Recently I was invited by Porsche Canada to test drive the new 911 range at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. It goes without saying that I expected the car to be exceedingly good – and there was no disappointment. What surprised me is that I was equally as impressed in the 911 Grand Tour program itself.
I admit I was ready to write yet another review of the new 911, but you can find hundreds of those anywhere. What the company is doing to entice customers is, frankly, a bit more noteworthy.
Jennifer Cooper, Porsche Driving Experience Manager, explains, “For this tour, our short term goal is to sell cars. However, our long term goal with any Porsche driving event is a brand experience where participants get to come out and feel what the ownership experience would be like for the long haul.”
And an experience it is indeed.
After an indoor briefing, the group heads out for quick road drive to gain some familiarity with the cars at legal speeds. Shortly thereafter, everyone regroups at an autocross course. An instructor jokes, “I think it goes without saying that the highlight of our racing career is sitting right-seat in a parking lot with you guys.” The levity helps ease the anxiety of pushing a $150,000 car as hard as one is willing. It’s a clever approach.
The company showcased many 911 variants – Coupé, Convertible, Targa – with a varying list of options. If Porsche is guilty of something, choice is one of them. Rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive with available rear steering. Rear steering?
“With parallel, or opposite rear steering, it gives you the feeling of a longer or shorter wheelbase,” explains a Porsche instructor. While it sounds like that would take some time to get used to, I had a difficult time sensing any of wizardry at work; the car simply went where it was pointed without duress, every time. It’s brilliant.
Included in the pylon-laden course were areas to perform launch control assists and mash-the-pedal-to-the-floor-panic-stops. After a few of these exercises, it was time to move to the track portion of the day.
For some invitees to the 911 Grand Tour program, this could be their first time on a racing circuit. It can be a terrifying proposition – however, with the help of the outstanding staff, nothing about the experience was intimidating, and full credit goes to the instructors that had all of the participants calm and confident.
As we set out, the instructor-driven lead car calls to the following pack over a radio, explaining various turn-in points, apexes, and braking zones. He states, “As long as you’re going straight, you can apply the brakes as hard as you want to.” We’re cautioned to keep a safe distance incase anyone feels the need to try out that advice. When I was the last car leaving the pit, I did indeed apply the brakes hard, just to see how well they stood up to repeated use. No fade, and gobs of stopping power.
I laid down several laps at the Driver Development Track in no less than eight differently optioned cars. All of them performed flawlessly. I was pushing hard, however there was certainly some speed left on the track that I could find with a little more time behind the wheel. In comparison to other vehicles I have taken lapping, I felt like my skill was elevated – the confidence inspired from the vehicles grip, braking and acceleration was pretty intoxicating.
Frankly, any car that can make me look remotely polished is a technological marvel.
As the event wraps up, Cooper adds, “Our test drive program focuses on a prospective buyer, each of our Porsche centres across the country will invite their prospective customers, whomever they feel is likely to purchase the new 911.” The program runs for six-weeks, moving coast-to-coast.
As a brand experience, Porsche has absolutely nailed it. Prospective buyers get a chance to enjoy the car in a way that is simply impossible on the street, and coupled with knowledgeable staff providing consistent and safe instruction, it’s difficult to find fault.
Today, the excellence of the 911 Grand Tour program trumps all of the minutia you’ll ever find on a spec sheet.
Images courtesy of the author.