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Ski Resort Life

German Luxury Meets 4WD

These SUVs may seem distant from their racing and autobahn roots, but they’re surprisingly capable—and still plenty speedy.

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There may have been a time when rolling up to the slopes in a beater SUV was fine for your hardcore cred—and budget. But now that you’ve achieved a new station in life, it’s time to represent with one of a growing stable of prestigious German luxury SUVs. Each is loaded with innovative safety and entertainment systems and luxurious leather. Each dashes through snow with confidence but would be equally at home on a racetrack. And they’re all available as diesel models, if extra torque (and mileage) turns you on. And with prices that start at about $50,000, these manufacturers are trying to broaden their appeal.

There was much bleating among Porsche purists when the original Cayenne SUV appeared, but given that the vehicle is now the company’s biggest seller, the whining seems to have subsided. Subsequent updates have produced a rock-solid, all-weather vehicle that’s still very closely tied to its Carrera roots. The Cayenne can dominate a road circuit as deftly as it handles deep snow and black ice. Two variations of all-wheel drive are standard on the seven models (including a diesel, a hybrid, and even a 550-hp turbo capable of 176 mph). Meanwhile, Porsche just announced a compact crossover, the Macan, appearing later this year.

The Mercedes-Benz M-Class has always been a pretty hot status symbol, but for more than just cruising to the galleria, the MLs can reliably and speedily tackle the worst road conditions. The Tuscaloosa, Ala.–built ML is a little porkier than its contemporaries, but you can shake off the girth with the pure insanity of the AMG 63 version, which subs in a growling V-8 good for as much as 550 horses. Make sure to upgrade to the on-and-off-road package, which enhances the ML’s wintertime chops. The BlueTEC diesel variation packs stump-pulling torque and considerably improved mileage.

BMW recently gave its popular X5 “sports activity vehicle” a complete redo, and while the aesthetic tweaks are subtle, this North Carolina–assembled head-turner is just as pretty as can be. Unlike its competitors, it has no souped-up M version this year; you’ll have to cope with turbocharged engines, including a smaller-displacement V-8 still good for 445 hp. The new cabin is flush with poplar-wood trim, and it boasts a third-row seating option. Other improvements include a full-color heads-up display, a parking assist program, and an eco mode that decouples the engine under light acceleration to save fuel. It’ll be easy to spot on the highway: Look for its LED accent rings on the headlamps. A 3.0-liter diesel version is promised later in 2014.

Porsche Cayenne

Price range » $49,600–$146,000

Highway mpg » 22

Ski-trip nicety » 765-mile range in diesel model


Price range » $53,725–$69,125

Highway mpg »  TBA

Ski-trip nicety » New, American-size beverage holders

Mercedes-Benz M-Class

Price range » $50,290–$97,250

Highway mpg » 23

Ski-trip nicety » Alert assist for long road trips

Throw off those unwieldy chains

» There is nothing quite as foreign to a snowbelt native as a mandatory California chain blockade—and the total cluster that results as folks who’ve probably never even seen snow before try to wing it and install those awful service-station tire chains on a dark roadside. If you’re a Bay Area weekender who’s not ready to rock Blizzaks all winter, you can find an easier (and more stylish) solution with Thule’s Easy-fit chain set, which combines form-following-function good looks with simple-to-install traction for cars and SUVs. For Terminator-styled winter transformation, Thule’s gnarly K-Summit system ratchets on effortlessly and can even be used on fancy alloy rims.