“Remember: as your speed doubles, your braking distance quadruples.”
Despite this useful advice, proffered by a friendly instructor, processing information about distances in relation to speed isn’t likely to be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re gob-bling up country roads and charging out of tight bends in a Porsche, with the deep-throated roar of a flat-six engine in your ears and a big, goofy grin on your face.
Few cars are able to elicit a reaction that borders on sheer bliss, but the vehicle in question—a well-sorted mid-engine Boxster GTS with 430HP—comes pretty close. It’s no slouch at taking on winding roads at pace, but on this day, it’s not the only show in town. As they say, if there’s one thing better than driving a Porsche, it’s driving two of them. Or more.
Birds of a feather
A group of invited guests gathered recently on the resort isle of Langkawi for a fun day out with a slew of high-performance cars, courtesy of the folks behind the aptly named "Driving Dreams with Porsche." Our mission—which we had chosen to accept without hesitation—was to get up close and personal with the Porsche model range. To sweeten a sweet deal even further, uber-cool Leica T cameras were handed out to everyone (on a temporary basis, alas), in deference to the omnipotent gods of Facebook and Instagram.
Legends loom large in Langkawi, a cluster of tiny islands in the Andaman Sea just off Malaysia’s northwestern coast. So it was entirely appropriate that two legendary brands at the top of their respective games—Porsche and Leica—were co-star-ring at this event’s birds-of-a-feather theme. Their enduring legacies have all to do with precision German engineering, high-quality performance, attention-to-detail and, oh yeah, the luxe lifestyle.
On the main island of Langkawi, the mood is always relaxed and the roads are relatively traffic-free, although it’s a little disconcerting to drive past the burnt-out remains of vehicles, discarded on the roadside like empty durian shells. The sight of abundant paddy fields, verdant limestone hills and dusky leaf langurs watching the world go by holds more appeal—strong reminders that the kampong lifestyle still prevails in this corner of the world.
A roadside poster touting a nearby Arabian Stud Farm seemed slightly incongruous, but then again, progress is charted in many different ways on Langkawi, a one-time backwater and former haven for pirate ships. Its colourful history includes a 19th century invasion by Siamese troops, while lo-cal folklore tells of a princess who was wrongly accused of adultery, and the seven-generation curse she slapped on the islands as a result.
The curse apparently expired some 25 years ago—about the same time Langkawi embarked on the road to development as a full-fledged tourist resort. In those days, there was only one traffic light on the isle, in the main town of Kuah. Several more lights have sprouted up over the years and two-lane carriageways have been added in a few places, but conditions are still conducive for stress-free motoring.
A full complement of differently decked-out Porsches was prepped for our tour, and four routes totalling 180km and covering significant portions of the island were mapped out. The drives up to Gunung Raya (850M) and remote Datai Bay proved to be the most interesting—not least for the opportunity to engage the Sport Plus and Sport Exhaust buttons. Porsches are meant to be both seen and heard, you see.
A succession of different models—911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet, Panamera S E-Hybrid, Cayenne Diesel and Macan Turbo among them—yielded very different driving dynamics, yet all had one thing in common. The cars never lose their compo-sure, even as the redline approaches and you begin to lose yours.
The more things change...
More than five decades after it first rolled off the assembly line, the iconic 911, which is available in various forms along with a laundry list of optional extras (many come as standard in the high-spec GTS variant), remains at the top of every enthusiast’s wish list. From the entry level Carrera to the track-busting GT3 and top-of-line Turbo, this rear-engine beast has been delivering on its promise since 1963 (close to a million units have been built since).
Some things never change. A decade before, in 1953, British magazine The Autocar had this to say about the Porsche 356, the predecessor and the soul mate of the 911: “It becomes clear at once that this car was built by men who knew what they wanted and were able to make it come true. Its very appearance projects speed, and as soon as one gets in, one has no more desire to lose any time.”
That assessment still applies today—and possibly will for the next 60 years, even though purists are sure to protest when the 911 switches to an all-turbo line-up, starting in the 2016 model year. Engines for the Boxster and the Cayenne will fol-low suit—the realities of smaller, more powerful engines and lower emissions are difficult to ignore.
The more they stay the same
“Porsche, there is no substitute,” grins the young Tom Cruise in Risky Business at the end of a hair-raising car chase through the streets of suburban Chicago. He was in a front-engine 928 at the time, a luxury GT once slated to replace the 911—and which has been out of production for 20 years.
The world has changed much since then, and Porsche (as well as Leica for that matter) has endured a roller-coaster ride on the financial front. The future looks a lot rosier these days, but who could have predicted that Porsche’s fortunes would hinge on a SUV, or that a four-door sports sedan and hybrid model would become an important part of the product line-up? What’s more, a four-door electric concept car, the Mission E, was unveiled at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.
Porsche’s newest model, the Macan, figures to be around for a long time. It may not have the cachet of the 911, but it does fill the need for a versatile, thoroughly modern, Cayenne-junior luxury sport-utility vehicle—while still retaining the all-important Porsche DNA. In Sport Plus mode, the 340HP Macan Turbo reaches 100KmH in 4.6 seconds—the same time as a 1986 911 Turbo—making it possibly the perfect vehicle for Langkawi’s un-suspecting road network. Best of all, you’ll be able to calculate braking distances in comfort.
First published in Esquire Singapore's December 2015 issue.