How Porsche Is Wooing Women

2015_Porsche_Macan - H 2015
Courtesy of Porsche

2015_Porsche_Macan - H 2015

In the hot compact luxury SUV market already staked out by BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes and Audi, the 2015 Macan has hit big — and is helping turn Porsche from the ultimate guy ride into a brand women can love

This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Porsche purists howled when the German builder of mighty sporting cars unleashed its version of a utilitarian SUV, the Cayenne, in 2002. It was a brazen attempt to broaden the market for Porsche beyond high-income male gearheads devoted to the maker's signature 911 Carrera sports car -- Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno, owners of multiple 911s, being typical of the breed -- and it worked: The Cayenne doubled Porsche's market share among women buyers and now outsells the rest of its stable by sizable margins (15,271 sold in the U.S. in 2014 through November).

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Now comes the 2015 Macan, Porsche's entrance into the red-hot compact luxury SUV market, which includes Audi's Q3, BMW's X1, Land Rover's Range Rover Evoque, Mercedes-Benz's GLA and Lincoln's MKC. These downsized SUVs offer the look and feel of their larger siblings but with sportier handling and lower price points. The Macan, introduced in May, was a hit out of the box: The 8,000 cars allotted for the U.S. in 2014 were snapped up so quickly customers only now are receiving deliveries -- and a Macan ordered today won't arrive until July because of ongoing high demand.

Like the Cayenne, the Macan is meant to broaden Porsche's market base. Despite a sticker price of $49,900 -- barely $3,000 less than the Cayenne's -- the strategy seems to be working again: 80 percent of the Macan's first custom- ers are new to Porsche, and 15 percent of those are women, a proportion expected to increase.

The interior of a 2015 Porsche Macan

"Porsche can be very scary," Detlev von Platen, the maker's North American CEO, told me at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. "You have a lot of people looking at Porsche and saying: 'That's a really nice car. Would I dare to drive one or own one?' The Macan helps attract customers who would have never driven a 911 in the first place."

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For Porsche die-hards and newcomers alike, the Macan's stealthily sexy silhouette and robust performance specs satisfy: The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that comes standard in the Macan S model, which I drove through three days of relentless rain, is good for 340 horsepower, commensurate with the 911's stock 350 horsepower. It also manages a top speed of 156 mph and fuel economy of 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The all-wheel drive and smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic allowed the Macan to negotiate L.A.'s sodden streets -- encrusted, after months of drought, with slippery engine crud -- as nimbly as tripping along on a bone-dry Sunday drive.

The Macan interior is lush but not overly so, done up in pleasant leathers, dashes of lacquered wood and an array of purpose-built switches instead of an increasingly standard, but still frustrating, multipurpose controller like BMW's iDrive.

But make no mistake: The Macan is not your soccer mom's SUV -- though Hollywood's helicoptering parents likely will take well to it. The instrument cluster is dominated by an analog tachometer twice as large as the speedometer, 911-like paddle shifters sprout from the steering column, and an analog racing timer on the dash relentlessly counts the seconds, making a trip to Costco feel like a proving lap at Monaco. Ultimately, the Macan seems a lot more "sport" than "utility." And that's the point. As von Platen says, "You can drive our cars on the race track, and you can drive them every day."