Fun Stuff

A Day at the Track Proves Not All Porsches Are Created Equal

Of all the automakers that claim motorsports are integral to their DNA, few can back it up like Porsche.

Simply put, the entire brand is predicated upon its racing pedigree, and there’s an expectation – though it’s mostly self-imposed – that any one of the products in its portfolio is capable of turning in impressive lap times. It’s the reason why I was left so impressed a few years ago after hustling a base Macan around a race track. Or why the Panamera hybrid had the same effect following a track event at the seemingly ill-suited Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit.

But as I was reminded at a recent track event, not all Porsches are created equal – and it extends beyond their fundamental differences.

The Cars

Having recently reviewed both the Taycan Turbo S and 911 Carrera S, it was completely coincidental — though seemingly fortuitous — that my day was spent with three very different cars from the Porsche portfolio.

As far as the brand’s spectrum goes, this trio is spaced about as far apart as possible. There’s the mid-engine 718 Spyder, essentially a slick-looking, fire-breathing version of the Porsche Boxster. Meanwhile, far more of the familiar Porsche tradition is found in the 911 Carrera 4S, while on the opposite flank is the Taycan Turbo – an all-electric glimpse into the brand’s future (and, indeed, the auto industry’s as a whole).

The Venue

With the legendary grand prix circuit lurking just over the trees – and the joyous sounds of cars blasting down the Andretti Straightaway filling the hot summer air – my morning was spent on the closer confines of the driver development track (DDT) at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (CTMP).

A karting course converted years ago for car use, there’s an awful lot packed onto the postage-stamp footprint of the DDT. Nearly three kilometres of asphalt winds its way through the ideal amount of changing elevation, with an obvious need for a decidedly different approach than what’s required on the Big Track next door.

It’s a tight and technical course, with a variety of corners and a couple of short straights that are best suited to smaller, lower-powered cars. Top speeds here peak at around 150 km/h in any one of the Porsche products gathered – about 100 km/h slower than what they’d hit on the other side of the tree line.

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder

Of the three cars I piloted on track this day, none was a better fit – nor more fun – for the DDT than the mid-engine 718. With a naturally aspirated flat-six nestled just behind the driver, this Spyder provides the ideal balance with which to attack such a tight track.

When that’s not enough, the 414 hp and 309 lb-ft of torque the 4.0L engine sends to the rear wheels – via a six-speed manual transmission complete with auto rev-match – is enough to rocket the little drop-top out of corners quickly enough to make up for the power disparity between it and the other cars here.

The 718 Spyder’s lightness can be felt via the electromechanical steering and staggered wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, with grip for days and feedback to match. It’s only on the straights that the Spyder loses ground to the 911 and Taycan, but it’s quick to reel them both in through just about any of the 15 or so corners dotting the DDT.

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S

Done up in Carrera 4S guise – and with the sport chrono pack to boot – the 911 makes this game of cat and mouse much more interesting. The pendulum is in full swing (pun intended, thank you very much) when switching into this rear-engine ride, with a much different sensation due to the weight of the motor hanging off the back of the car.

Whereas the Carrera S I drove a few weeks prior employed a manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive, the 4S version sports an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. And those differences alone are enough to deliver a much different drive experience.

The Carrera uses a twin-turbocharged 3.0L to crank out 443 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which kicks in at just 2,300 rpm. With an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission handling the transfer of power to each of the four wheels, a proper line through any one of the track’s turns can result in outstanding exit speed.

It requires every bit of braking power to transfer the 911’s centre of gravity forward, but it turns on a dime without fear of the dreaded snap oversteer – even through the DDT’s turns nine and 10 that require a lift-throttle-lift sequence to get through the fastest.

Somewhat surprisingly, the 911’s hips didn’t once waggle the way they did in its smaller sibling, a testament to the well-rounded package of this legendary sports car.

2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo

Considering how much I enjoyed driving the Taycan on public roads, its on-track demeanour left something to be desired. Not that it isn’t more capable than the average sedan, electric or otherwise, but there’s an awful lot of weight to shimmy around such a twisting circuit.

Having reviewed the top Turbo S model, this slight step down results in something a little less extreme. There's less power, for starters, while the Turbo does without its sibling's rear-axle steering – though it can be added – and sticky tires.

While the urgency with which it rockets around is second to none, the all-electric Porsche tips the scales at more than 2,270 kg (5,005 lb). All the power in the world – and there’s a lot of it; in Turbo trim, it offers overboost of 670 hp – isn’t enough to offset the heft here. Put simply, it’s like wrestling an alligator.

While there’s no doubt the Taycan would be far more at home out on the high-speed grand prix circuit at CTMP, the smaller track brought out some of the car’s less refined qualities. Lots of understeer, especially through the turn 13 sequence, was the car’s biggest undoing (though the all-season Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires certainly didn’t help).

Making matters worse for the Taycan – well, more specifically, me – was its lack of engine sound. While par for the electric car course, it’s certainly an adjustment driving a car with no audible mechanical feedback to work with. Instead, it’s the constant screeching and squealing of tires that can at times cause some second-guessing over whether the ideal driving line has, indeed, been found.

However, any ground lost through the corners was quickly made up on even the shortest of straights, the all-electric Porsche picking off metres of asphalt faster than anything else on the track.

The Verdict

The Taycan might not be the Porsche to pick should regular track days be in the offing, though to its credit, lap after lap, it kept coming back for more. And maybe that’s the common thread between this new electric car and any of the rest of the Porsche lineup: that there’s a willingness to withstand what others simply can’t. It defies motor placement or type, and transcends the entire Porsche portfolio. And there’s no better way to back up the brand’s racing heritage than that.