Last year was a strong year for Porsche in the UK with the arrival of the 911 Carrera 4, new Cayman, the Cayenne Turbo S and S Diesel, Panamera II including the S E-Hybrid and of course our favourites the 911 GT3, Turbo and Turbo S. Last month GTspirit were invited to the Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone to get behind the wheel of a few of these models. This frankly brilliant centre was built on a old rally stage and consists of five areas designed to push you to your limits in safe surroundings.
This is a large grippy course with challenging blind corners, undulations and crests to really help you understand balance, braking and positioning. It’s more of a great country road than a track and has a central line so that the skills you learn can be transferred back to every day driving.
The kick plate is frankly awesome. A computer-controlled hydraulic plate set flush to the road that induces loss of rear traction. The plate can move up to a meter in a left or right direction with ten settings of ferociousness. Your speed on approach to the plate varies between 15-30 mph. The effect of the ‘kick’ is heightened as you are driving on a special surface mimicking ice so unless you are super fast to catch the slide you are a passenger as you spin off along the surface.
Using the same low friction surface as the Kick Plate but this time on a 7 per cent slope with water walls. Speeds are very slow as this is very much about understanding weight balance and throttle control.
This is a petrol heads heaven, a tight track of bends on a highly polished limestone linked by a giant circular area. This is a real chance to learn how to correct and hold oversteer and develop a fine throttle balance. It is also fan-blooming-tastic!
A clever and challenging course designed to show off the hidden talents of the Cayenne one of the more underestimated cars in the Porsche range. Featuring water pools, a 45 per cent decent and side slopes on slippery wooden banks.
So, there are the different areas and here is how I got on driving a selection of cars from the current Porsche range.
After an amazing breakfast and a short briefing from the team we split into groups. First on the list for me was the Porsche Cayenne, for this part of the day the Porsche Driving Consultant drove us round the off-road course demonstrating the impressive talents hidden underneath that sleek body shell. It’s easy to just consider the Cayenne as a ‘Chelsea tractor’. I have myself been guilty of it in the past but it really is a proper off-roader. The only difference to say a Range Rover is that there is a requirement for a bit more input from the driver to get the best out of it, no bad thing though, after all we are all here because we love driving right? Cayenne sales shadow the rest of the entire Porsche range combined so it has been a great direction for the brand to move in and off the back of the success of the Cayenne, the new Macan CUV has now arrived and initial sales targets are already being smashed. Expect to see plenty on the road soon.
Next up was the Porsche Boxster S. At this point I should say how great the Driving Consultants were, before setting off we had a quick chat about what I wanted gain from my time on the specially built tracks. I’m not the quickest driver in the world but love any chance to improve my car control and I do love a bit of oversteer!
To get a feel for the car we completed a few steady laps of the handling course gradually building up the speed then headed over to the kick plate. Before we got started on the kick plate we drove over the ice road to understand the amount of grip available and how the car reacts with all the electronic toys switched on and off. As much as it helps me ease into what’s ahead, it also gives my consultant a chance to see how I react when the car does step out. I manage to hold a few slides getting my confidence up and we head over to the Kick Plate.
I am told the plate is set to setting six today, there are ten settings in total so I figure we are going to get a half decent kick as we hit the plate. I’m told to look straight ahead at the cone at the end of the course clearing my mind. I approach the plate and boom out the back swings. At our starting speed of 15 mph there is time to think which way the car is moving and correct it but as the speed builds I soon realise that the reaction has to be a automatic instinct (something we work on later in the day). Spinning is inevitable and to be expected although a few of my more well driven writer friends proclaim to have held everything that was thrown at them. Once you have missed the tiny window to correct the oversteer you become a passenger over the ice road. Of course the lack of grip on the ice road is far worse than you or I would come across unless we hit a huge bit of black ice.
After gradually building up the speed we make one final pass over the plate at 30 mph, I’d like to say it was my reactions but I think I just got lucky catching the slide instantly which makes everything feel quite undramatic and it almost feels as though it was easy. I guess that why racing drivers make everything look easy!
Before I got too cocky about my skills we head back and swap into a gorgeous 911 Carrera 4S. In 991 form, the 911 is a stunning looking car, low, sleek, wide and seriously good to drive. We drive a few sighting laps, the sports exhaust burbling and the back twitching as I feed in 400 hp through the rear wheels. The PDK gearbox is a joy to use letting you focus on the track, 0-62 is hit in just 4.1 seconds in Sport+ mode and the car will go on to see 184 mph whilst still returning a combined 31 mpg. Maybe not at those speeds though!
I could happily drive this for a good few laps but we hang a right onto the Ice Hill before I get too adventurous. With Porsche Stability Management (PSM) engaged we set off down the hill zig zagging through the water walls at a smooth pace. On the second run we keep the PSM on but this time squeeze the throttle on turning meaning the car shifts around but is instantly back on course. So that’s the PSM demonstrated, it is really effective and in Sport+ mode the threshold is increased so drivers can push on a bit harder before the PSM cuts in.
The next few runs help me work on throttle and car balance and also what happens when getting into under and oversteer situations on the hill going up and down. We finish off the session with a few more laps of the handling course. By now, I notice that I have a improved sense of the cars balance after my two sessions and feel like I am getting a lot more out of the car already in a more controlled manner.
Next up is the excellent Cayman S, we drive a few quick laps of the handling course then head straight over to the low friction course. This is what I have really been looking forward to. Seat set low with a high steering position I feel at home instantly. We start off on the large circle and force a spin to see just how slippery it is (very) then gradually build up the pace. While driving in a large circle I blip the throttle to unsettle the rear and then try to hold the slide by feathering the throttle. This is hard work as we are in second and the throttle response is so quick that trying to be gentle is exceedingly hard work, but very rewarding!
After a few laps with some semi well held slides we venture out onto the Low Friction course which is made up of tight low speed corners that can be linked by shifting the balance of the car. It is hot, hard work and bloody brilliant fun. To get the most out of the experience it really is key that you listen to your instructor and build your speed. Over confidence quickly leads to frustration, but with time and effort comes the rewards and I start to control the slides and link corners up. In a road scenario this understanding of weight distribution and steering input will really give you confidence if you happen to find yourself in a sticky situation.
Now it’s time to slide into the new Porsche 911 Turbo. It is amazing to think the Turbo is 40 years old now and in its latest guise the Turbo can do 0-62 mph in 3.2 seconds (Sport+) and will top out at 195 mph. Again fuel consumption is impressive for such a car with a combined 29.1 mpg. Out on the wet track grip levels are helped by a set of winter tyres. The key things you really get from this though are the noise and the speed. It is phenomenally quick and the whoosh from the turbos is addictive while the exhaust has been developed to create a great soundtrack, something that the previous 911 Turbo lacked. Even on the grippy surface, with winter tyres the car still starts to slide as you feed in the throttle out of the fast right hander. By this point I am fairly familiar with the track and feel like I am starting to get the most from the 911. We squeeze in a few more laps before having a quick drift around the Low Friction circle. Damn that was seriously good fun!
With the heart racing and confidence building I have three more cars left to drive, first up is the Panamera S E-Hybrid. Pulling away in a Porsche just on electric power is surreal but it is also the future when you consider cars like the 918 Spyder. It is perhaps a little unfair we are driving this on track as the Tiptronic box is a little sluggish and after the other cars I have driven today performance is a bit more sedate. After all, this car is meant for the road and with a combined mpg of 91.1 and a CO2 at just 71, this is a seriously good daily driver. It also has cool features like coasting where the engine is completely turned off allowing improved fuel consumption.
The second 911 4S of the day is a manual, I wont waffle on too much as it is a very similar experience to the PDK I drove earlier in the day. The gearbox is still based closely on the principle of the PDK system with a seventh gear to improve fuel consumption. What is really cool is that you can flick a switch and on down changes the car will blip the throttle like it would on a PDK. Very cool and highly addictive!
The last car of the day is the monstrous looking Cayenne GTS. Wow. This thing looks serious. Sitting below the Turbo in the product range, the naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 is a cracking engine, maximum torque of 515 Nm is available from 3,500 rpm and while it is a big car it feels really fast, helped mainly by a race car like sound track. You can’t help but grin as you plant the throttle and the V8 growls back at you while the elevated seating position inspires driving confidence and I soon find myself beginni to be held up by another journalist in the 911 Turbo! The eight-speed Tiptronic S gearbox is fast and smooth allowing me to focus on chasing the tail of the Turbo around the track.
That’s it for the track time but we are not finished yet. Next up we visit the Human Performance Centre. This state-of-the-art facility is designed to develop racing driver specific fitness levels. Mark Webber is a regular along with cyclists like 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins. There’s a heat chamber which can hold spinning machines and treadmills to help drivers prepare for races in humid countries. Thankfully today we are not using this and instead we are introduced to the BATAK machine. This machine has 12 lights that will randomly light up and you use your peripheral vision and natural reactions to turn the lights out as fast as you can. I managed to get a score of 82 in one minute, apparently that’s not bad but guys like Jenson Button can achieve over 120 per minute and can sustain that rate over five minutes!
With my appetite well and truly worked up I am treated to an exceptional lunch served up in the main centre before setting off home in my car that now feels very slow and rather tired out!