Now this is a test drive. Okay, more like a teaser drive, because Porsche’s 2012 Camp4 Canada winter driving school in early February was the first time anyone had put tire to Canadian tarmac on the new-generation Porsche 911. Actually, it was more like winter tire studs to winter wonderland, with no police or nervous salesman anywhere in sight to spoil the fun.
Porsche’s all-new 911 Carrera S was the cute new girl at this school this year, the new cars just starting to trickle into dealers this month, with a familiar yet alluring face that did look lower and meaner next to the current-generation 911 GTS Convertible we also played with in the snow and ice.
Everyone wanted time with the new version of the 911 – codenamed somewhat confusingly to non-cognoscenti as the 991 – to sample the latest way Porsche designers and engineers have managed to follow the same basic recipe for 48 years, yet still make it scrumptious to modern enthusiast taste buds.
So with no street time in the new 911, or any of the Cayman S or GTS models that rounded out the party platter of Porsches served up to us, it was to be a tail-out, over-steering free-for-all, with the emphasis firmly on entertaining the driver, rather than teaching more real-world useful but relatively drab winter driving techniques such as emergency brake and avoid manoeuvres.
The first clue that our time on three different snowed-in race courses about an hour north of Montreal at the impressive Mécaglisse facility was all about fun was when Porsche told us all the cars were equipped with studded winter tires, which are illegal to use on public roads in much of the country. My driving partner had just driven the Mécaglisse the previous week on a variety of non-studded winter tires and vehicles for a tire event, and he reported a major increase in grip with these 1.5-mm studded Nokias.
The second was that our instructors almost immediately advised us to completely disable the electronic stability control. And with the crazy slip angles – and spins – we achieved in all these cars, it’s very clear that when you hit and hold that Porsche Stability Management button for five seconds, you have truly said goodbye to your electronic guardian angel. It’s not goodbye for good, however, as the new 911 will bring back the stability control system’s functions if it detects ABS braking on at least one front wheel.
The media program was a shortened day-long version of the usual three-day Camp4 Canada experience. The “school” portion of it is the action-oriented highlight of what is essentially a winter getaway package, which costs a hefty $4,995, or $5,495 for the more advanced and higher-speed Camp4S course.
Those costs also cover your stay at the picturesque Esterel Suites Spa and Lake resort, about a half-hour east of Mont Tremblant, all meals including dinners with extensive wine collections, and track shuttles. What’s not included is transportation to and from the resort, plus it’s another $250 if you’d like to bring a non-driving guest.
For corporate groups, there’s also an option to book the entire experience for a day, including an overnight, for $75,000, with a maximum of 45 guests.
The three tracks we covered included two snowed-in road courses, each containing a slalom section, and a massive circular skid pad where the goal was to keep the back end rotating around the centre circle of snow without hitting it or the wall of icy snow surrounding it. This was a combination of the Camp4 and 4S programs, so we may very well have only received the most fun bits. But still, it speaks to the driving enthusiasm instilled in these Porsche vehicles to have an instructor encouraging you to push the limit between swinging the tail out wider and longer and swapping ends.
The first driving exercise had us in the latest 400-hp 911 S, where we came to appreciate the Panamera-like button-laden interior wrapped in a subtly elongated body. All models were unfortunately equipped with the fine yet familiar PDK dual-clutch automated transmission, so we didn’t have a chance to sample the novel seven-speed manual.
The instructors set us off carefully at first, with the car in Sport mode to allow the PSM system a touch of welcome wheel slip, but it cut in relatively quickly with brakes and throttle cuts to clamp down on any slipping at either end. It was like driving a slow recognizance lap on a dry race circuit in limp home mode, but with everything outside the car in a white, over-exposed slow-motion.
Next time around was in Sport+ mode, which is an aggressively sporting setting on the street, and it did allow for more playful sliding around of the car. It hammered home how good such safety systems are at doing their jobs, as one could still almost lap the circuit entirely with your foot to the floor, and just let the electronic sensors figure out exactly how much power to put down in the straights and the corners.
Still, the 911 has a lot of weight back there that’s noticeably itching to come around and bite the driver. Even one of the instructors spun a new Carrera S right around at a 180-degree looping corner, as we did many times in the GTS on the skid pad.
The Camp4 school is unfortunately done for 2012, as it only runs a couple of weeks per year. But plans for the 2013 school are being drawn up now, and with new Turbo and convertible versions of the 911 yet to be introduced, Porsche enthusiasts may well be offered even more fun in different forms come this fall, when cars and course details will be announced for next year.
2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S
Type: Luxury sport coupe
Base price: $110,000
Engine: 3.8-litre flat-six
Horsepower/torque: 400 hp/325 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 combined; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi RS5, BMW M3, Chevrolet Corvette, Lotus Evora S, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, Nissan GT-R