Porsche World Road Show 2010: The Singapore Leg

By James Wong

The brief: to drive a couple of Porsches around the Changi Exhibition Centre (basically a big, wide open tarmac area that makes the imagination of any driver go wild) for one whole day.

Stopping short of frothing at the mouth at the prospect of this itinerary, I immediately signed up.

I had an early rise to the day and went in my most comfortable clothes and shoes. Arriving slightly later than the prescribed time of 9am, the long lonely road into the Centre prepared me for what was to come for the rest of the day. It is a road and an area that is closed to the public, so there is nobody to disrupt your driving, and best of all, for once on Singapore roads, I was on a road that is completely devoid of road hoggers. Bliss.

I trotted down to the holding room for the day.  Just placed in front of the glass doors were the words ‘check-in’, a nice precursor to the day’s events. Glancing at the crowd it seemed that I was the only one who had any sort of idea about the weather, because everybody was equipped with long pants or jeans.

A short breakfast cum briefing was held but it was not long before we made our way to the cars themselves. Porsche 911s, the Boxster/Cayman mid-engined siblings as well as the new entrants – the Cayenne and Panamera – were all out on the sweltering tarmac waiting to to be driven with keys already in the ignition. Of course, we weren’t given free reign to the cars (I can just about visualise what a sight it would have been). Instructors from Porsche AG were flown down specially to make sure we don’t make a fool of ourselves in the cars, and also maybe to teach us a thing or two about driving them.

You see, whenever I mention to non-believers of the car world about learning how to drive, they tend to give me a puzzled look. ‘Why are you learning to drive when you already have a licence?’ is the most common question, followed by ‘Did you lose your licence?’ Well, non-believers, getting your driving licence is only the first step towards driving well. You can very well lead your whole life driving with mediocre skills without knowing if they can be improved, because you don’t see a need to.  But for us, whose scripture is the iDrive manual, getting the correct line to a corner is essential to making us smile for the next. And getting the car in the right gear, at the right time, without any nasty jerks and with those accompanying blips, is sheer delight. So learning driving is not merely polishing your driving skills. It’s learning a whole art form.

The day was divided into several segments – Roadtour, Slalom, Handling and the dubiously-named Moosetest. The Roadtour segment of the course proved to be a good start to the day as we were able to drive the Porsches at a leisurely pace along the roads of Singapore. From that we were could experience how it was like driving the Cayenne to do grocery shopping or to pick up the kids from school, which I reckon would be a commonplace chore for the car.

It was quite a sight as the four Cayennes went down the Tampines Expressway (TPE) with Euro plates and leading us was a 911 and taking the rear was a Cayman S. We had the Cayenne S as well as the Cayenne Turbo available for our sampling, and I took the wheel of the 4.8 V8 Cayenne S. 400hp and 500Nm sounds like a sumptuous breakfast to me without overdoing it.

Halfway through our drive a Land Transport Authority (LTA) officer with an extra keen eye sought to stop us by the side of the road. He probably was shocked seeing a convoy of left-hand drive Porsches with Euro plates driving down the expressway. After clearing things up, we met with a jam due to an accident on the TPE. This really showed the low-speed capabilities of the Cayenne. We were in Sport mode for both the suspension as well as the throttle response, and we were also in manual mode so the PDK felt quite jerky in the first and second gears as the car crept through. However, despite being in the most extreme settings, the car felt composed and always compliant. Never a problem for bringing your family along. And the dog.

That said, the breadth of capabilities from the Cayenne S’s 4.8 V8 proved to be too overwhelming for our tour as I barely had the opportunity to hit pass the 4,000rpm mark in the driving conditions presented without breaking the law. Nonetheless, the engine is silky smooth – well, what else would you expect of a V8 – and sounded great too. Tiptronic S with the new 8-speed cogs proved to be an efficient companion to the engine, allowing 8th gear to be engaged on the highway cruising at 100km/h. I also tried all of the suspension settings on offer, namely – Comfort, Normal and Sport. Unfortunately, in the short drive I was not able to gauge for certain the differences between the modes. Steering feel was good; not as heavy as a 911’s but it feels uncorrupted and clean. Probably the size of the steering wheel also played a part as its a wonderful thing to hold with the hands, although the same cannot be said for the button gear shifters.

Since we’re on the topic of the Cayenne let me mention about the brief test drive I had in the Cayenne Diesel. With 550Nm of pulling power the car never felt slow. In fact, it felt the most effortless to get up to speed because of the silence of the engine (it doesn’t need to rev above 4,000rpm) and the deceptive pick-up of speed. It felt wonderful on the long straights as well as urban driving. I suspect this model would be the most ‘drivable’ Cayenne in terms of practicality and fuel consumption in our urban conditions. But since our diesel taxes hurt us in the pocket to the first degree, the Cayenne Hybrid is an interesting alternative which I’ve yet to try.

My group which was paired with Gunther Ofenmacher had a go in the slalom next. Using a Boxster S equipped with PDK, the car shone particularly brightly on this sharp and quick-changing course which favoured the mid-engined car. The Boxster never once felt like it was out of control and as a compliment to its chassis, the car felt that it could do so much better with grippy tyres. By the time it came to my turn the car was already writhing in corners due to the heated rubber although the inherent balance of the car remained. Some of the drivers who were keen enough to build up the revs first on the start with the brakes on showed better timings. The ‘U-turns’ in the slalom course proved to be the most challenging as they did not follow a natural angle and were also pretty narrow.

The next course was simply named ‘Handling’. Well, I’ll toast to that! This time, we had the Cayman S PDK, 911 Targa 4S PDK and Panamera S PDK at our disposal as we were led on a guided track to try the cars out. The track is said to recreate winding country roads and I don’t doubt it. There is ample space for a straight flat-out acceleration and then there are also long, sweeping corners as well as some sharp narrow turns. The Targa 4S has the heaviest steering of the lot but with the open glass roof, it offered the most exhilarating drive with the howl of the Boxer six coming out of its quad pipes. Its AWD drivetrain meant that it was difficult to get the car out of line especially since that we weren’t allowed to turn the settings to Sport Plus or to turn traction control off. The weight of the rear engine hung like a despondent spirit although not especially obvious, with the AWD system sorting it out to allow the car to take corners far better than you would imagine.

Now when I stepped into the Cayman S it was an entirely different experience. The car felt just right. The seating position, interior space, steering feel, gearshifts and those bucket seats – exquisite. The Cayman S is a mid-engined car and it really showed on the circuit. The balance of the car made it extremely neutral going into bends and so sure-footed that you wish it had a lot more power to exploit its grip. Not so for the Panamera S, which was undoubtedly the scariest car of the lot to drive. Equipped with an extremely powerful V8 that boasts a HP count that outnumbers any of the cars on the Handling course, the Panamera proved to be a handful on the circuit with its heavy, lumbering body and the RWD configuration. Any ill-disciplined prod on the throttle and you’d be getting the tail out; getting the car into the sweeping corners, a lot of roll was observed, and if you were approaching them at speed then caution must be taken as the car loaded up the outer tyres very quickly, killing grip gradually but surely. The steering was also speed-sensitive so it felt odd at certain times. But luckily for the Panamera, its four-door rivals are also overweight and clumsy, so in comparison the Panamera doesn’t fare too badly at all. I must say that the rear doors of the Panamera as well as the ride height and overal feel of the car was similar to the Maserati Quattroporte with which I had also driven, albeit some time ago.

The last course of the day was the Moosetest which was carried out in an awesome Panamera Turbo. The car was blistering fast although its rubber was already well-used with many participants putting the car into drifts with Porsche Stability Management (PSM) off. Let’s just get the numbers out of the way first – 500hp and 700Nm (770Nm for the Sport Chrono Package), 0-100km/h in 4 seconds and 0-160km/h in 8.8 seconds. The car already feels fast with its initial start where the turbos aren’t boosted up. But when those snails have fully wounded up, you better hold tight as the car is simply minces the tarmac up. Good then that we have here a Super Drift Car – a 500hp Porsche. The Moosetest is essentially executing an emergency maneuver that is done when a driver sees a moose on the road and tries to avoid it. The car exhibited sharp differences when PSM is on and when it is off. Crashing the Panamera Turbo simply wasn’t an option to me, so I was pretty cautious the whole time I was behind the wheel. Thankfully, with PSM on the car was easily brought back in line. With it off however, the car literally went into an unintended drift and for some participants, the car did a 360 degree turn also. This really demonstrated how useful PSM would be in dire situations.

At that point, it was back to the real world, where I don’t get to drive new Porsches every day. Pity, because the 997 MkII GT3 was already out in the sun where lucky participants could get a ride in it with the instructors driving a planned circuit. I wasn’t so lucky, although a ride in the Carrera S isn’t so bad. I was simply stunned at how far the car can go into a corner before needing to brake. Based on this, it appears that my personal limits are pretty safe, then.

So that’s the Porsche World Road Show. I was secretly hoping that the course wouldn’t be too extensive because I paid for a trip to Australia to attend the Porsche Sport Driving School (PSDS) next month. But I finished the Road Show a happy man because I got to pilot almost all of the Porsches (those that I wanted to try anyway) in a safe and controlled environment. Certainly, there is no disappointment in that.

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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