Being born and initially educated in Great Britain, I, like most Brits, was brought up to believe that the explorer John Cabot was British. Along with Christopher Columbus and all the other famous explorers, of course.
It wasn’t until recently that I learned Mr. Cabot was in fact a Venetian named Zuan Chabotto. “Who knew?” I thought in a moment of surprise.
I mention this in case you think that the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton was named after an Englishman who discovered the island, when in fact it was Signore Chabotto and the jury is out as to whether he ever made it to Cape Breton at all. (It looks like “no”.)
But of course nobody goes to the Chabotto Trail, while piles of people tour the Cabot Trail’s scenic 300 kilometres in long RV convoys every summer. Recently, a few 2017 Porsche Macan Turbo with Performance Package could also be spied, their drivers trying to rein in this model’s urge to put its 440 horsepower and 442.5 pound-feet of torque to the ground and just get going.
So it was that Porsche Canada brought a few scribes here to try out the latest Macan on twisting and undulating roads that you would think lend themselves to some spirited driving. Well, on paper they do (to use an anachronism) but throw in a little road construction and things can get slow.
Actually, this higher-performance Macan is quite a docile vehicle when you’re just cruising along on one of Canada’s most scenic drives, and there’s so much fabulous scenery in this part of the world that you do find yourself testing the brakes more than the accelerator.
Our group entered the trail – which is a circular route around the northern tip of Cape Breton Island – at Margaree Forks from Route 19 after staying at the swank Cabot Links in Inverness. Opened in 2011, this oceanfront facility is a world-class magnet for golfers, and is surely the biggest thing that’s happened in Inverness for likely ever.
None of us car writers were much for golf, however, most thinking that links were sausages and that the golf carts were there to take us to our rooms (embarrassingly their drivers were not hotel staff, it turned out…). What was most evident to us, though, was the preponderance of tartan – tartan bedding, tartan art, tartan tablecloths, tartan carpets, tartan tiles, tartan door keys! – all of which I’m surmising must have something to do with the Canadian affection for plaid.
The buffet breakfast, just so you know, was $30, but our tartan-attired server, bless her heart, suggested the $11 special that included toast, bacon, two eggs, home fries and endless coffee (good stuff, too!). Along with the affection for plaid goes the Canadian propensity for thrift, yes?
But not necessarily when it comes to cars. The Macan Turbo with Performance Package, for instance, stickers at $97,600; a mighty hike from the base Macan’s $54,100. Our test cars made about $110,000 after extras, which, you have to admit, is a pricey Macan. It fact, it’s potentially two Macans (there’s that Canadian thriftiness again).
The Performance Package, by the way, gives you the twin-turbo 3.6L V6 engine which is the same one found in the Cayenne GTS, although in the Macan it’s mated to a twin-clutch PDK seven-speed transmission as opposed to the Cayenne’s eight-speed Tiptronic.
It is, at this point, the top-of-the-line Macan, accelerating from zero to 100 km/h in a scant 4.4 seconds. In addition, you get a newly developed brake system, lowered body, sports chassis, Sport Chrono Package and a sports exhaust system along with air suspension and Porsche Active Suspension Management.
Our vehicles added items like special leather seats, rear heated seats, front ventilated seats, dynamic LED headlights, 21-inch Sport Classic wheels, lane-keep assist (part of the Premium Package Plus) and panoramic roof which accounted for the extra dollars.
All in all, pretty much everything you’d want in a hot Macan.
You can do the Cabot Trail clockwise or anti-clockwise, and we were doing the former, heading north from Margaree Forks with the Margaree River to our right and finding Margeree Harbour in short order. Then it’s Atlantic Coast all the way until you reach the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
We would suggest, however, a brief stop at La Boulangerie Bakery in Chéticamp before entering the park, where their delightful signage takes the notion of warm buns to new levels. But they do deliver. Established in 1959, not much has changed in this place, I would think. A time-warp bakery.
The scenery in the park is divine, especially with a cinnamon bun on your lap and a coffee in the centre console. No wonder people travel from all over the world to visit this place, and I’ve got to say that what the tourist industry calls “shoulder season” (i.e. just before and after the summer holidays) is a terrific time to do a road trip. Little traffic, very few RVs trundling up and down hills, no delays, fewer bugs. Plus, there’s availability in hotels and restaurants and you won’t be battling to get a view when you stop. Check out some of the images taken at viewpoints and you’ll see what I mean.
At this time of year, numerous fishing boats are visible, their crews setting lobster traps which dot the ocean surface. The water is the deepest of blues, bald eagles can be seen, and the air invigorates. Who could not like this place?
Your time in the park is spent mostly along the coast, and even after you head inland at Pleasant Bay, you still have fabulous ocean view opportunities. You’ll find though, that the roads are better in the park, while elsewhere as mentioned above, we found quite a bit of construction and maintenance. Overall the road’s in good shape, but there are rockslides to manage, bridges to fix and potholes to patch. So expect delays from construction at this time of year, and significant traffic at other times.
We traversed the island to Neil’s Harbour, and then followed the trail south to Ingonish where fortunately we had time to stop at the charming Castle Rock Country Inn. Our group raved about the Lobster Rolls and fish chowder (truly, the best lobster rolls I’ve ever consumed). You should go.
Obviously the performance potential of our Macans was not really tested on this route, as there are several communities, service vehicles and the dreaded moose to slow you down. But the sweeping turns and occasional empty straight do satisfy enthusiastic urges. You get the idea that this vehicle’s driving dynamics are impeccable simply by its willing responsiveness to the throttle, brakes and steering, while it’s also a comfortable car in which to spend some time. Not twitchy or harsh; on the contrary, it’s refined and competent although it’s always telling you that some track time could be fun.
Macan is a compact vehicle, though. Cargo space behind the rear seat is perhaps wanting, and legroom for the rear-seat occupants will be insufficient unless the front seats are moved farther forward than some front seat occupants would prefer. That said, and unusually for a vehicle of this size, the Macan tows! You can pull 4,400 lb with a Macan (with available tow package) and that really adds utility.
After Inverness you’re out of the park, but the Cabot Trail continues. There are fewer places to stop, but the magnificent views keep coming. On occasion we were able to pick up speed and put the excellent PDK transmission to work in the twisty sections. This is still the ne plus ultra of twin-clutch paddle-shifting transmissions, in my view, the throttle blipping in harmony as you tap the paddles, the sports exhaust exuberantly registering each downshift. Now you really do want to put away the camera and put this Porsche to work.
We therefore picked it up as we passed Wreck Cove, Skir Dhu and Breton Cove, and went the long way to Sydney via the Lobster Galley (“Incredible Food, Incredible View”).
Coffee was pretty good, too!
After that it was Nova Scotia Highway 105 (part of the Trans-Canada), into Sydney and back to our familiar urban world. What an amazing place to have in your backyard, Sydneysiders!
And for us, this was really driving the Cabot Trail in style. Maybe we didn’t quite get enough performance driving opportunities in the Macan, and nor could we linger at some of the spots as you would if you were on your own time.
But bottom line, and this is easy: I’d recommend considerably more of both.
Pricing: 2017 Porsche Macan Turbo with Performance Package
$11,599 – LED headlights $1,430; 21″ Sport Classic Wheels $2,929; Connect Plus $1,510; Premium Package Plus $4,100; Metallic Paint $790; Leather package $240; Rear heated seats $600
Price as tested
14.4/10.1/12.3 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb