This is an interesting analysis but there are a few holes in it.I truly appreciate you posing this question. It's undeniably relevant to my current situation and I pondered it at length.
I agree with you and CNET - which affectionately jokes that the acronym "GTS" stand for "get that spec." All things being equal, the S doesn't make a lot of sense. And yet, I have accepted an offer on one - planning to finalize the deal on Wednesday.
I leased a 2018 base Macan (Spyder wheels, LCA, sunroof; around a 57K MSRP) in Nov. 2018. Couldn't love the car more. I have less than 12K miles on it. According to my lease mileage allowance, I should be at around 25K miles. So. Cal's used car market is hot. Time to sell and make money on my lease. My base has held its value. To illustrate, selling price was around 52K; Carmax plans to list it for 47K and offered me 41K. My payoff is 32K. I did a single pay. Had I signed a traditional lease, my payoff would be around 37K. But, what to buy?
I chose an S for the following reasons. First, I have four used car dealers interested in purchasing my 2018 - the three smaller companies are in a bidding war and outbid Carmax. I asked each dealer which Macan trim has the best resale and all insisted that the S trim does. Their answers are probably shaped by local market(s) trends and forces. Second, I can negotiate the selling price of an S (and base). I currently have 8% off the MSRP - might as well shoot for 10% before signing on Wednesday. Not going to happen with a GTS. Third, the base isn't the "value" that it used to be. When I leased my base, a well optioned base could be had for around 55K. Not true these days. I configured a 2021 base and a 2021 S with the same amenities - premium plus package and upgraded wheels. The difference in MSRP is 7K. I'd rather put my money into an S with a 72K MSRP than a base with 65K MSRP.
Back to your specific question, why would someone buy a new S over a 2018 base? Using my base as an example, I am not convinced that 47K for a 2018 Macan without nav is money well spent. I've got 20 months left on my warranty and a car with 2010 tech. As for reliability, I seem to have a very different conception of reliability compared to most Macan Forum members. I drove a reliable car from ages 21 to 36. My only expenses were routine maintenance during my 15 years ownership. My Macan's air conditioning system, on the other hand, started acting up at year 1. Consumer Reports just listed 2015 and 2016 Macan models under the category of "worst used cars," and the Macan's 2018 5-point Likert Scale reliability rating was also downgraded to second to worst. So, the person who buys my base for 47K should probably buy an extended warranty for 5K. If that's a reasonable statement, then buying a used 2018 base with a five year warranty will cost 52K. I adore my car but that's a lot money for it.
Once again, thank you for posing the question. I truly appreciate the analysis, thoughtfulness, and wisdom behind it.
1) The first one is that your base car and S that you are discussing are from the first generation . The first generation S had a Porsche 6 cylinder twin turbo . This generation is a totally different ball game so how these cars will end up in resale is anyones guess .
2) The pricing is also different . One member on regis thread posted the spec to his 2015 65K S and now that same car would cost nearly 80K . The base car went up too but my reference to a base was as a "no frills" build . In other words in order to make the base work it has to be lean on options. You can't upgrade the wheels to play . You also have to select items from premium plus . It's bad on the S too . Many options (18 way seats, Bose, PSCB brakes etc) are standard on the Turbo . The GTS is a give and take but the overall package is the value play.
3) You are leasing . I have a lot to say on leasing but Porsche throws the kitchen sink at the base car to make it attainable . My sales guy told me back in 2018 that people were walking into Audi to look at the Q5 or Jaguar for the F type (dealership sells both ) and walked out leasing a base car . I asked why . He expressed that Porsche made the base attainable .
4) You did a single pay .. good move . I have debated people on this . The most convincing argument against it was a friend of mine had his leased car stolen two weeks after he leased it . He really fought me on the single pay idea . I still disagree. Both leases I tried were single pays . One was BMW and the other Mercedes . I got hammered at MB when I had it paid in full but wanted out early .
Lastly ... I don't think you have a bad deal . I don't think you will end up with a bad car either . I just dont feel its the best deal on the better car . I myself have bought 5 Macans . Three Turbos and two GTS . I did a single pay to buy the car (vs lease) in cash and both had 40K miles and total cost was 16K to drive 2.5 years . That is not even factoring in the tax credit on the trade( which I know you don't get in California ). You had a 57K base car that is going to get 41K from Carmax . That's on par with my former GTS . The difference is that I bought the car , it was lean on options . My first GTS was 76K I paid 71. I traded it for 55K . I did get the tax credit and 7 percent off . I got 7 percent off on my current Turbo too .
Lets close by putting the money aside for a moment . You leased a base and loved it . Why not shoot for best ? If the S is your best for right now then do it but I really deeply feel that I would go nuts if I were driving one car while in love with another .
You said it .. "get that spec" . Those were your words . That;'s where I get stuck.