Playdate for adults - The Porsche World Roadshow

The suggestion to "grow up" has always been futile advice for me. Some people don't grow up, and I certainly choose not to. As adults, we don't stop playing with toys. The toys just get bigger. And a tad more expensive.

I'm going to take a short break from all the Germany articles and reel it back in stateside for this one. I had the opportunity to attend the Porsche World Roadshow the final weekend in September held at the MSR Houston road course. The Porsche World Roadshow is an annual event put on by Porsche of North America that invites people to ride and drive new Porsches around a track. It takes place in only a handful of major cities around the U.S. and is by invite only (usually by a referring dealership). The cost? Nada. You show up and sample a few new P-cars on the house. Yes please.

For 2014, the event is split into three parts. In one part, you are given the chance to drive in a quick two lap autocross with the new Macan Turbo and Panamera GTS. In another, you are put behind the driver seat of the new 991 Targa 4S, Cayman GTS and Boxster GTS on the road course following an instructor in a lead car. In the final part, a racing instructor drives you around in a hot lap of the road course in the new 991 Turbo. Yes, I felt like a kid again.

While I had a great time sampling the new Macan Turbo and Panamera GTS, I felt the autocross portion was simply way too brief for anyone to explore what the cars truly felt like. Nevertheless, I had the chance to stab the throttle for a split second and throw the vehicles into a few sharp corners. I discovered that the Panamera's V8 sounds absolutely fantastic with the exhaust valves open and the Macan Turbo moves quicker than any SUV has a right to.

Anyways, onwards to the exciting bit.

The visitor's parking lot alone was interesting to walk through. Owners of all kinds of cars seemed to be curious at how new Porsches drive.

For the road course lead/follow segment, drivers were broken up into groups of four cars with an instructor leading in a new Cayman GTS. Drivers then had the pleasure to alternate between and follow in the Cayman GTS, Boxster GTS and 991 Targa 4S.

First up, we had a go at the 991 Targa 4S. The new Targa features what may be one of the most complicated folding tops in any production car today and consequently makes it one of the slightly heavier 911 Carreras. The 4S, however, is propeled by a 400 hp flat-6 as opposed to the standard Carrera's 350 hp powerplant. It's no surprise then that this Targa is very brisk on the course. Its all-wheel drive system made hard cornering drama free and provided the feeling that grip was an abundant resource that could be disposed at will. Though perhaps what surprised me the most is how tight and well put together the chassis felt. A classic symptom of any drop-top car are creaks and noises coming from various parts of the cabin under hard cornering. Despite the complex mechanism of the folding top, this new Targa made no noises and felt as tight as a full-bodied coupe.

Next we had a go in the Boxster GTS.

Remember when the Boxster carried the reputation of being the "poor man's Porsche?" Well, it doesn't really matter how the Boxster is seen these days because this new one performs better than I would ever think of a Boxster. As an owner of a BMW E46 M3, I'd be confident that this Boxster will run away from the M3 without effort on the track. So much for being a poor man's Porsche; it's likely quicker around a road course than most roadsters for sale today.

Saving the best for last, we finished off the lead/follow portion with the Cayman GTS. Loyals of the Porsche 911 will likely always stay true to the 911, but to those loyalists I caution: don't be surprised if you are outrun by a Cayman on the winding roads, this thing is seriously quick.

Like the Boxster GTS, the Cayman GTS is the most high-performing trim level and its blistering pace around corners depicts this. The Cayman feels very similar to the Boxster in character, but the Cayman's more rigid structure can be felt at the limit. In retrospect, Porsche does a fantastic job at minimizing the loose-feeling symptoms of a convertible in the Boxster. The two cars feel more similar than different in nature.

If forced to describe a flaw in the cars, I'd argue that a feeling of artificiality is found across all three models. The steering does not feel entirely organic and technology has made all three models very easy to drive very fast. Porsche however does do a good job of making up for what it lacks in old-school purity. The Targa 4S provides an immense amount of grip and both the Boxster and Cayman are happy to oblige in livening things up by kicking the rear out into a slide in a well-balanced mid engine fashion, so long as you desire.

In the final portion, Porsche let their driving school instructors take its participants for a hot lap in a new 991 Turbo driving at about 9/10ths of the limit. Stay tuned as I summarize the experience in the next post. As a hint, I'll express that 991 Turbo provided an experience unlike anything I've felt before.