The frozen north hardly seems like a suitable clime for a supercar, but David Booth is surprised to find the Carrera 4S handles the snow and ice with aplomb.
Powerdriving in the snow proves Porsches are the practical supercar
"There are a few tricks to building a suspension that take the hitches out of a mid-engine design and teaches it manners," claims Walter Rohrl, two-time WRC champion, Italy's rally driver of the century and the last winner of the famed Monte Carlo Rally in a mid-engine rear-wheel-drive only sports car (in a Lancia, not a Porsche). "An engine in the middle means the centre of gravity is in the middle ... great for turning quick as a weasel, but if you take this too far the next second you'll be looking straight at oncoming traffic."
I could use all of Rohrl's "tricks" today since I'm piloting a Porsche Carrera 4S round the slimiest of racetracks, Mont Tremblant, Quebec's Mecaglisse racetrack, a super slippery, and supremely frigid, combination of snow and ice that will spin a car quicker than you can say "incipient loss of traction". And, of course with two dozen mad motoring journalists - including some Latin American fellows who are definitely acting as if this is the first time they've seen snow or ice - hooning around the high-speed course, "looking straight back at oncoming traffic" is not the preferred outcome of the full-lock powerslide I'm trying to master.
Truth be told, I have much more confidence in the 911's abilities than my own. A week recently spent in a 911 Turbo S revealed that 530 horsepower can indeed get along the Great White North's wintry roads as long as it's mated to all-wheel-drive powering four very grippy Nokian Hakkapeliitta snow tyres. Save for less ground clearance that reduces (but does not eliminate!) the Porsche's snowbank ploughing ability, there was nowhere an SUV could go that the mega-powerful Turbo couldn't.
On the other hand, concern for my fellow man and the six points I already have on my driver's licence meant that I was then trying to keep all four of the Turbo's wheels deliberately in line and the twin turbo's 700Nm of torque in check. Now, I am quite literally trying to chew up all the ice a particularly cold northern Quebec winter can muster. The C4S is running on impressively studded snow tyres, the little one-millimetre spikes sending a shower of sharded ice skyward every time I let all those horses loose.
And loose them I do! It all requires a little adjustment, most particularly because Porsche's most recent version of its all-wheel-drive system is now electronically controlled (as opposed to the first generation's viscous centre coupling). The new computer-controlled version reacts more quickly, says Porsche, and can transfer almost 100 per cent of the flat six's torque to the front wheels in extreme conditions.
And these are, indeed, extreme conditions. You see, we're taking part in Porsche's Camp4Canada winter driver training programme and part of the curriculum (and don't you just love it when "learning" involves wide open throttle on a 385hp Porsche) is flinging the Carrera 4S around Mecaglisse's skid pads. And, unlike my previous experiences on this frozen track, said circles are totally bereft of traction-enhancing snow. Standing is difficult, walking almost impossible and, were those Hakkapeliittas not studded, the Porsches would certainly be undriveable.
Still, there we are getting the C4's totally sideways. And, true to Rohrl's admonishments, once the 911s start slewing sideways, it's easy to spin them like tops. Until JP Clinging, racer and driving instructor extraordinaire, reminds us that, since this 911's AWD system can transfer all of the engine's torque to the front wheel, if sideways oversteer gets out of hand, flooring the throttle will see the front tyres "pull" the car out of the slide. That matting the throttle is counter to every instinct one has when you're fast-forwarding towards a big fir tree seemingly out of control makes the lesson difficult to apply. But, sure as shooting, as soon as I get the gumption to actually wring the engine hard, the seemingly uncontrollable slides correct themselves and I suddenly become a powersliding god (hey, it's my story) circling the skid pad two and even three times in one fluid, controlled power drift.
I have to unlearn it all when I start flinging a Cayman S around Mecaglisse's "handling" track. The cheaper Cayman lacks the C4's all-wheel-drive saviour so drifting the littlest Porsche is a much more traditional experience of judicious throttle application and supplication to the great gods of grip that your enthusiasm won't carry you over the snow bank.
It's just as much fun, however. Without the front wheels to minimise all the sliding, it turns out to be even easier to swing the Cayman's tail back and forth in setting it up for Mecaglisse's tricky series of ess turns. Get it right - hey, even, we the untalented, can get lucky once in a while - and the screaming Porsche never once has its front and rear wheels in line through the entire course.
Of course, besides all the fun, the main reason Porsche Canada hosted this inaugural Camp4Canada (for consumers and press flunkies alike) is to show that Porsches, suitably equipped (that would be the additional of top-notch snow booties) are perfectly capable of year-round use even here in the Great White Frozen North. Certainly, my experience with both a two-week test of the Turbo in Toronto and now hooning about central Quebec says Porsches and winter driving are certainly not mutually exclusive and proves, once again, that Porsches really are the practical supercar.