Visiting the Porsche facility in Leipzig was a lot like Charlie going to the chocolate factory.
About an hour’s train ride from Berlin, followed by a 30-minute taxi ride, the Leipzig factory is where the Macan and Panamera models are built. It employs over 4,000 people and has upwards of seven buildings and a race track on a 100-hectare site. In addition to two body shops, a paint shop, an assembly line and an administrative building, the facility includes a customer experience centre.
For customers, Leipzig is a factory pick-up location for the European vehicle delivery program.
However, unlike Willy Wonka’s factory, you need not find a golden ticket to get inside, nor must you purchase a Porsche vehicle. The racetrack driving experience, the factory tour, the café, restaurant, gift shop and museum are all open to the public. All you need to bring is your enthusiasm and your credit card.
Driving the 2022 Macan GTS around the race circuit
Our day at Leipzig began with the Macan GTS driving experience for my wife and me.
For 2022, the Macan model range has once again been refreshed — the previous big update was the model year 2016 — and includes incremental upgrades to the powertrain, suspension, styling and interior. The Macan GTS is now the range-topper, replacing the outgoing Turbo model and inheriting its 434-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine.
Over the previous GTS, it gains 59 horsepower, firmer suspension and a welcome interior update which finally relinquishes the array of tiny buttons around the shifter in favour of a haptic panel like the rest of the Porsche lineup. I consider this Macan GTS the last hurrah for the gas-powered compact crossover because the next generation Macan is all-but-certain to be fully electric. Enjoy this loud, fast, gasoline-burning urban rocket while you can. We are about to welcome the all-electric era for better or worse.
To unleash the GTS, I followed an instructor around the Leipzig racetrack. While the compact Macan is a heavy vehicle — over 2,000 kilograms depending on configuration — it remains a very predictable and satisfying tool on a racing circuit. Thanks to the PDK dual-clutch gearbox — a unique feature for any crossover — gear changes feel immediate, and acceleration is uninterrupted.
The GTS rotates gently on corner entry to aid turn-in. Its steering weighs up proportionately with lateral load. It settles down and ‘takes a set’ when you re-engage the throttle, and it leans hard on its outside rear wheel as you meter out the power on corner exit. These tidy handling manners are exemplary for any vehicle, let alone a tall SUV.
This is the reason I love Porsche products. From the most track-focused scalpel-like GT-badged sportscars to the compact city-bound crossovers like the Macan, everything leaving the Porsche factory shares a handling language that is predictable, interactive and relies on the driver for maximum performance.
While the Macan GTS never feels truly light-footed on the racetrack, especially when following a seasoned instructor commanding a lightweight Cayman GT4, it never feels disengaged. It encourages its driver to find its limits repeatedly. This is the sort of driving experience that brings profound joy.
If not for the quickly fading winter tires, I could have happily driven around the Leipzig circuit all day.
Driving the 2022 Macan GTS off-road
In addition to the racing circuit, Porsche built an off-road obstacle course at Leipzig, which winds through a former military training ground. This is where we were ushered following the racetrack excursion. We were presented with a different Papaya-coloured Macan already covered in a layer of mud. With air suspension set to maximal ground clearance and off-road mode engaged, this Macan appeared to have all its dials cranked in the other direction.
I was happy to relinquish the driver’s seat to my wife Ada for this portion. After subjecting her to my racetrack driving, it was only fair that she would drive next, and she was excited to take over.
The first real obstacle was the most impressive: a comically steep climb with an 80% grade. Ada laughed with nervous excitement as we approached the base of the ascent, and for once, I was happy to be in the passenger seat.
Tentatively, she leaned into the throttle and eased the front axle into the grade. Our forward visibility was reduced to nothing but blue sky in an instant. Even though I felt like we were inside a space shuttle preparing for liftoff, the proceedings were calm and ordinary, with neither the Macan nor its driver flustered by the challenge.
Once up and over the crest, we dropped into an equally steep descent, and Ada figured out that she could rely solely on the hill descent control and stay off both the throttle and brake. The experience was intuitive for the driver and utterly without drama, even with no instruction.
With the first challenge complete and giddy with excitement, my driver approached the following obstacles with gusto. A fast, loose gravel track, check. A hilly, up-and-over segment that resembled a mountain bike trail. Check. A 35-degree, off-cambered wooden carousel, no problem. Another rocky ascent, easy.
The experience ended with a 50cm deep water crossing which felt like we were wading through a river. This course was intentionally designed as a simulation, and unlike an actual excursion, a spotter was never required, and none of the obstacles exceeded the capabilities of Porsche’s vehicles. However, it acts as a showcase for the Macan’s breadth of ability.
Minutes ago, I was in Sport Plus mode, shifting with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles and adjusting my slip angles with the throttle as if I were piloting a bona fide track car. Minutes later, my wife was driving another Macan as if she were in a purpose-built off-roader, wading through rivers and crawling over rocks.
Please let that sink in for a moment.
How many vehicles on the market today can do both with such aplomb? Indeed, every premium manufacturer today has an answer to the Macan, but in my experience, none can match its breadth and polish.
The factory tour
With the driving experience out of the way, we were led to the main event: a guided tour of the live assembly building. As in any high-security operation, we were ordered to empty our pockets of electronics and kept on a tight leash by our English-speaking tour guide. Once inside, what I saw was eye-widening.
The factory builds cars just in time. Parts are not stocked for more than three days, and the assembly building has both a receiving dock and a dedicated warehouse with an inventory scanning system to support this workflow. Human drivers ferry parts directly to the line and wait for the empty bins before returning to the warehouse for their next trip. It is not dissimilar to what you would find in a modern fulfillment centre, except this one is private and serves only the Leipzig assembly line.
German efficiency at its finest.
The assembly line does not stop and does not distinguish between the various models or specifications. Macans and Panameras destined for any worldwide region, with any customer-spec imaginable including right-hand-drive, are assembled by machines and human workers. Remember that every Porsche is made to order, and just one session with the online configurator will show you the infinite possible ways your new Porsche can be specified.
Imagine this combination of models, regions and options showing up on the assembly line in random order. Workers are kept on their toes.
Speaking of workers, it was impressive how much the human worker still plays a role in Porsche’s assembly process. While the most impressive robot I saw could install both the front and rear windshields with millimetre precision in seconds, other tasks like pulling wiring harnesses, cockpit installation, wheel and tire installation and sunroof installation are still left to skilled human hands.
I saw many ergonomic concessions made for humans, like wooden platforms to make it easier on their feet and a clamp that turns the entire unibody frame of the vehicle on its side so that workers can work upright rather than stooped over.
It was reassuring to see human workers play such a significant role in this age of increasing automation. It is not a lie that Porsche vehicles are hand-built.
Finally, I was impressed by the validation process. Every vehicle built is road-tested before being shipped out, and this includes a loop around a portion of the test track. Random vehicles are pulled from the line for thorough human inspection. The factory is cleaned weekly, and the robots are routinely shut down for maintenance. The Leipzig plant is a marvel of production and worthy of national pride.
A day at the factory
Like Charlie, before he ever set foot in Willy Wonka’s factory, I admit that I was already smitten with the Porsche brand before entering Leipzig.
After this experience, my passion has only grown stronger. I found the factory to be as interesting and impressive as the product it makes. It was an unforgettable day, and I did feel like a kid who got to visit his favourite candy factory for the first time.