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Porsche Cayenne handles off-roading well. (Porsche)
Porsche Cayenne handles off-roading well. (Porsche)

Porsche Road Show

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Every two years, Porsche Canada arranges a stop for each of its dealers on the World Road Show tour, where Porsche’s entire lineup of automotive rock stars are available for a group of potential Porsche owners to flog on a race track and – at the most recent event at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, this included off-road flogging as well.

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With everything from base-engine Boxsters to mighty Cayenne Turbo models on offer, the goal is for dealers to show potential owners the benefits of a Porsche that they won’t get to explore on a regular test drive. There’s a clockwork efficiency to the program that attempts to get you into as many different Porsche vehicles and variants as possible, and that includes Cayenne SUVs, both on-track and off-road.

This hot-seat flipping quickly became a game of which Porsche is your favourite? It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was a fun way to spend the day.

Most of us had driven the majority of these Porsche models previously, with the new-generation Cayman the one exception and therefore the undisputed “it” car of the show that everyone wanted to sample. Sky-high expectations were set by the impossibly accomplished Boxster that was launched last year, the convertible twin to the Cayman that won the Best Sports Car Over $50,000 category at AJAC’s Canadian Car of The Year competition over more powerful performance machines such as the Mercedes-Benz SLK55, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Ford Shelby Mustang.

Our group started with the track exercises in the sports cars, with folks running to the bright-yellow Cayman S with the giddiness of kids running to their first amusement park ride of the year. All Caymans offer 10 hp more than their corresponding Boxster counterparts (275 for the base Cayman and 325 hp for the S version), and identical weights for S and non-S versions of the mid-engine sports car. Porsche quotes 0-100 km/h times for the regular Caymans at 5.7 seconds and 5.0 for S versions, which equates to times 0.1 seconds faster than the corresponding Boxster figures.

All of the assembled vehicles were European models, but largely (and heavily) equipped for North American tastes, so mostly PDK automatics. We started in a chocolate-brown base Cayman, its dark lines making it look much like a similarly-hued 911 in the same group. Every Porsche looks somewhat like a 911, but the dark paint helped visually smooth over the large air intake in front of the Cayman’s rear wheels that is the primary design distinction of the Cayman from its pricier (usually) two-door hardtop big brother.

The Cayman features a gloriously balanced chassis in both base and S versions, a confidence-inspiring joy on the track’s various off-camber corners. The run in the base version had us thinking it was plenty quick, but when we drove the S soon after, and realized how much snappier came the responses out of slow corners, with a more spine-tingling top-end as well, the extra 13 grand in price suddenly seemed much more reasonable.

It’s easy to add $13,000 in options to any trim level of any Porsche, so while a $59,995 Cayman sounds reasonable for a Porsche two-seater, the $72,900 Cayman S will be the one that drivers planning regular track days will favour.

These prices are also much closer to the convertible Boxster now as well, but still about two grand higher than the drop-top. Porsche is the only auto maker that somehow manages to command a premium for the tin top over the drop-top Boxster equivalent, in a move of marketing wizardry that likely has as much to do with uncertainties over whether stock Boxsters can be used at various tracks without safety modifications as with those 10 extra ponies or the unique name.

Unfortunately, there were no Boxsters available on the track in our group to compare their high-speed composure back to back, although Boxsters were available later in a parking lot slalom course. But it was fascinating to experience rear- and all-wheel drive versions of the 911 up against the RWD-only Caymans on the track, almost as if you were finally finding the truth of their innermost handling qualities by peeking into their most private tire-diaries.

The 911s were roomier inside, but also felt larger on the track, the back end tugging ever so slightly more to the outside of the turn. This was especially noticeable on more abrupt steering wheel inputs, where you could feel the front and rear tires of the 4S model clawing for grip at the pavement, whereas the rear-drive 911 seemed ready to swing around more easily. The grip threshold of the 911’s wider rear tires seems higher than the Cayman, but it doesn’t invite you to dance out at its limits like the Cayman does with its predictable body motions that seem centred right at your derriere.

The Panamera and Cayenne sessions on the track afterward seemed a dynamic letdown after that first sports car group. Sure, the Panamera especially offered a reassuring blend of performance, comfort (except the firmly sprung GTS) and performance on the track, but even this low-riding hatchback felt notably squishier in corners, while the Cayenne seemed impressive for an SUV, but not in relation to its sportier, lower and lighter family members.

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the day was the off-road portion, where even the Cayenne Turbo we piloted with the stock low-profile, high-speed rubber managed to scramble over some challenging terrain on the track’s grounds, at some points overlooking the track. At the tail end of our group of Cayennes, we reached a clearing with two path options, and no clear indication of which one the rest of them took. So, of course, we took the wrong one, and headed up a steep and sandy hill that we were sure was meant to be taken downhill only.

It took some momentum, but up the Cayenne Turbo went, before we saw the tail end of our group again through some trees and managed to catch up without anyone noticing. We think.

By the end of the day, the question of favourite Porsche seemed to come down to a question of which two-door sports car was most entertaining, and when. The Cayman seemed to definitively proclaim itself as the handling champ of the lineup, with the 911 Turbo S the king of acceleration thrust.

A lottery win would put the 911 Turbo S convertible in my dream garage. But if it were my hard-earned money on the line, the one that whispers most seductively to me is the Boxster S.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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