This is Porsche ballet. My car glides over an all-white stage, a landscape skimmed in snow and ice. It is a new, very blue Carrera 4S, one of the first 991 all-wheel-drive models in North America, and it is full of grace.
The road before me is a track plowed out of deep powder, high snow banks on either side, with an upcoming sharp left-hander. Long before the car reaches the traditional turn-in point, I yank the wheel hard left and then wait. The car goes silently sideways and, although the nose of the 911 points directly at the bank, it’s moving laterally and sweeps by like a ship gliding past an iceberg.
A right-hander comes next. With a stab of gas and a twist of the wheel, the car pivots perfectly and predictably. Just call me Sebastien Loeb.
These are rally-worthy tricks you’d expect of a Subaru WRX, but they feel electrifying in the new AWD Carrera. A 911 shouldn’t be this good in the slick stuff, but it is. When your inputs are right, when you don’t get your hands all crossed up with way too much input and into an understeer situation -- when you’re patient and your eyes are up and you can almost sense the pebbly ice under the rubber -- it is brilliant.
Except when I don’t get that all those things right and stuff the new, shiny 911 4S into a snowbank, leaving the perfect impression of a Porsche snow-angel in the drift. Such is the price of dancing with greatness -- that and the collateral damage done to the front fascia, which is already cracked and torn, the result of some other dancer’s missteps. A coarse surgery had been performed on the lower lip with plastic zip ties used as stitching, a horror show à la Bride of Frankenstein.
The snowy winter track is a place called Mecaglisse, an hour north of Montreal. The Porsche Driving Experience program has set up base here for a good part of February in a program tagged Camp4 Canada. Customers drop somewhere between $5,000 and $6,000 for two or three days of madcap hoonery, hotels and food included.
Porsche is not alone in letting customers get a feel of its cars’ snow-carving capabilities. Everyone from Lamborghini to Audi to AMG puts on these things at far-flung locales from Finland to Italy to Colorado.
I’m here because I like to bash around other people’s expensive toys. Plus, it’s a first chance to see how the new 4S performs. Even better, we’re driving the 4S back to back with rear-wheel-drive Boxsters and base 911s. Which one will be the Snow King?
On my way to the course from the Montreal airport, my driver mentions he once owned a 1981 911. “Great car,” he said with a French accent. “But terrible in the snow.”
Once upon a time that was surely true. But today’s $84,000-plus 911s have better weight balance and are stuffed with electronic nannies. And to help traction, these cars have been shod with snow tires with 3 mm studs.
After several laps around a road-like circuit in the 4S, I’m impressed by its ability to maximize grip, particularly if you stay off the icy driving line and look for snowier bits on the corners. While the AWD system’s torque bias is infinitely variable, its demeanor is less skewed to AWD understeer and more like a sled with an afterburner. It pops out of corners with aplomb.
The latest Boxster has also been drafted into snowplow duty (with the roof up). On the ice it is far more nervous and necessitates smoother inputs, but it is also far lighter and easier to recover when you blast through a turn too quickly and begin pushing toward a snowbank. Still, the Boxster is clearly not the Snow King.
Which takes me to the cockpit of the regular ol’ rear-wheel-drive 911. This thing is bare bones. A naked plastic dash, no leather. It, too, is noticeably lighter than the 4S. Negotiating icy turns demands slow hands and a single stab of the brakes. Then you have to wait for it… wait for it… The tires bite, the weight shifts, and the 911 transforms into Luke Skywalker’s hover craft. You glide and slide, negotiating miraculous angles. It is nearly silent, and fully surreal.
That settles it. The base Carrera is my favorite. For it purity, it owns the icy crown. Of course, I wouldn’t mind another lap in the Boxster. Followed by a couple of turns in the 4S, just to be sure.