Photo: Courtesy Teamspeed
Earlier last month, a cold wave blasted New England, dropping temperatures to a heart-frosting 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in the evening.It’s the type of frigid that freezes exposed earlobes into fleshy ice cubes. It was amid this icy spell that Porsche thought it’d be a good time to show the world — or, more specifically, some potential customers – that its cars are built for these intrepid conditions.
Lest we not forget that while the 911 Carrera is a near-immaculate performance machine, its performance is not predicated on delicacy.
And the brand-new 2013 911 Carrera 4 — the “4” designates its all-wheel-drive capabilities — is especially adept. Be it rain, snow, sleet or dry asphalt, gun it, and this 911 will run, temperatures and driving conditions be damned.
“I would never take my 911 out in winter, you kidding me?” scoffed a man named Benjamin, a dentist from upstate New York who was attending Porsche’s Winter Driving Experience. “There’s just no way. Once winter hits, my baby gets locked up in the garage and doesn’t see daylight till the NFL draft.”
Benjamin dismissed the entire idea of running his 2010 Porsche 911 in the snow and doubted its rough weather acumen. To him, there was just no way his beautiful Carrera was going to see snowfall, underscoring the potential metal-gnawing damage the salt-drenched Albany streets could cause its underbelly.
“I take my Boxster S out all the time,” countered Scott, a retired professor from Massachusetts. The idea that a convertible Boxster can handle snowy roads and chilling air temps seems counterintuitive, but he was adamant: “It’s a fantastic daily driver.”
And that’s really the whole point of the Winter Driving Experience, and is why Porsche Regional Manager Joyce Jordan organizes the event in the first place. Frustrated with the misconception that Porsches are track stars limited to perfect road conditions, Jordan is obsessed with proving to frosty New England folk that this is simply not the case.
So she packed up a handful of Porsche 911 C4s and C4S’s and brought them to the Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont, a ski outpost nestled in the quaint nooks of the Green Mountains.
On the resort’s expansive driving range, Porsche built a winter wonderland of motoring experiences: a long “road” course wrapped around the glimmering white field and the large skid pad in its middle. It was here that we took turns taking Porsche’s 911 4 on the track, testing its abilities on the snow-packed grass.
It’s in these conditions that the 911 4’s All-Wheel Drive and Porsche Traction Management (PTM) really display their technological plumage. The intelligent PTM system independently allocates torque to each wheel as needed.
While potentially 100% of the power could go to the front wheels, the rear-biased system rarely even allows 60% of the power up front. How would you know this? Porsche has handily included an instrument cluster graphic that shows exactly how much torque is being transferred to the front and rear wheels.
The PTM works in parallel with brake-based torque vectoring, a system that applies the brakes to the car’s inside wheels in the case of mid-corner understeer — technology also seen in the McLaren MP4-12C. Working in concert with the ABS brakes, this trio of technologies result in a fantastically balanced system for this well-proportioned, rear-engine coupe.
On the club’s purpose-built track, you could aggressively attack hairpins, and if you hit the snowy bends with too much speed, you could really feel the torque vectoring. Of course, hitting the corners too quickly could get the rear to kick out — especially with the high performance 4S, which boasts 400 hp over the base 4’s 350. A little throttle at such times would leave a rooster tail of snow spraying the surrounding woods.
However good this course was in underscoring the Carrera 4’s capacities on the snow (and, more importantly, showing Porsche’s potential customers), the event lacked any real teeth. Whenever corners were really struck hard, Porsche officials quickly fired disapproving looks and the international sign of “slow down.”
And during the road drive through the valley’s various tiny townships, we were never allowed to gain any real speed, as our guide rarely topped 50 mph. Which was fine when we coasted over the famed Warren Covered Bridge built back in 1880, but not so much when sweeping the long turns that hugged the Mad River. So we got smart: we’d drop the speed and let the lead vehicles get a mile or so ahead and then really throttle it to catch up, the idea being to test the corners under a modicum of stress.
Unfortunately, the guides quickly wizened up to our shenanigans and began waiting for us — even stopping in the middle of the road to throw a wrench in our speeding tricks. No, this was not the place to learn the intricacies of ice driving — for that you’re better off trying something like Mercedes Benz’s AMG Ice Driving Academy in the Arctic Circle or Porsche’s own Winter Driving School in Montreal.
Instead, the Porsche Winter Driving Experience is a place to practice snow driving in a controlled environment and experience the Carrera 4’s sure-footedness on icy terrain, even if it is a mild experience. “It’s a great sampler to get people interested in pursuing their training, as well as buying Porsches,” notes former SCCA race driver Rich Hull. A 10-year veteran Porsche instructor, Hull is gruff but likable — sort of like Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show, but more affable.
“As I like to say, it’s the difference between going to the grocery store and getting a little cookie in a cup or going to a bakery and getting a full-on birthday cake.” But just like a sample cookie, the Winter Driving Experience will leave you wanting more. I’d recommend trying a real school and eating the whole damn cake yourself.
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