S stands for so much more in mid-range Macan
It's amazing the difference one little letter can make.
Take the letter S, for example.
It can turn a mile into a smile.
And it can turn a slightly ordinary Porsche model into a cracking one.
The Porsche in question is the Macan S - the German maker's spunky mid-sized luxury SUV which, despite a recent major upgrade, remains one of the least expensive ways to get the famous sporting badge on a bonnet.
It's the middle choice of three Macan models - each separated in price by about 20 grand. That family tree starts with the entry-level Macan (called the Macan T in some markets) that costs about $93,500. For that, buyers get a car that looks the part, but with a slightly uninspiring four-cylinder turbocharged engine that pales behind its more expensive Macan siblings.
At the very top of the Macan tree is the GTS, for those who'd happily plonk down a tick over $138,000 for the flagship model.
And splitting that pair is the car tested here, the Macan S. Wanting for nothing, it brings fierce performance, all packaged up in a bundle costing about $113,200 (plus on-road costs).
Not cheap, by any means, but well worth the added spend. While the basic model Macan feels just that, the two higher-spec models drive off into the distance in terms of power, performance and prestige.
The Macan S (280kW, 520Nm) more than honours the promise of that badge on the bonnet - while at the top of the pile is the GTS, all 324kW and 550Nm of it.
The question, of course, is why spend more on the full-cream version when the Macan S is so good?
Yes, the GTS is quicker, but testing the Macan S hardly felt like an inconvenience.
Like the GTS, it feels every bit a Porsche (a criticism sometimes aimed at the basic Macan) and, in these SUV days, also looks like a Porsche. Most importantly it goes and sounds like a Porsche.
The two top-sped models get the maker's new, bi-turbo, 2.9-litre, V6 engine, which replaces a superseded, turbocharged 3-litre flat six, giving the Macan an impressive boost.
Coupled to the cracking PDK seven-speed dual-clutch transmission the Macan is responsive, rorty and razor sharp in the accuracy and feel of its steering, thanks to oodles of mechanical grip and incredibly confident cornering.
It is angry and, when pushed, just a little bit noisy. In short, pretty much everything that its milder sibling, the entry-level Macan (no S) is not.
The lighter, sharper engine delivers a flatter performance curve, superior low-speed takeoff and, in the S, a slick 0-100km/h sprint of just 4.6 seconds. That feels a world away from the standard Macan's 6.1 seconds, yet within a blink of the GTS version's 4.3-second sprint.
Unlike many cars offering gearshift paddles, those in the S are much more than a token addition in the Macan. It's an engine that likes to be driven hard and pushed within sight of its rev limits.
Once that engine hits the mid-range, a characteristic Porsche sound fills the cabin and the little SUV is suddenly well underway.
That memorable snap, crackle and pop arrive the instant the accelerator lifts at any decent speed.
The Macan S looks virtually identical to the GTS version, and the distance between base model and S is cavernous when compared to the step up from S to GTS.
Even the nice people at the Porsche dealership admit as much. "The GTS is a bit more edgy," said one of the brand faithful.
"But to be honest if I was buying a Macan I'd just get the S with the Chrono package."
Straight from the horse's mouth.
Inside, the Macan offers a very Porsche experience. Not as engaging nor as hardcore as the likes of the 911 or the company's newest plaything, the all-electric Taycan.
But the cabin geometry is unmistakably from the same stock as those cars - from the rather skinny steering wheel to the clock parked at the very top of the centre stack.
As with models like the big-brother Cayenne and the lithe Panamera, the Macan situates most of its vehicle function buttons down either side of the centre console, while climate control, audio and multimedia are higher in the driver's field of vision. They fall easily to hand and feel tactile and crisp.
The display screen doesn't break any new ground and some of the functions, like making a phone call, can be fiddly at times.
Perhaps the biggest omission is the lack of a head-up display which would be welcome insurance in a car that reaches the speed limit so effortlessly and efficiently.
Of course there's a real Germanic simplicity about the way the car is presented. Things just work with very little fuss or bother.
Right down to a tee. Or an S, perhaps.
PORSCHE MACAN S
* HOW BIG? Based on similar architecture as the popular Audi Q5, the Macan boasts solid interior space but a much more nimble character than its bigger sibling, the Porsche Cayenne.
* HOW FAST? Just 4.6 seconds of sound and fury to arrive at the speed limit.
* HOW THIRSTY? 10.2L/100km which is pretty impressive from a vehicle with such capability.
* HOW MUCH? The Macan S costs $113,200 before on-road costs.