I rarely succumb to envy. On a journalist’s salary, it’s better not to.
I lust not for the Range Rovers, the BMW X5s or the Audi Q5s driven by parents at my fifth-grader’s fancy pants private school. When my daughter, my wife and I drive up to Lake Tahoe from Berkeley — as we do nearly every weekend in the winter — it’s in our solid, practical, low-cost Subaru Forester.
Those luxury SUVs? Ungainly vehicles that drive less like cars, more like trucks. Snow handling’s no better than in my Subaru. Cushy, yes. But worth twice the price? Not for me.
Then there’s the Porsche Macan.
When the Macan hit showrooms three years ago, I was intrigued. The reviews were near-unanimous: a luxury all-wheel-drive hatchback with enough space to be considered a compact sport utility vehicle but designed to provide a pure Porsche sports car ride. (Few such accolades are directed at the Porsche Cayenne, whose larger size creates some truck-like characteristics.)
But how well would the Macan do in the snow? This was the year to find out.
The Sierra Nevada have gotten socked with 30 feet of snow in 2017 so far. The walls of snow alongside the driveway at our rental house in Truckee are too tall for shoveling — the mightiest toss won’t clear the top. All you can see out the second-floor kitchen windows is snow pressed against the glass, the piles reach so high.
I borrowed a silver Macan GTS for a week in February — the season’s heaviest snow week in a year.
We were unable to extract full joy out of the 3.0-liter V-6 twin turbocharged, 360-horsepower engine, especially around the curves, given that the car was, necessarily, fitted with snow tires. But playing giddy-up on the dry sections of I-80 before we hit the mountains provided plenty of rush.
The snowfall was thick as we traversed the mountains, the wipers going full blast, barely able to keep up. A few cars had pulled to the roadside to put on chains or wait it out. I wasn’t pushing it, speed-wise, but the Macan handled the storm as sure-footedly as any vehicle I’ve ever driven.
The real test was the driveway at the rental house — a steep ascent around a tight curve. Some vehicles, even all-wheel drive vehicles, have problems here, especially on fresh snow before the plow guy arrives.
My Forester has had no problems. Neither did the Macan. It scampered right up, never mind several inches of powder and a frozen layer underneath.
Just as different engines sport different characteristics, so do all-wheel drive technologies. High-end versions now use sensors and software to monitor conditions and distribute power among the wheels accordingly.
Some do it better than others. Reviewers have praised the Macan’s AWD performance generally. I can attest that it works great for those who need it in heavy snow.
In December, before the biggest storms had hit, I’d taken Jaguar’s lovely-looking F-Pace SUV on a snowboarding weekend. It slipped on the driveway, and was a bit squirrely on icy roads. Full disclosure: That one had all-season tires, not snow tires. But so does my Forester.
Don’t get me wrong, the F-Pace is a great car to drive, with pleasant aesthetics inside and out (“I feel like a princess,” my daughter said) and cutting-edge driver-assist features like a collision warning system that even senses a quick slowdown in speed in the swarm of traffic ahead, for a big reduction in brake-slamming. If you’re not planning on riding on roads that soon will require a snowplow, it’s well worth a close look.
My point, though, is that all-wheel-drive systems are not created equal, and if you get a chance to try out a particular vehicle’s snow-handling characteristics in real-life before you spend big bucks, take it.
Speaking of big bucks, would I pay the $89,000 required to own the Macan GTS I drove? (The base price is $69,000, but the options add up fast.)
Absolutely, if I had the money. It’s a sports car with a little extra room. It drives like a dream, even in bad weather. It corners better than any SUV I’ve driven or ridden in. Horsepower and other technical details aside, the powertrain provides physical and emotional sensations that might cause it to be outlawed if it was a drug. The sportily elegant interior is inviting enough to be called womb-like, if wombs were equipped with buttons, dials and a gearshift.
The Forester does the job it’s meant to do, and does it well. I own the XT version, with sport mode and turbo. I like it fine; I’d even recommend it highly. Compared with the Macan, though, it’s a box on wheels.
Does the Macan have any downsides? Only one: the size. Although the small proportions allow for an agile and exciting ride, there’s a price to be paid in interior dimensions: just 17.7 cubic feet in the back with the seats up. Enough to handle two adults and a kid and our gear, but barely. The front seats had plenty of stretch room, but the backseat is usable for adults only in a pinch.
Still, I’d tell snow sport parents with two kids or fewer to consider mounting a cargo bin on top and snow tires on the bottom for ski and snowboard season, and get your thrills on high-performance tires the other nine months of the year.