It would seem that over the course of this summer, my name has been put on some list of “available drivers”. As a result, I’ve been given the opportunity to drive a couple of very nice cars.
These cars were owned by different people, but both are hard-working, obsessive individuals, and have done extremely well for themselves. They are also busy people. This means that when it comes time to get their cars serviced, they don’t really have time to drive them 3 hours to the nearest dealership, wait around for them to be taken care of, and then drive 3 hours back home! I, on the other hand, sometimes, do. So, even despite the fear of scratches and the word “oops”, I found myself saying yes. Who’s surprised? Yeah, me either.
The first one that I drove was a big black Jaaaaaaagggg. Even better though is that I’m not talking a 10 year old S-type with a grill that looks like it’s in a constant state of “oohh!”, this was a 2011 XJ Supersport. It’s black, it’s menacing and I would deem it’s supercharged V8’s 510 horsepower as “sufficient”.
On the road, you quickly lose your sense of scale. This is not a small car by any means, but, it doesn’t feel big. The steering response, balance and grip are all remarkably nice - especially when you find the “Dynamic Mode” button, which turns the dials red. On top of that, this little button also changes throttle response, transmission response, and suspension stiffness. With all of that in place, this thing corners amazingly well. Through the Adirondacks and around the twisty part of Lake George, I was thoroughly impressed. There’s a ton of grip and, despite the “Jaguar” badging everywhere, the steering is tight and responsive, and body roll is well controlled. Together with an automatic transmission that’s willing to play ball, this car will inspire the confidence to have some fun. When you do, it all combines with the growling V8 and the whisper of supercharger whine to put a huge smile on your face. At least it did for me!
The front of the car is wonderfully menacing, especially in black. The rear design is more polarizing, but it’s far from a Bangle-era BMW 7-Series so I would give it a pass. Inside, the front seats are extremely comfortable and I don’t think this particular car is missing a thing - up to and including the unbelievable Bowers and Wilkins stereo. Coming from a Bose equipped Mazda, the quality of sound and clarity at volume is in a whole other league. Even still, I did find myself turning it down to make sure I could hear the V8.
If I’m honest, there were a couple of other surprises too. I guess I was expecting the rear seat to have more leg room (I guess that’s why they have the “L” series!) and the trunk isn’t any more impressive - although, I’m sure it’ll fit lots of golf clubs. The seat massage function was weird...perhaps a second test is needed. In fact, I’m sure of it. A second test is needed….for all of it. Just to be sure. Please?
While I was sitting at the dealership waiting for the car to be worked on, the Jags’ owner had arranged a test drive for me. He used the excuse that since he may have to remain in Vermont this winter, he would need to find himself an all-wheel-drive car to get him through. He wanted to compare the all-new Jaguar F-Pace SUV to his buddy’s Macan. A young lady arranged for me to take the nicest one they had in inventory at that time around the block. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a pretty big car with plenty of room in the rear seat and the cargo area. On top of that and with the exception of that beautiful V8, all of the amazing technology that was in the XJ was available here too. The cherry on the icing is that, when you have it with some options and nice wheels, it looks great too - inside and out. Though, in base trim, with base wheels it looks much more plain than I expected. The drive was short, but the steering felt good, certainly direct enough to have fun in an SUV. The power was great. Instead of the V8, this uses a supercharged V6 and puts out around 340hp. It felt like 400hp. I walked away impressed and told them I’d give it a thumbs up. He ended up skipping both the F-Pace and the Macan and bought a Ram instead. Close enough.
A couple weeks later, the Jag owner got in touch and asked if I’d be willing to do something similar for a friend of his. “Of course!” was the only thing I could think of. The trip this time would again be to a car dealership in the Albany, NY area. Except, this time, instead of heading to Jaguar, it was off to the brand-new Porsche dealer. It’s a rough life, I know, but, someone has to live it.
Let me guess, now you’re picturing some sleek, low-slung sports car that looks pretty much the same as it did when it was introduced in the 1960’s. However, I did not get to drive a 911. What I did drive does still have the Porsche badge on it, but it sits much higher off the ground, has 4 doors and an engine mounted somewhere in front of the occupants. This is like new-age thinking for Porsche people. I wonder if it’ll catch on with the rest of the industry? On the back it says “Macan”. Next to that is another badge though, that one reads “Turbo”. This is going to be a good day.
To start with, I was underwhelmed. This is supposed to be the “holy shit” version of this car. It has all of the goodies and all of the power, but, it didn’t feel as special as I wanted. If felt like a cramped F-Pace. The road noise was a little more than I would’ve liked, the engine note was too subdued. The ride and handling are fine. It cruised great and the power was certainly there, it was just a bit too detached.
I started playing with the buttons. What does this one do? Ohh, okay, that one adjusts the heated and cooled seats. What about this one? And this one? After awhile, I found it. I found the sweet spot. It’s down by the shift lever and covered in hieroglyphics. If you learned English in school, the pictures translate to “Sport Plus”. I’ve activated Sport modes before and they do seem to make subtle differences. Normally they just force the car to stay in a lower gear. This was my first experience with something called Sport Plus. This small little button, which is nestled among all the other buttons turns the Macan into a completely different car. It becomes a 911 with ground clearance. You can physically feel the car shimmy as the suspension stiffens. There’s a bark from the exhaust as a valve opens and the PDK drops to a lower gear. Now it’s a sports car. Now it’s what I was expecting. It was glorious. I am still waiting to drive a few more high-end SUV’s for comparison, but, as a driver’s SUV, this is it. It doesn’t have much room and it drinks fuel like a man stranded in the desert finally finding an oasis, but, in that moment, I couldn’t possibly have cared less. The smile was far too wide.
Despite that revelation, I did walk away conflicted. Where the F-Pace is a good compromise between the two, this is a car that focuses on the “S” not the “U” of SUV and I’m not sure I see the point of that. If you want a Sports car, buy a 911. Does your road get snow on it? Get an AWD 911 and put some snow tires on it. The reason to buy the SUV over a sports car is that “U” part. The Macan doesn’t have that. Like the Evoque, the rear is too small to really be useful and it’s not like it’s any more economical than its sports car brethren. So, what’s the point? Further testing may be required. Does anyone have a Cayanne Turbo or a Range Rover Sport SVR they need serviced?
Anyway, if you need your high-end or exotic car serviced and don’t feel like it, or don’t have time to get it there, just let me know! It’s okay, I’m on the list.