First drive: 2011 Porsche Cayenne, Panamera, Cayman, Boxster & 911 at Yas Marina
The last Porsche World Roadshow for the UAE was held two years ago at the Dubai Autodrome. It was a superb event for highlighting the entire Porsche line-up in one go. Seemingly open only to existing Porsche customers and us media types, it was a well-organised event that got us some wheel-time with the 2009 models. We haven’t driven any 911s or Cayennes in the past two years since then, simply because Porsche refuses to give us test cars for more than a few hours, but they did invite us to the 2011 edition of the Porsche World Roadshow, this time at the famous Yas Marina Circuit.
This would be my first time driving on the Yas Marina racetrack. The circuit has been open since late 2009, and has already played host to two Formula One GP races in addition to numerous car launch events, none of which we were invited to. So this time, I even took the wife along as a photographer, as we might not get another chance to be there.
We were ready to enjoy our day out with Porsche, with me unintentionally and inappropriately decked out in my McLaren-Mercedes jacket and dangling my Infiniti QX56 key, as we entered Gate 7 of the Yas Marina Circuit.
Parked inside was a row of the latest Porsches, all with German number plates, and these were to be the very cars that’d hit the track later in the day.
The day itself was divided into four events, and we started off flying with the “Handling Test” first, basically laps of what was referred to as the “north loop” of the racetrack. For this, we were given the usual briefing on track-driving etiquette, namely to follow the instructor, hit all the apexes marked by cones, follow the racing lines, and no overtaking. Also, the instructor would only drive as fast as the car behind him. We were then taken out to the pit lane.
There was a line of cars, all with their doors open for us media people to jump into at random. The order in which the cars were kept became important as to how hard I could push each of them later. The instructor’s lead car was a Porsche Boxster S. After that for us was the yellow Porsche Cayman S. Behind that was a bodykitted white 911 Carrera. After that was the bodykitted red 911 Carrera 4S. Then came the dark-green Panamera 4. And finally there was the all-new Cayenne Turbo in black.
I first jumped into the 500 hp 2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo at the end of the line. I only briefly glanced at the interior, and vaguely remember it being well-appointed, before setting off on our warm-up lap. As soon as I took off, the first thought that popped into my head was how ridiculously fast it just accelerated, and how this cruise missile was going to end up in the hands of unsuspecting soccer moms. I cruised through the turns without the slightest stress, as the drivers in the sports cars ahead took their time to get a feel of the track.
I then moved to the 300 hp 2011 Porsche Panamera 4, this being the latest V6-powered all-wheel-drive “base” version of the awkward sedan. The drivers in the sports cars ahead confidently took off in a hurry, and as I floored the accelerator, I was surprised at how powerfully it accelerated, and how good it sounded doing so. For a “base” V6, it was pretty impressive, and I easily kept up with the 911s around the tight “S” curves and other sharp corners of the track, with only a hint of tyre squeal on occassion. It was proof that a decent driver in a “base” Panamera V6 can easily keep up with a not-as-decent driver in a 911 around a curvy racetrack. In fact, I was starting to tailgate the red 911 in front of me around corners out of frustration, hoping that he’d speed up, but he sped up only in the straights and crawled on the turns.
After that moderate-speed run, we played “musical chairs” again as I hopped into the same red 385 hp 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S that I was tailgating earlier. This was my first seat time in a sports car for the day and, oddly enough, it felt as familiar as the Panamera and the Cayenne from behind the wheel. But when we took off, the racecar-worthy engine note was enough to signal that this was a different breed altogether. This car is loud, firm and sharp, with quick jerky shifts by the PDK automanual gearbox and brakes that were never used to their full potential in chasing drivers who couldn’t even stick to the racing lines so easily determined by the cones marking the apexes. So I only got some speed out of it in the straights, and it sounds superb for a 6-cylinder engine.
The next car I jumped into was the white 345 hp 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera, different from the red car only in power and all-wheel-drive traction. But when we got going, we didn’t really need the extra traction at the speeds we were doing. Driving at the low limits of the guy in front, the Carrera 2 proved to be just as engaging and grippy as the Carrera 4S. In fact, by this time I was lamenting the fact that all these cars were automatics this year, likely because the manual cars at the last Roadshow stumped many potential customers.
Moving ahead, I finally got into the 320 hp 2011 Porsche Cayman S, and being right behind the instructor’s Boxster S, I knew I was in for the ride of my life. We set off, and from the get-go we were flying around the turns as my Cayman’s front tyres squealed in mild understeer. I was finally getting some tyre squeal in my diet, and the instructor obliged by driving even faster. I followed him through all the turns to keep up with him, gripping the steering wheel tight and always feeling delighted to see that the car can actually make the turns without flying off the track. Interestingly, this was the first time I noticed how dangerous the Yas Marina circuit really is, with high walls and no run-off area whatsoever on some turns, so if you go into a corner too quickly, you’ll hit concrete and die. It felt as surreal as a video game piloting that Cayman while chasing a target, and while I was near my limit, I’m sure the instructor was having it easy, because it sure looked like that. Unfortunately my session with the yellow car was quickly over, and as we entered the pits, I looked at the rear-view mirror and saw that everyone else had fallen way behind, so we had to wait for them to catch up. This single session made it all worth the trip.
There was apparently time for another rotation, so I hopped back into the Cayenne Turbo, and was able to push it a little harder as the other drivers ahead were quicker this time around. Still, I kept up easily with very little tyre squeal, and the brakes worked well, even if not as quick to slow down as the sports cars. I also remembered the old 2009 Cayenne GTS I drove at the previous roadshow and how it was completely at its tyre-screeching limit when I was trying to keep up with the moderately-driven 911s at the time. In comparison, the new Cayenne Turbo is a better “fast car” and never felt like it was anywhere near its limits. Losing its low-range offroad gearing has its advantages.
After the track time, we moved on to the “Brake Test” with a 500 hp 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet. The objective was to accelerate as hard as possible and then swerve left or right under full emergency braking, mainly as an exercise to show how ABS works.
Watching a 911 Turbo take off suddenly reminded me of Porsche’s claims that it is one of the quickest-accelerating cars on the planet. Even with all-wheel-drive, it squirms a little under all that power as it takes off loudly and flies into oblivion.
When it was my turn, I got through the exercise without incident, swerving under full braking while still being fully under control. I suspect the stability control also made the car understeer a bit to keep things safe.
With a quick buffet dinner out of the way, we were shepherded to a huge parking lot for the “Slalom Test”, where a 320 hp 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder awaited us at a cone-laden autocross track. The Spyder is a lightweight version of the Boxster, complete with pieces of cloth in place of a proper folding soft-top and inner door handles replaced with cloth straps, among other things. Given what a disaster my last encounter with an autocross course was, at a muscle-car launch event, I didn’t expect to make it through this timed event without killing a few cones. I went for my first practice round, and was absolutely blown away by how the car simply turned where it was pointed, instead of understeering like a doggone muscle-car in this tight course.
On my second and third rounds, I sped it up further and this car still kept turning everywhere I pointed it to, even if the tyres were squealing throughout. On my last run, I pushed it even harder, sawing at the wheel, and finally killing only a single cone. But I had finally come to the conclusion that the Spyder is indeed sharper than the Boxster I drove at the previous Roadshow, and easily better than “sports” cars such as the Chevy Camaro SSXXL-whatever in terms of pure handling capability. The instructor then gave us rides by drifting through the entire course, showing just how agile the car is.
Towards the end of the night, the final event was the “Moose Test” with a 400 hp 2011 Porsche Panamera S, which replaced the Cayenne offroad segment from the previous Roadshow. We simply had to accelerate hard towards some cones representing a moose, and swerve either left or right depending on which direction a man pointed his flag, and then swerve back into the same lane. The only catch was we could not use the brakes while swerving. We got to do it once with stability control on, once turned off, and a third time with it turned on again. Needless to say, I was looking forward to the bit with no electronic nannies, as we were told we can lose control if we want. So with ESP off, I managed to do a complete 180-degree spin with the rear-wheel-drive Panamera as I zig-zagged through the cones intentionally too fast. The other two times were without incident, as expected.
We ended the day with passenger-rides in the sports cars around the track, complete with drifting around every corner. They used 911s, Boxsters and even a Panamera Turbo.
This event was about as much fun as one could legally have with expensive cars. I even ended the day by finding out I won that Spyder slalom test with the best time in my group, and got a scale-model for my efforts. It really takes a certain kind of carmaker to inject all their cars with so much character and capability, and even if you enter the world of Porsche with a totally negative attitude, you end up getting consumed by their genuine driving awesomeness.
Photos by Mr. & Mrs. Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury
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