Macan shines in snow or sun

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Porsche's Macan GTS was a winter wonder, but is it worth the price?

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, Calif. - 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 trucklike 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.

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.

But 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 womblike, 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 nine other months of the year.