Clearly the Volkswagen Group believes in competition improving the breed. Take Porsche and Audi. They’ve constantly clashed on the racetrack, Porsche beating Audi at Le Mans most recently. But the feud also breaks into the sales yard.
Bar the 911, every Porsche model locks horns with an Audi, but it’s Stuttgart’s latest and greatest (selling), the Macan, which inflames the inter-family rivalry to boiling point.
During development of its mid-size SUV, Porsche was briefed to use 70 per cent of Audi’s Q5, leaving only 30 per cent with which to fiddle to save a couple of pennies. However, as the story goes, it flipped that figure, instead using only 30 per cent from its donor to crucially make the rest feel bona fide Porsche.
When up against each other, though, which crossover boasts the best genes? Well, a new performance variant from each brand gives us the chance to call the brawl. In Audi’s corner, it’s hit the SQ5 with a go-fast tag most recently reserved for the R8 and S8 line-toppers. Named the ‘Plus’, it’s fitted with more power, more kit, and slicker looks, to perch itself $16K above the base car at $108,855.
Not wanting to let Audi hog the yawning $40K gap between the $92,800 Macan S and $130,000 range-topping Macan Turbo all to itself, Porsche replied by slapping a GTS badge on the Macan – a designation usually saved for a model’s twilight years.
The GTS commands $109,200 before on roads, though our test car lists at $137,610 thanks to some choice extras. In return its boosted 3.0-litre V6 inhales through tweaked inlet tracts and exhales through a sports exhaust system, finding another 15kW/50Nm in the process for totals of 265kW/500Nm.
Audi’s tinkering with the SQ5’s 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 is a little more fruitful. By bolting on a new fuel pump and upping injection pressures it could increase boost and have it thrum out 20kW and 50Nm more than the base car’s outputs – all up it makes 250kW and a boat-pulling 700Nm.
Both mills are fed boost by two turbos. The Porsche’s work in parallel, drawing in gases from one bank each, while the Audi’s huffers work in sequence, where a smaller turbo builds boost quickly before the larger one steps in for the heavy lifting.
Each slurps a different drop, and the effects on each car’s character are most obvious when pointing them down Heathcote’s quarter mile. Even at a standstill the Porsche’s petrol V6 is eager to show how free-revving it is, launch control (for which you’ll need the $2690 Sport Chrono option) dialling up 5200rpm, which is 600rpm higher than the SQ5’s redline.
Farting out its quad exhaust-tips as the engine bounces off its self-imposed limiter, the high-riding Macan squats hard as you lift the brake with the throttle pinned. Revs fall to 4000rpm as the all-wheel drivetrain catches up, focusing most of its power to the rear, but then fire towards a 6900rpm redline, impersonating a 911’s flat-six wail in the process.
Whereas the Macan employs a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, the Audi shoots power through an eight-speed torque converter, so its ‘launch control’ isn’t as fancy, though it’s just as effective. Disable ESP, stall up 2800rpm, lift the brake, and it flings forward with a sound like no other diesel donk.
There’s a chorus of noise as the turbos whistle and the exhaust system’s sound actuators grind out a V8-like bellow. Even fellow driver Steve Nally, standing trackside, is struck by how well the engine hides its diesel clatter: “It sounds like an HSV; like no diesel I’ve ever heard!”
From the jump the two are evenly matched to about 30km/h as the Audi’s 255mm-wide Pirellis bite earlier than the GTS’s big 265mm front and 295mm rear Michelins. After that, however, the SQ5’s chronically short ratios and narrow powerband smother its chances of keeping up.
The Audi’s gearbox works through two ratios before triple figures, while the Porsche upshifts to third at 102km/h. So even on a cold and damp surface the GTS trumps its factory claim to 100km/h by 0.11sec, eating it up in 4.89sec whereas the Audi needs 5.21sec for the feat.
Because the Audi’s close ratios keep the diesel mill working hard between 4000-5200rpm it never sees the 700Nm lurking between 1400-2550rpm and by 150km/h the gap has widened to almost eight-tenths. Nonetheless, the SQ5 runs the Macan reasonably close over the quarter mile, its 13.59sec effort trailing by just 0.28sec.
Both are equally impressive on the stoppers. The GTS shares its braking hardware with the Macan S, which thankfully aren’t too shabby to begin with, six-piston grabbers gnawing pizza-sized discs, while the rear sliding calipers are shared with the SQ5.
But the Audi proves there’s nothing wrong with sliding calipers (it uses them up front as well) erasing 100km/h in 37.46m compared to the Macan’s 37.21m. However, what they do lack is the precise feel and feedback of the Porsche’s left pedal.
Where Audi spent its cash was on a real torque-vectoring rear diff. It’s hard to grasp why you’d stick a whizz-bang diff in a soft-roader until, that is, you venture on to Mount Macedon’s damp, almost freezing, roads. At first the SQ5’s variable steering rack feels slightly dull and doesn’t quite relay where the front tyres point. And the damper-and-spring setup carried over from the base SQ5 allows the Plus to sometimes crash into ditches and bite into ridges.
However, you summon the diff’s wizardry by upping the pace and experimenting with the loud pedal. You’ll need to manage the front-end, as the rear-axle’s gecko-like grip can now introduce mid-corner push, but with the nose pointed where you want, more throttle will magically tighten your line.
Ultimately the Porsche won’t keep up with the Audi over such wet, cold surfaces. It’s inside-wheel braking tech simply can’t tame 500Nm, even with upgraded stability and traction control electronics. But as things dry up the 1895kg Macan kicks dirt in Newton’s face. The front-end hones in on apexes like an Imperial zero fighter buzzing an Allied battleship, the Porsche’s steering so much more accurate you could tickle a roadside snail with a Michelin.
The rack is also weighted so creamily that if there wasn’t the odd rattle, you’d think this system was pinched from a Cayman.The ride-and-handling mix also feels expertly judged. The adaptive dampers turn potholes into pennies and despite a 15mm lowered chassis it handles its body better than an Olympic acrobat.
Its PDK gearbox is scarily intuitive, too. Which is almost a shame as it denies you the chance to use the bow-like paddles behind the Macan’s steering wheel. They’re wonderfully tactile, and infinitely smarter than Porsche’s previous ‘push-pull’ button setup.
The Audi’s ’box is quick-shifting and smooth, but it’s always trying to downspeed the engine, and the plastic paddles feel cheap compared to the Macan’s. Elsewhere inside, though, the nappa leather cladded seats are cloud-like for comfort and carbon-fibre inlays weave in more luxury.
Overall the Audi’s cabin rocks a premium vibe, yet feels stale. While things like the tacho, steering wheel and MMI system were updated in 2012, it feels like a room filled with high-end furniture bought a decade ago.
Climbing aboard the Porsche’s interior is like walking over to more expensive TVs in JB-Hi Fi, it’s higher tech and better looking, but you can sense your wallet cowering. Apple CarPlay stings you $1069 and park assist tech is $2690, while a GTS styling pack – which brings ‘carmine red’ stitching to match the bright red-and-white tacho, red seatbelts, and stitched ‘GTS’ logos – should offer more for $8990.
At the end of the day superior ergonomics are the drawcard for the Porsche’s cabin. The seating position pulls the wheel higher towards your chest and you can peek at more of the tacho behind it. Touchpoints – like the steering wheel, shifter, and door handles – not only look trick but feel great in hand.
It not only feels a whole generation newer inside with its superior PCM infotainment system and digital half-moon display, but it also looks like a Porsche in here. You’d find its wide-centre console, flat sweeping dash and three-barrel tacho display on any other model in Stuttgart’s range, which brings us to this test’s much larger point.
Audi’s SQ5 Plus might look handsome but there are a few wrinkles behind its sharp-suit facade. The SQ5 debuted in 2013, but its platform goes way back to 2009. Yet besides a whirring HVAC system and pesky rack rattle there’s no way you could pick these two as separated at birth. With both priced at $109K, Porsche has basically rebuilt you Audi’s Q5, for no charge.
Sure, that tricky differential in the Audi is good and Porsche doesn’t include one for the Macan GTS’s base price, but who’s going to hold sideways drifts in these two?
The Audi may also include more kit and be more effective for a hard-charge across gravel, but we’d trade in the diff and pocket the cash because on the dry stuff the Porsche would easily grab its lunch money. All the while, that delightful steering, super intelligent gearbox and zingy twin-turbo V6 helps it slaughter the Plus for driver appeal.
Then again, it had to. Despite its age, Audi’s Q5 has conquered its segment in sales this year, proving to be the hottest luxury medium SUV on High Street. So if the Macan didn’t deliver with the gold badge sparkling on its bonnet, people would need to think twice why they’d shell out for Porsche’s more expensive range. And as a volume seller, this would’ve made it harder for Porsche to keep the lights shining on Stuttgart.
The Macan had to be faster, newer, higher tech, and more involving to drive than its under-the-skin twin. And at least in the GTS’s instance, Porsche can hold its head high on a job well done.