Drive concepts in comparison: who is ahead on snow?

Dino Eisele
A comparison of drive concepts
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D as frosty-depressive winter life could be in literature, such as in Robert Schneider's novel 'Schlafes Bruder', can hardly be portrayed more dramatically. Only here is no misunderstood musical genius quarreling with his fate. Now the BMW M3, the celebrated racetrack hero of the past year, is scratching unsteadily in the blanket of fresh snow. The electronically controlled limited slip differential works its way, but it doesn't help. John has to be here. John Deere.

Frustrating about it: Shortly before that, the Smart Fortwo was pouting up the same slope, with heavily toiling control electronics that are guaranteed to bend a few bits and bytes. But he managed, which should have surprised the 2.69-meter-short miniature himself - in view of this competition.

'Fun in the snow' was the working title of this meeting, at which one also asked the question would be able to determine how much all-wheel drive a person needs - if at all. But fun in the snow becomes serious in the snow. The flakes fall horizontally, the terrible icy wind lets them shoot from the Tauern through the valley into the Lungau, the visibility is below that of a Turkish steam bath. Minimal gaps in the clouds save the day, the visibility improves, the fresh snow ensures a minimum of grip - also thanks to the grooming nature of a snowcat.

The Mini Paceman scurries across the handling course and hisses wildly with its 1.6-liter turbo gasoline engine. It represents the large group of front-wheel drive-based all-wheel drive vehicles, whose providers like to tell the fairy tale of the up to 100 percent variable distribution of the drive force in the longitudinal direction. You lied? No, that's true. But when was the last time you had road conditions where the front wheels were on bare ice and the rear wheels on warm, dry asphalt? Just. In any case, the Paceman scurries very safely over the snow with the ESP switched off, builds up a high level of grip, and turns bravely. Up to 50 percent of the 300 Newton meters now reach the rear axle, which enables targeted power oversteering.

But load changes by commuting or braking briefly when turning in do not leave the Mini scared in the deep snow on the sidejump, but increase agility with easy, manageable lunges. Important in normal traffic? No. As a reminder: Fun in the snow - the working title. Seriously, on the other hand: The Mini's usual precise reactions in dry conditions do not break even with a low coefficient of friction. Even those who leave the stability program activated are sometimes annoyed by the badly humorless interventions, for example on a slope. Then the somewhat dull four-cylinder in the lower rev range threatens to drown completely.

Audi SQ5 with superior, confident driving style

The Audi SQ5 is spared this disgrace, although its control electronics cannot be switched off in the first place. Only a so-called off-road mode allows more slip on the wheels, which are affected by a maximum of 650 Newton meters of engine torque. Doesn't matter, after all, up to 80 percent of it can be sent backwards - sounds like a lot of good humor in the SUV cockpit, doesn't it?
But despite the S in the model name, fun is serious business for Audi. Even at low sideslip angles, it wriggles in the electronic safety net, but can at least quickly free itself from it. Hmm, then you could leave the ESP fully activated. Why not? Because the SQ5 also consolidates Audi's reputation as an application professional. With subtle interventions at high frequency, the set-up helps the SUV chunk to achieve a clearly defined driving behavior, allowing it to follow the specified line steadfastly without a significant loss of speed. Viewed objectively, this interpretation deserves respect. Viewed soberly, it is also considered nonsense to throw yourself down a snowy slope with two boards on your feet (or even just one, after all, we have a heart for minorities, dear snowboarders).

And viewed just as soberly A 2.3-ton SUV with a 381 hp triturbo-diesel that develops 740 Newton meters and wants to drive as agile as a sports car should not exist at all - the appearance of the BMW X6 M50d. The xDrive system distributes the power depending on what the yaw, steering, gas and wheel speed sensors are currently detecting for a driving request. Even when the ESP is switched off, everything works very reliably, especially in constant driving situations, for example when you want to mill circles around the photographer, which is known to be rare. On the handling track, on the other hand, the X6 often leaves you in the dark about how it is going to react. In principle, however, a disobedient tail must be expected. The trick is to factor in the comparatively high center of gravity and the mass in the load cycle. Is everything completely meaningless? Well, a bit like the X6 as such. By the way: The enormous torque of the six-cylinder can be portioned out well, it works in almost Pilcheresque harmony with theEight-speed automatic.

Mercedes S 63 AMG dignified with 900 Nm

Speaking of absurd engine power: where is the Mercedes actually S 63 AMG? Somewhere behind the hilltop it thunders, a V8, of course, white fountains tell of hard work. Then the 5.29 according to table: (rounded) 5.29 meter-meter luxury sedan balances into the field of vision. Even here on the angled course and in a slightly rolled-up AMG outfit with black 20-inch rims and carbon applications, the S-Class retains that Swabian upper-class dignity that made the W116 a success. Of course, the grandiose 5.5-liter twin-turbo large caliber works in the S 63, developing a staggering 900 Newton meters. He rummages through the snow like no other. The Mercedes reacts to load changes or the sheer use of gas, then comes across - but as if in slow motion. Enough opportunity for the chauffeur to counter-steer appropriately to keep the drift. Why not just let it drift? After all, hardly any other car offers so much comfort in the rear seats - colleague Thomas, you will take over. Active braking impulses in the background are intended to prevent the luxury liner from having an overly exalted life of its own, but leave the reins very long.

Subaru WRX STI with precise steering

Sure, the Subaru - something like the antithesis of the S 63 - leaves it even longer if desired. Then select one of the three accelerator pedal characteristics and the setting for the center differential. The WRX dives with a wild snow drag at the rear STI over the course, sometimes with more, sometimes with less drift angle, depending on the set-up. Pretty soon, however, it turns out that the system works just fine without the bungling of the driver. In Auto Plus mode with locked differential brakes front and rear, everything fits, the Subaru does not hang out its rear in an adventurous way, but likes to be swung slightly before the curve and then to throw yourself straight into it. Above all, the Japanese impresses with the ease with which he rages across the course, his steering precision, the controlled transverse driving, the optimal power distribution to be able to accelerate out of the curve with a lot of gas. It's also nice that the WRX keeps its pilot busy, and with its manual six-speed gearbox helps him not to unlearn shifting.

Shifting? That's right, there was something - the BMW M3. The sedan also starts with a manual transmission and without adaptive dampers, but is still stuck in the snowdrift. So now the Cayman GTS has to deal with it, it can't take too long until it doesn't get anywhere either - the flakes are still whippinghorizontally through the valley. Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that. Quite unimpressed, the 3.4-liter boxer engine roars a swath through the white soup, gurgles deeply from its combustion chambers, snorkels, screams when the maximum speed is reached at 7800 rpm. Traction? Plenty. In addition, the GTS turns directly and can be easily steered with the accelerator pedal. One tap too much gas? No problem, the steering angle knows almost no limits.

Porsche and Smart trump BMW

Of course the speed level is good well below that of the all-wheel drive group, but the Cayman comes through. And how. Presumably in the specifications of the developers it was stated that the Porsche feeling, completely independent of µ, always has to be constantly jubilant. So again, now the other way around, in the opposite direction over the route. Snow waltz again, now the right uphill to the summit - and that's it. Too steep, too much ice, no chance for the Porsche. So roll back down, turn around, the M3 is already waiting. It sumps (Austrian for 'boggy') in the same place, so again change of course. And then, yes, then the limousine shows that it doesn't want to give up so easily. Typically BMW: Almost forbidden steering angles are possible, helping to mill crazy drifts in the road.

By the way, just as a reminder: the response and power delivery are certainly not exactly the same as those of a vacuum cleaner, but the supercharged in-line six-cylinder certainly counts to the really great turbo engines. It is rather annoying that the test car apparently lacks the 'mechanical grip' option. In any case, the Cayman leaves him standing. And - now it hurts a little - the Smart Fortwo too. To be honest, he came up to give four-wheeled expression to the winter melancholy celebrated in literature (Walther von der Vogelweide wanted to sleep through the winter because it 'harmed us everywhere').

And suddenly Doesn't matter, because the Fortwo with its little turbo engine digs its way through the adverse world out there, noticeably slowed down by the electronics, but the threat of a standstill is not due to rigorous regulation of the drive force, only due to the complete loss of traction. So you sit high up on the orange car and watch the drifting snow through the large windscreen in a cinema format, so to speak. Louise Otto-Peters, poet at the time of the March Revolution, must have experienced similarly what is happening out there: 'Now a storm with snow and ice /Winter has arrived /Tyrannically ordered /Took all of the blossoms.' The winter has just taken our way again. Pistenbully, please take over!

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