You’ve got to hand it to Porsche. As of January 2009, anyone in the UK who buys one of its cars, whether it’s a £34,000 Boxster, a £77,000 Cayenne Turbo or a £131,000 911 GT2, will automatically qualify for a course on how better to drive it.
Nothing new there, you might think; makers of performance cars have been offering instructed track days to their customers for several years. What’s different about Porsche’s new scheme is that it’s free (or rather it’s included in the cost of the car), and that you do it in one of Porsche’s cars rather than your own, so the fuel, tyres and brakes you burn aren’t yours to worry about.
The other thing that’s clever about Porsche’s new customer driving experiences are that you qualify for one as soon as you’ve paid your deposit. That means you can nip along to the firm’s brand new Driving Experience Centre at Silverstone, say, six weeks after you put an order in for a new Boxster S, put in a course with one of their instructors, and having found exactly how well the car you’ve ordered goes, stops, handles, steers and skids on the many corners and surfaces of the 3.1km, tailor-made track, tweak your order to include the sports seats and carbon-ceramic brakes you didn’t know you needed, having tried both. And you can also delete those rather extravagant ‘speed yellow’ dials and seatbelts you saw in the brochure and thought you might like. Because trust me, you won’t like them really.
It’s a win-win situation for both the customer and for Porsche, as far as I can work out; the customers leave not only as better drivers, but also with a much clearer idea of the spec of the new car that’s right for them. Porsche UK, on the other hand, will almost certainly cover the cost of the free track days from the extra options they sell on the back of them.
The Porsche Driving Experience Centre itself opened for business this week; I went along yesterday to find out about the place, and left utterly impressed by the facilities, instructors, the cars, the track – everything.
There’s a handling course (probably just under a mile round) that has been modelled on a British B-road. It’s narrow, twisting and has plenty of elevation changes, and built on the site of Silverstone’s old WRC rally special stage, actually includes the bridge and gantry that Burns, McRae, Makinen and the others raced over and under a decade ago.
There’s also a low-friction circuit made not of tarmac but limestone composite, which has about as much grip as wet snow, and where you can learn to drift your new Porsche around like a pro. There’s an ‘ice hill’ (actually its surface is plastic) which is even more slippery; it’s one of only six in Europe, and great if you want to learn how to keep your 911 pointing the right way when it’s sliding down a hill. There’s a ‘kick plate’ made of the same plastic, which teaches drivers how to countersteer an unexpected skid. And there’s an offroad track, designed to show that Cayennes can cope with steep drops, deep ruts and half a metre of standing water as well as the school run.
Even if you weren’t buying one, it’d be worth paying the £275 Porsche asks for a 90-minute course on how best to drive a new 911, because you won’t learn more about the unique handling dynamics of the car so quickly any other way.
The one course missing from Porsche’s experience catalogue, though, is the one that everyone should take, in my view; the one where you drive a 911 around the slippery bits and then do the same in the mid-engined Cayman. That’s what I did yesterday, and it was immediately apparent which the more balanced, better-handing, easier-to-drift, easier-to-save car is. As if I need to tell you, it’s the cheaper one.
Autocar’s been preaching that particular home truth for several years, but now Porsche may have shot itself in the foot by providing 911 deposit-holders with the ideal means to discover it for themselves. Maybe UK 911 sales will suffer as a result; or maybe 911 buyers will be answered with a short sharp ‘no’ when they ask to drive a Cayman.