In life, there are staples. Vanilla ice cream on a steaming hot apple pie, cigar and brandy after dinner, coconut milk on the beach and a Porsche on the Stelvio Pass in our beloved homeland Italy. If you want to be sure, just go for the classic stuff: It’s satisfaction guaranteed, no questions asked. Of course, if for you deem the precious company of same-minded individuals as fundamental as another scoop of ice cream on your pie (or melted chocolate for that matter), you’re the guy who loves to drive with other enthusiasts.
It’s no secret that Porsche fanatics bond together, proud of having the absolute wrong cars ever made, and more than any other tribe of car guys, love to oversteer. Non-911 owners are a strange kind: they drive the right car, possibly with the wrong badge on it. A mid-engined Porsche? Enough to raise concern regarding the purity of the brand.
As a matter of fact, nothing is wrong. The engine, the chassis, the style, it’s all there in one package. All turned up to 11 if you’re carving some roads with the latest GT4, Boxster Spyder and a never too shy GTS. That were enough treats for one day in the mountains.
If America has the Route 66, Italy has the Stelvio as its Mother Road. Shorter, narrower, twistier built up higher and not connecting between different states this is the Pass that everyone from cyclist to motorists love to do at least once in their lives. It’s a challenge, the icing on the cake, one of the roads that has it all. Maybe not for me personally, but it is one of the 7 motoring wonders of the world. Every automotive journalist has done this and this was our turn and our lust for corners was satisfied by the end of the day. Evo, Top gear, Motor Trend, Octane… they all went there at least once. It’s the Route Napoleon of Italy it’s the symbol of fun behind the wheel.
While the vast majority of people would imagine a sleek red car screaming and thundering on its way up, we couldn’t resist to the thrill of using manuals once again, a specialty that nowadays seem to come from Porsche more than anyone else. Ah, manuals, the epitome of pure driving! Because no paddle shift is as fun as using a “clutch pedal” and moving a stick around a console. Thank god they didn’t stop making it. While dual clutches transmissions are a fantastic piece of kit and lovely to use, manuals give you the sensation of having better control of the car. You feel what a car was made for by sitting in it and trying the gear lever. It tells you a lot for what it was made, even before starting up its engine and roll away. Take an F 40: it has a hard clutch and no wimpy gearleaver at all. It was made for drivers, go fast and change precisely. Fragile or not, the gearbox of the F40 is wonderful, no questions asked.
What’s the point in having a car that performs always 110% better than the others? While racing is a heavenly thing, we need to always remind ourselves that enjoyment is the better part of anything we do. So be it! Scrub off a few seconds off your lap times and smile more behind the wheel!
Besides the stick (except the GTS, which was fitted with the PDK), these mid engined Porsches are just much more than their transmission type. It’s their charachter, the wonderful consistency of the 3.8 liter boxer they have hidden underneath their trunk. It’s the finesse, the joy and the extreme sense of satisfaction they give you when you shut the door and look at them, smelling the aroma of the brakes and hearing the tingle of the hot exhaust.
The definitive escape? To look at the levels of epicness, probably. But I love to think like Carroll Shelby: “my favourite car is the next one that I am going to build”, same with our projects. Yet, what a fantastic day!
Starting early in the morning to avoid traffic and maximize the fun, we set off with our friendly looking convoy of to carve some twisties. Start your day with a GT4: it’s the best bacon, eggs and sausage sandwich of your life.
It’s a proper driving geek machine: 3 way adjustable dampers, roll bar and aerodynamics, same, I repeat, same forged aluminum front suspension geometry from a 991 GT3 with adjustable camber, bespoke rear suspension, Michlein Cup 2 tires….and Porsche still gives you a list of option that you can choose! Consider this, it’s a cup car for the road. It’s a widely abused term but it’s the reality of the thing. It’s a perfectly handling machine.
On the Stelvio the Gt4 has loads of mechanical grip and although the transmission has way too long gear ratios, it shows perfect chassis balance and a perfect equilibrium between traction, power and handling. The Stelvio is quite tight and pushing to sense the increase in power over the GTS and the Spyder would lead to disaster. Numbers at hand, the GT4 is quick, enough quick. Its 385 hp are the sweet output when it comes to sportscars. Not too much, not too little and with the fantastic development from the GT and Racing department of Porsche, the GT4 is absolutely stellar. Oh and the gearshifts? Crisp and mechanical (although not as similar to those of the latest 997 GT3) and a delight. Not that I was expecting otherwise.
Allow me to say a word in favor of the automatic blip of the throttle during downshifts: while you can complain, start using it and it’s the perfect aid to perfectly rev match engine and gearbox speeds every time. It’s particularly useful when cruising at low speeds: I find the position of the brake too forward to heal and toe every time. To heel and toe, you need to apply a stronger pressure on the brakes, in order to reach the accelerator pedal properly. Maybe are just my tiny feet or the fact that I am short but automatic blips rule. Do not get fooled by anyone who tells you otherwise.
Since the sun was claiming its part during this awesome day, the Boxster Spyder seemed a better option to eat up a few more miles of high altitude tarmac. Although it is not a product of the GT department like the GT4 the most extreme version of Boxster is less track focused than the closed roof sibling. It’s gorgeously looking thanks to the lines of the rear, and with a manually retractable fabric roof which will last up to top speeds it’s a joy for those who love open air driving.
It doesn’t have the same sharpness like the GT4, as the front suspension is standard Cayman and the engine has 10 hp less and the rear wheels are smaller: the Spyder is more of a condescending machine. Nontheless, it’s the best looking of the bunch we took on this escape and with its “added lightness” and exhaust popcorn madness it’s the best we could hope for. It sits lower than a regular Boxster and it’s, predictably, more agile. Easy to slide, easy to enjoy.
The GTS could be the less exciting of the whole bunch in comparison. Smaller numbers, it’s heavier and quite dated considering the development of the other two. Well, no. It’s a different league but still comes from Porsche and has a great overall balance. You shall not be surprised that although different, all three cars didn’t show their full potential so picking the different characteristics of each one of them wasn’t as easy as having all of them unleashed on an empty track. Never mind, sometimes is just better to slip away and enjoy freely, without stressing out. The PDK is ever-lastingly good and so it’s the balance and the sport suspension set up, which sits 20mm lower than the S and basic models.
The driving is intense as some gravel is always present and there are always cyclists who are either coming up or down of the pass. It could spoil the adventure but it’s better not to throw one of these guys overboard, onto the oncoming traffic to the piece of road underneath you…or onto the rocks. With the sun setting, and the fresh, tingly and aromatic air of the mountains fills the cockpit of the cars, mixing with the smell of the leather and adding to the experience of driving.
Point is, PDK or manual these are three cars worth enjoying. They’re not simply tools for performance, are just proper cars that love to be treated as such and the satisfaction they give is remarkable. The Stelvio Pass, which is open from April to October due to weather conditions is the road that is in the dreams of many. Motorcyclists love it, stickers adorning the signals remind what sort of a precious achievement has been to some, even in the era of motorization
As it is, conducting a machine is one of the most thrilling activities one can do. To experience it in its purest form and to add a sprinkle of what can be called today “adventure”, get a sportscar and drive.
A perfect trio of the best performing mid-engined Porsche you can buy at the moment, on the mountains, on a sunny day of July. Who needs a travel agency anyway?