No place for a Porsche Test­ing the Cay­man S in Ed­mon­ton snow hardly does it jus­tice

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By Tim Yip

I’VE got a bad feel­ing about this. I’m strapped into the gor­geous, grey-leather­trimmed sport seat of a 2014 Porsche Cay­man S. Just be­hind me, there’s a 3.4-litre flat-six-cylin­der en­gine with 325 horse­power of glo­ri­ous Ger­man fury champ­ing at the bit to be un­leashed. That abun­dance of horse­power will hur­tle the Cay­man S to a mind-bend­ing “track top speed” of 281 km/h, so says Porsche.

And in­stead of giv­ing the Porsche free rein on some dreamy-smooth piece of swervy road along the Mediter­ranean coast, I’m tor­ture-test­ing Porsche’s new wun­der­car in the af­ter­math of an old-fash­ioned Cana­dian bliz­zard in Ed­mon­ton.

There’s a thick layer of fresh pow­der snow blan­ket­ing north­ern Al­berta. It’s the stuff that down­hill skiers dream of. Our Porsche Cay­man S is one the first ve­hi­cles to ven­ture onto the un­plowed streets, and the slinky, ground-hug­ging mis­sile is now lit­tle more than a cur­va­ceous snow­plow.

The front spoiler is bull­doz­ing snow into the front air in­takes and we’re crawl­ing along at 20 km/h. The wide P235 front tires, no mat­ter how much I turn the steer­ing wheel, suck the car straight ahead, forc­ing it to track along the deep ruts from cars that have bro­ken trail be­fore us.

The Cay­man ad­vances grudg­ingly through the snow, with its un­der­car­riage bang­ing and scrap­ing nois­ily as it drags over chunks of snow, rem­nants from a snow­storm less than a week ear­lier when we tested a new Car­rera 4S Cabri­o­let. The sound of frozen de­bris grind­ing against the belly of the $95,000 Cay­man makes me gri­mace. I have the un­com­fort­able feel­ing that some­where there’s a god of ex­otic sports cars who’s watch­ing and just tick-marked my name, and when my stint on Earth is over, I’m go­ing straight to hell for this wan­ton act of au­to­mo­tive abuse.

Porsche has wisely spooned on a set of Con­ti­nen­tal TS 830 P high-per­for­mance win­ter tires to give it a fight­ing chance, but even aided by its rear mid­ship en­gine weight bias, in th­ese abysmal con­di­tions, the pow­er­ful rear-wheel-drive Cay­man isn’t much fun.

There are many Porsche per­for­mance aids that make driv­ing the Ger­man sports car pass­able for win­ter duty. There’s trac­tion con­trol (the warn­ing light con­stantly flashes as I feather the throt­tle, feel­ing for trac­tion), ABS and Porsche sta­bil­ity man­age­ment (which al­lows the rear end to drift out with a jab of throt­tle, giv­ing a mo­ment of joy when con­di­tions al­low). Snow-cov­ered pub­lic streets are no place to risk bend­ing a bor­rowed $95,000 car, but we did man­age to see 0.30 Gs of lat­eral ac­cel­er­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the car’s dis­play — a frac­tion of what the Porsche is ca­pa­ble of.

As with the Car­rera 4S Cabri­o­let we win­ter-tested the week ear­lier, the coupe’s wide al­loy rims pack full of snow, caus­ing se­vere wheel im­bal­ance. At speeds above 60 km/h, the Porsche shakes like a Magic Fin­gers vi­brat­ing bed in an old mo­tel.

De­spite th­ese win­ter driv­ing short­com­ings, the 2014 Porsche Cay­man S re­mains an ul­tra­de­sir­able sports car. Even on low-trac­tion, snow­cov­ered streets, the Cay­man’s han­dling feels ra­zor-sharp. Steer­ing-wheel weight and feed­back are per­fect and the brakes are easy to mod­u­late. Sur­pris­ingly, the Cay­man S’s sus­pen­sion, while sport­ing firm, is com­fort­able enough to make it very at­trac­tive for ev­ery­day use.

The PDK trans­mis­sion is a joy to use. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is fierce (0-100 km/h in 4.9 sec­onds is claimed), and the howl of the 3.4-litre flat-six en­gine is one of the most joy­ous noises in the au­to­mo­tive world.

The Cay­man’s cabin is beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted and I pre­fer it to the pricier Car­rera, es­pe­cially when it comes to the read­abil­ity of its three-cir­cle main in­stru­ment clus­ter. (The Car­rera has a four-cir­cle de­sign, and its steer­ing wheel an­noy­ingly blocks por­tions of the dis­play.)

For sure, the Cay­man’s in­te­rior is snug and cargo space is scarce. There is no stor­age be­hind the seats — that’s where the en­gine is. A shal­low par­cel shelf (atop the en­gine) is book­ended by a pair of small cub­by­holes with slid­ing cov­ers and are the main places for small odds and sods. Larger items have to be stored in the nose or small, car­peted space aft the en­gine.

The Cay­man S’s pur­pose is well-de­fined. As one of the world’s finest sports cars, it is crafted on a min­i­mal­ist phi­los­o­phy — carry two peo­ple in a light­weight, pow­er­ful ve­hi­cle with scalpel-sharp han­dling, wrapped in a gor­geous body. It’s in­tended for driv­ers who want a driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence where pure per­for­mance takes pri­or­ity over ex­cess lux­ury.

There’s no ques­tion the Cay­man S de­liv­ers an ex­cep­tional driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but that ul­tra­p­er­for­mance sports-car char­ac­ter is dif­fi­cult to fully ap­pre­ci­ate when plow­ing through snow. We proved that with care and ded­i­ca­tion, driv­ing a Cay­man S as a win­ter daily driver is do-able, but some­thing I’d rec­om­mend only to the hard­est­core en­thu­si­ast.

Pros: In­tox­i­cat­ing en­gine; ra­zor-sharp han­dling; good ride qual­ity; a ver­i­ta­ble per­for­mance bar­gain com­pared to any 911 Car­rera.

Cons: Price will still give you a nose­bleed; a $20,000 Subaru Im­preza econobox eas­ily kicks snow in its pretty Ger­man face Value for money: Poor What I would change: Stream­line cen­tre stack and con­sole con­trols, add in­te­rior stor­age; scrap the com­plex ar­tic­u­lated cof­fee-cup holder arm slot­ted above the glove com­part­ment.

The 2014 Porsche Cay­man S de­liv­ers an ex­cep­tional driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, even in the snow.

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