When Porsche sends you an invitation to drive some of their newest cars on a racetrack, of course you accept. Even when fate and the forces of nature conspire against you, you still go. Consider my own string of bad luck leading up to last Tuesday’s event: on Saturday night, I sprained my left ankle, badly. On Tuesday morning, the four and a half hour drive to Palm Beach International Raceway was complicated by a line of storms that had spawned tornadoes in the Midwest. For an hour and a half, I drove through some of the worst conditions I’ve ever encountered before coming out of the squall line. Or so I thought, but the severe storms continued their southward progression, following me all the way to the track. By the time I checked in, the sky was black and the real fun was about to begin.
Porsche did their best to make us comfortable in some pretty abominable conditions. The storm lasted for about an hour, and the sheer volume of water flooded portions of the reception area. It also flooded the track, and for a while it looked like the event would be called off. Eventually, both the go-kart track (where Porsche was showing off their mid-engine, rear drive Cayman and Boxster models) and the main race track (where Porsche was allowing us to drive variants of the 911) dried enough for us to get behind the wheel. Call me crazy, but I was glad the track stayed wet: test driving a car in dry conditions gives you a pretty good idea of its capabilities, but test driving a sports car in the wet really demonstrates its flaws.
I started out on the autocross track, driving the Boxster S and Cayman models. If you’ve never driven a mid-engined Porsche, I strongly encourage you to find an opportunity to do so. Both the Boxster and Cayman are extremely well balanced, with enough power to produce enjoyable throttle-on oversteer exiting corners. Like all Porsches, handling is intuitive, almost like the car knows where you want to go. Both variants I drove (a Boxster S and a base Cayman) were equipped with Porsche’s PDK transmission, which made driving a wet autocross track with a sprained ankle that much easier. I didn’t have a chance to drive the Cayman R, which was by far the crowd favorite, but it was clear the car had capabilities above the base model Cayman. It accelerated harder, stopped in a shorter distance and had noticeably less body roll in corners. It even sounded angrier than the base Cayman, which has a superb exhaust note to begin with.
Next up was the full track in a Porsche 911. I opted for the Carrera 4S first, since the car seemed ideally suited for driving a wet race track. We were paced by an instructor in a lead car, so I can’t tell you what the 4S was like at the limit; I can tell you that it was completely confidence inspiring, even with limited traction available, Even at full throttle while exiting corners, the car never got out of shape. The instructors required us to keep Porsche’s Stability Management (PSM) system on, but that didn’t matter since the system never engaged while I was behind the wheel. If you want a 911, but live where bad weather is a regular occurrence, the Carrera 4S may be your best option.
My next track lap was behind the wheel of my favorite 911, the Carrera GTS. I can’t stop praising this car, which has absolutely everything I want in a Porsche 911. It’s got more horsepower than a Carrera S (408 versus 385), a wider stance and rear wheel drive. Inside, the GTS is a driver’s car, but gives you far more creature comfort that the track-oriented GT3. The Carrera GTS is probably the finest example of a car you can drive to the track, flog relentlessly on the track, and then drive home in comfort (assuming you didn’t completely use up your brakes and tires). Porsche’s PDK transmission is an option in the GTS, but the one I drove came with their superb six speed transmission. Even with a taped-up ankle, I had no problem modulating the clutch, which is surprisingly light given the car’s power.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to sample the 911 Turbo, and I opted out of driving the 911 Carrera and Cabriolet due to time constraints. I’d like to thank Porsche for the invite, and I tip my hat to them for organizing the chaos that Tuesday’s weather created. It’ll take hitting the lottery (or selling my novel) to get the kind of money needed for a 911 GTS, but I promise you this: when that happens, I’ll be in to place my order.