Canadian models, tested, Mosport,
— Have you ever been close enough to actually buying a new Porsche that you looked at an actual Porsche order form?
There have been novels that ran fewer pages.
I'm sure with all the permutations and combinations of models, trim levels, colours and options, Porsche could build its entire year's production and never build exactly the same car twice.
Heck, they could probably go a decade without repeating.
You want a 911?
Coupe, Cabriolet, Targa
body styles? Base
, or Turbo
? (Well, they're all turbos now, but more on that later)
Rear-drive or all-wheel drive?
Manual or PDK manumatic with paddle shift?
Wheels? Colour? Interior? Carbon fibre trim? Or full leather?
Oh, would you like your wheel centre caps left black and white, or would you like them painted in colou,r like the Stuttgart city emblem? That will be $220, thank you very much.
That's the level of detail the option list provides.
To illustrate the breadth of the 911 offering, Porsche invited a gang of journalists to the Driver Development Track (DDT) at Mosport to have a go.
It was part of what Porsche calls the “Grand Tour'' — a series of track events across Canada designed primarily for customers who already own one, or prospects who want to own a Porsche.
The idea is to allow people to exercise the cars beyond what they could do on public roads, in a safe environment, and with expert instruction.
We had seven variants. They ranged from about as base a base 911 as you can get, a $102,200 rear-drive Carrera coupe six-speed manual, with 19-inch wheels pretty much comprising the option list, bringing the tag to $110,635; all the way to a $140,100 all-wheel drive Carrera S Targa, decked out to $174,100.
I mentioned that all 911s are now turbos. The Carrera gets a 3.0-litre flat-six twin-turbo in two states of tune, base at 370 hp, and S at 420 hp.
No Turbo turbos were on hand this time. Wah ...
First, our instructors reviewed proper seating position. Seat far enough forward so you can have your right foot flat on the floor under the brake pedal with your knee bent.
Hands at quarter-to-three, elbows nicely bent, seat as high as you can get it while still allowing about a fist's width between your skull and the ceiling.
And Porsche is the rare car company that does headlight switches the right way. Turn the switch to “on” when you pick the car up at the dealership, and never touch it again. Car on, all lights on. Car off, all lights off. So simple. So seldom done correctly.
Next, a brief spin through the surrounding countryside, followed by some slalom and lane-change exercises, piloting the cars through fields of pylons to get a feel for how they handle. Then on to the DDT for some quicker stuff.
The format was “lead-follow.” We were split up into groups of two or three. One of the instructors from the Porsche Experience program would go first, with his group of ducklings in line behind him.
Each lap we'd move one slot further forward, and the lead journo in each group would fall to the back, so each of us got a shot at following our pro's line. The key to this deal is obviously to get yourself into a group of drivers who have half a clue, because the leader will more-or-less set a pace that the slowest duckling could keep up with.
There's no such thing as too much track time. As long as there are unburned fossil fuels and tires with rubber on them, our work is not complete.
Even with about three hours of this, back to back with all the variants, followed by some untutored hot laps by ourselves, it was insufficient to really draw proper conclusions. I'm ready when you are, Porsche Canada.
The new turbo engine is quick enough for sure. I may just be imagining this because I know it's a turbo, but maybe the throttle response isn't quite as crisp as the former naturally-aspirated engine.
The exhaust note is also a bit muted — the price you pay for a nearly 10 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency.
Porsche engineers have spent the half century of the 911's existence working on the suspension, trying not to kill its occupants every time they enter a corner too fast. Essentially, they are compensating for the fact that the engine is in the wrong place.
I know, that's sacrilege to the 911 freak, but the laws of physics are the laws of physics.
They have done a masterful job. Turn-in is brilliant, the steering is light, direct and precise, cornering power is prodigious, and a mistake is no longer potentially fatal.
So, which model would I choose? If they were giving them away, I'd probably opt for a Carrera S 4 Cabriolet for all-year-round everyday driving.
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But in this exercise, I have to say that the most rewarding car was the most base of them all, the rear-drive stick-shift Carrera with the bare minimum of nanny systems.
Sure, the four-wheel drive is more stable, the S is faster, and hard as it is for an enthusiast to admit, the PDK transmission shifts better than you can.
We — well, at least I — did leave the Electronic Stability Control operational. I never want to be “that guy.”
But with as little as possible between me and the pavement, I found it the most fun car to toss around.
Not that any of them weren't fun.
The Grand Tour is but one example of the fun and games Porsche has on offer. Check their website
or contact your friendly local Porsche dealer and see how you can get on the list.
Oh, and start saving your pennies. We wouldn't want those wheel centre caps to be black and white now, would we?
History of Mosport’s Driver Development Track
The Driver Development Track (DDT) was built when Don Panoz bought Mosport way back in 1998.
The late lamented Charlie Goodman was given the opportunity to bid on the racing school Panoz wanted to establish there. Alone amongst the bidders, Charlie said you can't teach people to drive on the main Mosport Grand Prix circuit because you are always too busy trying not to kill yourself to learn anything else. Its reputation for being one of the racing world's most challenging circuits is for real.
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So Charlie told Panoz they would need to build a separate training track.
Everyone thought Charlie was nuts to suggest this level of investment just for a school.
But Panoz invented controlled release medication and the nicotine patch; he was hardly lacking for funds.
And he is reported to have said, “He's the only one [of the bidders] who told me the truth! Give him the job.''
And so the DDT was built, and Charlie moved his operation from Shannonville.
Charlie's son Brett runs the Bridgestone Racing Academy
at Mosport to this day.
When the current owners, Carlo Fidani and Ron Fellows, bought Mosport from Panoz in 2011, they sunk big bucks into revamping the entire venue.
The stock car oval was shut down, and portions of that track incorporated into the DDT, making it longer, considerably faster and more challenging, but still technical enough to keep drivers busy and working on their line and their skills.
Rare among training tracks, there are actually elevation changes, so you can get a feel for the loading and unweighting of the tires in the corners. Not to mention, making it more fun.