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The Porsche Drive program makes the German automaker's fleet accessible for a monthly fee.

Tobias Kempe/Handout

How much would you pay to drive any Porsche you want, whenever you want?

How about $4,200 a month? Porsche is hoping the answer is yes.

Launched in Atlanta in 2017, the program started out as Porsche Passport, granting users access to a selection of the German automaker’s fleet under a monthly subscription model. The goal was to “be the most aspirational brand in a new era of mobility and consumer expectations,” Porsche said back in 2017.

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The program was recently renamed Porsche Drive, bringing the company’s subscription service and its regular rental program under the same banner. The former comes in two tiers. For $3,200 a month plus tax ($2,100 in the U.S.), drivers get access to the Macan, Cayenne, Panamera, 718 Cayman and 718 Boxster. A $4,200-a-month option adds the 911 Carrera and other higher-performance variants.

The program launched in four additional cities in September – Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Toronto. Across all five cities, the sign-up process remains much the same. New users are required to pay a $750 (US$525) “joining fee” and submit their drivers’ licences and driving records to be considered for approval.

Patrick St. Pierre, public-relations manager for Porsche Canada, said that Toronto is the first Porsche Drive market with a winter driving season. “Members did request 911s in the winter, and they are the most popular car,” he said in an e-mail. (The second most popular is the Macan, the company’s best-selling car globally and its most affordable.)

A 2020 Porsche Panamera GTS, one of several vehicles available through Porsche Drive.

Stephanie Chan/The Globe and Mail

According to Porsche, its Toronto subscribers share some traits with those in Atlanta. Last year, the program reportedly lured younger-than-expected drivers, with many in their mid-40s – eight years younger than the typical Porsche customer. In Toronto, the average age of active Drive users is 38. Many reside in Canada part-time, and the company acknowledges that snowbirds and frequent travellers may be the prime target for the subscription.

Demand has predictably waned over the past few months due to the spread of COVID-19, but St. Pierre expects many members to rejoin once physical-distancing restrictions are lifted. For the time being, the company is choosing to view the situation as a chance to showcase the benefits of a subscription model.

The flexible nature of the program means it can be tailored to each member and their driving needs, St. Pierre says. “More flexible ownership options also help customers be able to adapt their expenses more easily, and the delivery to your house eliminates the trip to the dealership,” he adds.

What Porsche Drive offers is certainly unusual in the current auto landscape. The only program that comes close is Hyundai’s new short-term rental service, which allows drivers to take one model out for a maximum of three weeks.

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For gearheads who want a hassle-free experience and the chance to dip their toes into the Porsche pond, Porsche Drive may be the answer. In the weeks before the pandemic forced most people to stay home to stay safe, I decided to find out for myself.

Receiving a vehicle is a decidedly luxurious experience – like unwrapping a present that’s hand-delivered to your door. A representative shows up with keys in hand, ready to take you through the features of the car. When you decide to return it, or you want a new “flip,” someone comes to take it away. There are no worries about the cost of insurance, maintenance or detailing – that’s all covered in your subscription fee.

A screenshot from the Porsche Drive app shows an array of available vehicles.

Stephanie Chan/The Globe and Mail

That said, the program still appears to be trying to figure things out. There’s an accompanying app that is meant to be your one-stop shop for booking and keeping track of your car. The app is slick and even offers a GPS feature to let you see where your vehicle is parked. But while a booking form is prominently featured, you can’t actually book a vehicle through the app – a customer-service representative must confirm whether what you requested is available.

Through trial and error, I quickly realized that flips are generally made only between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. Times outside that window need to be requested through the app, by phone or text. If want to book a 911 for the weekend and make the decision at the last minute, it may not be possible.

On Porsche’s website, the company says there is no minimum notice required to flip a new vehicle, though best practice is a few days in advance. I would echo that recommendation, given the back-and-forth needed to request a vehicle, check its availability and confirm another choice if the first one isn’t available. Two to three days in advance seems reasonable.

The GPS feature in the Porsche Drive app allows you to keep track of where you're parked.

Stephanie Chan/The Globe and Mail

The fleet is still small, program manager Gid Ondretti said when he came to drop off a Panamera. All of Toronto’s vehicles currently come out of Porsche’s Pfaff dealership in Vaughan, Ont.

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Post-pandemic, the team is also adapting to new cleaning processes, which includes deep cleaning and sanitizing exterior and interior touch points before every delivery. Each flip will include an amenity kit that includes hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and tissues.

Which means the only question left to ask is whether the price is worth it.

There are no easy answers here, given that $4,200 isn’t a small chunk of change. For the same amount, there are comparable leasing options on a McLaren through Pfaff. A year’s worth of Porsche Drive payments also comes to more than the average cost of a brand new vehicle.

But there’s something to be said for a vehicle ownership model that removes the day-to-day doldrums of driving.

If you’re looking for a chance to compare a few Porsche models with extra-long test drives, this might be something to consider. It might also be worth it if you want to change models at will and have access to higher-end models and trims. For well-heeled drivers who spend only part of the year in Canada, the subscription model seems like a no-brainer.

Either way, Porsche should be credited for taking a leap into a new model of ownership. Expect more automakers to make similar moves.

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