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Skating Lessons with the Porsche 911 and 718 Cayman

Proving you can (and should) drive your Porsche sports car through winter

Eric Weinerwriter The Manufacturerphotographer

Now that Porsche makes not one but two supremely capable all-weather SUVs, one could realistically keep the 911 or 718 safe and warm in the garage all winter while the Cayenne or Macan pounds through snow and slush. Don't be silly, though. In climates where that would mean parking your hard-earned sports car for half of the year, that's a tragic waste. Why not instead pony up for a top-flight set of winter tires and learn the ins and outs of car control?

Porsche Canada has been preaching this gospel for several years, as it now enters its seventh season of its Camp4 winter driving academy at Mecaglisse. When we heard that the latest 911 and the new 718 Cayman would be strutting their stuff, we packed our waffle-stitched long undies for the Great White North.

Located about 60 miles outside of Montreal, the facility operates as a road course, off-road, and rally track during warmer months. In the winter, however, Mecaglisse is a drifter's frozen paradise. Every night the staff floods the whole place, letting layer after layer of fresh ice build up over the course of a season. Given that Mecaglisse is all on land, there's even a bit of entertaining elevation change, not to mention a certain sense of calm that comes from not having to worry about plummeting into a lake. With rear- and all-wheel-drive offerings on hand boasting rear- and mid-engine layouts, there are few better opportunities to understand the physics of weight transfer than by sliding these Porsches around on a chilly day. When it comes down the nuts and bolts, though, Camp4 is looking to train your brain, hands, and feet to control a car in an uncontrolled state.

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We've previously sampled several flavors of this new generation of turbocharged Porsches but never like this. And while the 718 Cayman and 911 sport lovely new boosted engines with lots of torque to improve lap times on the road, on ice it's all about the handling, the driver, and the tires. Appropriately, all cars available come fitted with the laser-guided missile of winter rubber, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 with 1.5-mm studs. (At more advanced levels, Camp4 slaps on 3 mm studs.)

The first exercise we tackle is the rally flick, otherwise known as the Scandinavian flick. You've probably heard of this one and maybe made a fool of yourself trying it out in an empty parking lot. The idea here is to take advantage of your momentum reducing the weight on the rear tires and rotating the car around a tight turn. We pile into the cozy cockpit of a Carrera 4S for a first crack at it, thankful it has a PDK ($3,200) so we can focus on steering and braking without worrying about shifting. There's a soft clatter from the flat-six as it breathes frigid air, and we dial in PSM Sport to give us plenty of leeway from the stability control system. The optional Sport Exhaust barks to life as we pin the throttle, all four studded shoes grasping for grip on the icy ridge.

The course takes us into a short dip, rounds an uphill corner, and toward our target turn. As instructed, we turn sharply to the outside of the corner, lift off the gas, and tap the brakes to shift weight forward, and then lay into the go pedal while steering toward the corner. With all that weight out back, the 911 has no problem sliding its butt out, but the C4S is tricky to negotiate out of a drift if you're used to rear-wheel drive. With all-wheel drive, you have to fight the instinct to aggressively countersteer and instead need to bring the steering back to center toward the apex of the turn, trusting the front wheels to pull you back on course.

Next up is a slinky, blacked-out rear-drive Carrera S on a classic figure eight. Here it's encouraged to go hot into a corner, approaching the apex with lots of throttle to kick the rear out. Too little gusto and you'll just understeer. Once that "oh shit" moment starts to tickle the tendrils of our nervous system, Camp4 teaches you to CPR—that's correct the steering, pause, and recover with some throttle to power out of the slide. With PSM in Sport this proves extremely fluid and satisfying once you nail it. The real revelation, though, is how seamlessly this system works and how discretely it makes precise braking corrections. With all systems fully defeated, it takes several spins until we hit our stride.

Moving to the mid-engine, rear-drive 718 Cayman S requires a slight rethink. The Cayman's favorable 55/45 percent front/rear weight distribution gives is a considerably more centered and balanced feel. The car feels lighter and more nimble than its big brother, expressing crisper turn-in and more predictable weight transfer as we wiggled to and fro along the slalom. Once we stab the throttle and coax the rear end out with some momentum, big, wide angles and disciplined steering and throttle inputs are the secret to stringing together textbook drifts. We've gushed over basically every version of the Cayman and Boxster over the years, and with the birth of the 718 the only bad thing that comes to mind is the harshness of the flat-four at idle. Everything else is demonstrably better and more refined.

Our last exercise of the day is a second go with the 911 Carrera 4S, this time on a longer course that strings together many of the skills we'd been practicing all day. Compared to the Carrera S and the 718, the C4S has a steeper learning curve, but the satisfaction you get from clawing out of a reckless drift with all four wheels is by far the best reward. On a real rally, there's no other Porsche we'd rather be driving.

Knowing firsthand how ferociously adept and fun the Cayenne is after drifting it at a similar program in Sweden and having seen what the Macan is made of during a blizzard on a mountain in New Mexico, there's no denying that Porsche's utility vehicles are the real deal. Camp4, with the 911 and 718, shows where Porsche's SUVs get their good genes from. Although the 911 and 718 can't do what its SUV cousins can when the going really gets tough, the level of competence and fun offered by these luxury sports cars is a salient reminder of why a Porsche should be near the top of any passionate driver's wish list.

2017 Porsche Carrera S and Carrera 4S Specifications

PRICE $104,450 (Carrera S); $111,350 (Carrera 4S)
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6/420 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 368 lb-ft @ 1,700-5,000 rpm (Carrera S);
TRANSMISSION  7-speed manual; 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, RWD/AWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 20-22/28 mpg city/highway (Carrera S); 20-21/28 mpg city/highway (Carrera 4S)
L x W x H 177.1 x 71.2 x 51.1 in
WEIGHT 3,175-3,219 lb (Carrera S); 3,400 lb (est) (Carrera 4S)
0-60 MPH 3.7-4.1 sec (Carrera S); 3.6-4.0 sec (Carrera 4S)
TOP SPEED 182-183 mph (Carrera); 190-191 mph (Carrera S); 188-189 mph (Carrera 4S)


PRICE $67,350 (Cayman S) (base)
ENGINE 2.5-liter turbo DOHC 16-valve flat-four/350 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 309 lb-ft @ 1,900-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual; 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 20-21/26-28 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 172.4 x 70.9 x 51.0 in
WEIGHT 2,988-3,054 lb
0-60 MPH 4.0-4.4 sec
TOP SPEED 177 mph