passing genuine feedback on to the driver. On the hilly roads near Lisbon, the GTS's chassis proved capable of encouraging drivers to press harder and explore the car's limits. It has too much grip and not enough power for drifting on dry pavement, but the cornering line can be adjusted with fractional changes of the accelerator angle—something that will be familiar to anyone who has driven one of Porsche's sports cars. Beyond the height of its seating position and a vague sense of the inertial challenges introduced by a center of gravity that is slightly less than optimal, the Macan GTS drives like one of the best hot hatchbacks or performance sedans.
There remain compromises, as always. Like the rest of the family, the Macan GTS is short on the practicality that people often expect from their compact SUVs, with limited rear-seat legroom and cargo space. Last year's facelift improved the cabin, but parts are beginning to feel old, and we maintain that Porsche's decision to surround the shifter with identically sized white-on-black switches creates unnecessary confusion. The GTS is expensive, too, but its improvements over the S model amount to more than just tinsel. Plus, it's $12,300 cheaper than the Macan Turbo. With that in mind, it's hard not to appreciate the $72,650 GTS's performance value.