When I imagine a Porsche, I'm instantly thinking of the 911. However, as I step out into the real world, the one I'm most likely to see is the Macan. With 24,716 units sold in 2021, it is by far Porsche's most popular model, and with a base price of $54,900 plus a $1,350 delivery fee, it's also the cheapest. Since it is the brand's most accessible model, it's also one of its most critical. It has to impress well enough to convert a first-time buyer into a potential die-hard fan. According to Porsche, it's been filling that role quite well since its introduction back in 2014, as a significant portion of its buyers come from other luxury brands.

Despite testing vehicles for many years, I had never actually driven a Macan before, in any of its various forms. So when Porsche reached out with an opportunity for me to test them all, I jumped at the chance. This shootout was simple, pit all of the Macan's trim levels against one another through the twisty roads of the Malibu canyons. This includes the base Macan, S, T, and GTS trims. I'll be sincere in saying that I was primarily rooting for the GTS as it has the most to offer on paper. However, after a few hours on the road, one of its more affordable siblings impressed most.

Porsche Macan S

Although it may seem counterintuitive, we will go through these trim levels in the order in which I drove them, not necessarily their usual hierarchy. I promise, there's a method to my madness. So my day began with the Macan S and a fairly well-optioned one at that. Despite its base price of $66,750, including destination, my tester's sticker price was $85,030. Options such as the Premium Package Plus ($4,790), Porsche Surface Coated Brakes ($3,490), and the 21-inch RS Spyder wheels ($2,320) got us to that wealthy sum.

On the performance side, the Macan S features a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 developing 375 horsepower and 383 foot-pounds of torque. For the 2022 model year, the S gets the engine out of the outgoing GTS for some added grunt. A seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission sends that power to a standard all-wheel-drive system regardless of trim level. The run to 60 mph is dealt with in 4.4 seconds before charging toward its 160 mph top speed.

On the road, the Macan S is properly quick. Thanks to Porsche's class-leading PDK transmission, the S makes that 375 hp output feel much more like 400 hp. The shifts are seamless and nearly instantaneous as it'll happily deliver low-end torque for days. Even at speed, the S is eager to get up and go, not running out of steam until you get very close to its redline. This little crossover delivers about as much performance as a crowded city can handle.

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The S had even more to offer as I left the highway behind for some twisty canyon roads. While its PSCB brakes command a significant sum, they earn their keep as you pick up the pace. Despite its small size, the Macan S is quite a hefty thing with a 4,255-lb curb weight. Braking power was consistent and more than enough to keep this little crossover in check.

While it may have shown its strengths at speed, it also showed some flaws. Its steering, for example, delivered virtually no feel or noticeable load changes through tight turns. The first indication I got of any understeer was through noise coming from the tires. Additionally, while it's pretty composed and balanced around town, its suspension was too soft to handle the twisty stuff confidently. Body roll was noticeable, a bit surprising for a vehicle that now comes standard with Porsche's Active Suspension Management system.

But let's face it, the Macan S likely wouldn't be your first pick for a canyon carver anyway. It dominates its intended playground. So if you want to blast through crowded cities and exploit tight gaps on the highway, the Macan S offers performance levels that won't leave you wanting more. However, if you're going to carve canyons, the Macan has an answer for that.

Porsche Macan GTS

After handing over the keys to the sporty S, I opted to jump into the range-topping model, the GTS. While the previous king of the Macan hill used to be the Turbo variant, it's dead for 2022. However, the Turbo's demise works to the GTS' benefit as it inherits its version of the 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6. As a result, the GTS now makes 434 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, reaching 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 163 mph.

Given its status within the Macan hierarchy, the GTS is the most expensive variant, with an $81,250 base price, including destination. My tester came in at a staggering $91,160 thanks to options such as its Adaptive Air Suspension ($2,140), Premium Package Plus ($4,790), and Adaptive Cruise Control ($990). While its as-tested sum is nothing to scoff at, if we compare it to the S I drove first, it's a little over $6,000 more for a crossover in a whole other league.

Fittingly, I began my time behind the wheel of the GTS deep in the canyons. I chose a particularly twisty road to put the GTS through its paces. With a 4,321-lb curb weight, the GTS is the heaviest of all the Macans. Despite that, the GTS does the best job of hiding its heft. Whereas the S was eager to roll through corners, the GTS rides virtually flat and balanced. Thanks to the addition of the optional air suspension, the GTS is simultaneously a better performer and more comfortable over even significant imperfections. Understeer is minimal, and if you're aggressive enough, you get a bit of lift-off oversteer around super tight bends. It feels exciting and alive in a way the S just didn't.

Part of its added fun comes down to its added pace. An extra 59 hp and 23 lb-ft increase may not sound like a lot on paper, but it makes a massive difference on the road. Thanks to its seven-speed PDK transmission and all-wheel-drive system, the GTS drags itself out of corners with brute force. The GTS is properly quick with strong low-end torque from a dead stop. Additionally, you can actually hear its refined V6 engine thanks to the addition of a standard sport exhaust.

The big difference between the GTS and S is that the range-topper is one you'd pick for a sporty drive. It's not fun for a crossover. It's fun, full stop. With its added capabilities, sound, and power, the GTS is for proper enthusiasts. But then again, you'd expect so given its elevated price tag. Around town, not much other than the air suspension separates it from its S sibling, making its price hard to swallow if you don't have the necessary roads to notice the difference.

Base Porsche Macan

Now that we've seen the best of what the Macan can offer, it's time to get into the cheap seats. Cheap is relative here, as even the entry-level variant has a base price of $56,250, making it still one of the more expensive small crossovers currently on sale. My tester's sticker price came in at a not inconsiderable $63,270, thanks to options such as the Sport Chrono Package ($1,220), Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus ($1,500), and Porsche Active Suspension Management ($1,360). In other words, you can have a base Macan plus a Mazda Miata or the Macan GTS.

Unsurprisingly, a lower price tag means a smaller engine. Thankfully, the turbocharged inline-four-cylinder under its hood is a good one. You may recognize it as it also lives under the hood of various other quick Volkswagen and Audi products, albeit in different configurations. This 2.0-liter four-pot pumps out a respectable 261 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A benefit of the smaller engine is less heft to lug around as the base Macan slims down to a curb weight of 4,067 lb, making it 254 lb lighter than the GTS, especially in the front axle. It also benefits from the same all-wheel-drive and seven-speed PDK transmission as its more expensive siblings.

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It becomes immediately apparent that the base Macan is lighter on the road. Despite not having all the performance goodies, the entry-level Macan feels agile and eager to turn into corners. While there isn't loads of grip as the front tends to understeer quickly, it's less eager to roll as there's just less mass for its suspension to handle. It may not be as flat as the GTS, but it's certainly more composed than the S through the tight stuff.

Despite being down on power, it's not an issue at all. The base Macan still hits 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and continues to a top speed of 144 mph. Around town, this is more than quick enough. The main benefit here is that you get torque at just 1,800 rpm. Combine that with the magical PDK, and you get a crossover that is pretty much the ideal vehicle to tackle city traffic. The Macan is quick, quiet, comfortable, and effortless to commute in. If I'm honest, it is a letdown in the canyons, but that's hardly its intended stomping grounds.

As a daily driver, I was impressed with how much the entry-level Macan had to offer, especially considering how much cheaper it was than its siblings. However, Porsche had one last ace up its sleeve, and after driving all of them, it may just be the best one.

Porsche Macan T

Since the Macan T is the family's newest member, I purposely drove it last. The T stands for "Touring," and its philosophy is simple but effective. It marries the smaller engine out of the base Macan with sportier elements from its more expensive siblings and offers them as standard. The goal is to deliver a higher-performing variant of the Macan at a lower price point. Unlike the other variants I've tested thus far, the T is a 2023 model and starts at $64,450, including destination. Unfortunately, since my tester was a euro-spec car, I don't have exact pricing.

Mechanically speaking, the Macan T is virtually identical to the base Macan. It develops 261 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque from the same turbo inline-four engine. It also counts the same PDK transmission and all-wheel-drive system. The T is identical to the base in a straight line, reaching 60 mph in 5.8 seconds before continuing to a top speed of 144 mph. On the road, there's no difference in the speed front. The T has good torque and is about as fast as you would ever need on public roads.

The big difference reveals itself as you begin to attack corners. The Macan T is the best of both worlds. It's eager to turn in and feels quite agile thanks to it carrying less weight on its front axle. However, because it also features a unique Active Suspension Management system and stiffer anti-roll bars, the T is balanced and composed. There's little body roll, and despite not having the stickiest rubber, the T's limits far exceed the base model's.

Despite the added performance capabilities, the T doesn't feel less comfortable around town or on the highway. There's no penalty for the added performance. It gives you everything you want and nothing you don't.

Closing Thoughts

Having never driven a Macan before, I had a lot of learning to do. Frankly, I expected the S and GTS to be the most impressive as they're the highest performing models with the most sophisticated components. However, the opposite was true. The entry-level Macan and the Macan T were the ones I walked away thinking about most, especially the T. Once you factor in price, the T is my pick of the bunch. It offers perhaps the most rewarding driving experience for the money. If all-out speed is what you want, the GTS is a spectacular thing with limits that far exceed what a small crossover should be capable of. But with an as-tested price getting close to six figures, it's a tough sell. While the S would make for a wonderful daily driver, my tester's $85,000 price tag didn't necessarily offer anything the cheaper T, closer to $65,000, didn't. So after many hours through canyons, highways, and various towns, it's clear that there are no wrong choices in the Macan range. Whether you get the base, S, or GTS, they are capable machines made by a brand that knows exactly what it's doing. The T, however, stands out as the clear winner.

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Images via Porsche