Into Malcolm Parry's Soul Via A Panamera To LyttonSaturday, January 01, 2011
At about this time of the year I always look forward to opening my Vancouver Sun to find that essay by Malcolm Parry on his once-a-year ritual trip to Lillooet and beyond via Trans-Canada Highway 1. Today I was not disappointed.
Hidden in what outwardly seems like a new-car test drive (for years Parry had a montly car column for Vancouver Magazine and then for the Air Canada in flight magazine) is stuff that comes from Parry’s soul. Parry's soul, more often than not is hidden to most of us. I hope that the folks at the Vancouver Sun will not send their lawyers after me for placing here Parry’s piece verbatim! I would suspect this would be unlikely as those lawyers would be too busy dealing with lawsuits directed at Parry’s fellow scribe, David Baines.
|Mac's test 1990 Turbo R Bentley in front of my house|
Porsche tried that bit harder with Panamera
This Porsche Panamera C4's subtle skill at masking clumsiness is, for some drivers, the technical equivalent of having a wife
By Malcolm Parry, Vancouver Sun, January 1, 2011
"Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends." Thus sang Janis Joplin, whose legendary inability to blow below .08 might now see any vehicle she was given promptly impounded. Still, a like plea was answered recently when the decidedly secular Tony Morris produced a 2011 Porsche Panamera C4 for my sober assessment.
Auto-racing devotees know Morris for his Trans-Am Camaro's winning ways on regional circuits. This week, as head of Media Car Services Inc., he dropped off the all-wheel-drive, four-door hatchback, base-priced at $92,800. That is a hefty $34,600 above Porsche's baseline Cayenne SUV when equipped with the 300-horsepower V6 engine that recently debuted in hitherto-V8-powered Panameras. Options on the one Morris delivered included 20-inch wheels, air suspension, triple-range heated seats, BOSE audio, ruby red-metallic paint and other doodads that jacked its sticker price to $113,175. Another $42,000 would get you two more cylinders and 200 more horsepower in the line-topping Panamera Turbo. The lowlier model has more than enough power to get out of its own way. Better still, a clever all-wheel drive system with traction control can get it out of harm's way -- valuable year-round, and more so on winter's slippery, poor-visibility roads.
So, with many citizens staying in town to fulfil Joplin's second wish -- "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a colour TV?" -- the time seemed right to join sparse, outward-bound traffic for an upcountry cruise. The humdrum freeway leg to Hope proved that the Panamera's rear-seating area offers more than possibly the world's most sinuous-looking door handles. Head and leg room exceeded this over-sixfooter's needs. The reclining, triple-adjustable black-leather seats were comfortable in the firm German manner and, with their heaters set on high, seemed capable of baking a Westphalian ham. There was more road noise than pure-luxe makers might allow, and all-around visibility was somewhat limited, but a cool box and beverage holders should satisfy Joplin-type passengers there.
Gung-ho cornering in Porsche's first six-cylinder model, the 911 of 1963, could put unwary drivers literally in a spin. Technical specialists bred out that classic rear-engined series' bad habits. The underlying laws of physics cannot be revoked, only appealed. For this task, Porsche employs the engineering version of loophole lawyers. They get results, as was demonstrated on widely differing winter roads this week. To them all, the unfazed Panamera C4 stuck like a reputation, no matter whether the Normal, Sport or Sport Plus handling mode was selected by console push-button.
Drivers can make dangerously ill-informed responses when skids begin or rapid evasion is required. These the Panamera's computer system rectifies while letting drivers feel they did right. The same occurs even if you purposely do wrong. Press either pedal while negotiating a curve where the road surface varies from dry blacktop to hard-compressed snow, with a sanding truck's larger "marbles" concentrated in between, and a momentary seat-of-the-pants sensation should herald traction loss. Unlike your old Dodge Fedora, the Panamera's sensors and processors instantly brake or feed power to needy individual wheels, and stiffen or relax the appropriate shock absorbers. Split seconds later, you're back on radius. Porsche isn't the only maker doing this. But its subtle skill at masking clumsiness is, for some drivers, the technical equivalent of having a wife.
Elsewhere, the Panamera has more fun buttons than a burlesque dancer. Press REST after parking, and retained engine heat temporarily warms the passenger compartment. Press another and a rear window sun blind advances or retracts. Others control heat and A/C to four occupants individually. Another raises the car for negotiating curbs and parking dividers. There's a rear-obstacle warning, and provision for operating the vehicle should those electronic systems go wonky. So absorbed by it all, you run out of fuel? There's an emergency container in the trunk. In sum: This is what Subaru might do were buyers to cough up another 60 grand.
That's the "how" of the Panamera C4. As for the "why" of sightseeing in mid-winter weather that once forced a small aircraft to land on the Fraser Canyon highway ahead of me, it's simply nostalgia. Back then, en route from a construction camp to Christmastime Vancouver, I was understandably driving flat-out, which in a Land-Rover meant 90 km/h. "I hoped you wouldn't speed up," the cucumber-cool pilot said later, after exercising his only life-saving option.
I thought of him as the Panamera (Porsche says it'll do 257 km/h) ambled past his landing spot under similar weather conditions -- river-level fog and swirling cloud merging between near-vertical cliffs. Had the Land-Rover possessed a fraction more horsepower, the trapped pilot might have died. Me, too. Instead, I take flossier rides to places that utilitarian four-wheel-drive vehicle took me to in the canyon and beyond. Some, like Alexandra Lodge and the long-disused Alexandra suspension bridge nearby, have weathered but survived during ensuing decades. Others, including several first nations communities, have sprung up or developed almost beyond recognition. Still others -- Siska Lodge, Boston Bar's aerial tramway, many 19th-century log structures and Cariboo pole fences -- have become ghosts, like the pre-railway freight wagons, stagecoaches and even camels that once passed their way.
|Porsche Panamera, Malcolm Parry|
This week, though, I saw tumbleweed still tumbling, and horses and bighorn sheep still licking the salt from highway blacktop, just as dawn-hungry porcupines may still snap drowsy drivers awake by doing so on the centre line of curves near Kanaka Bar. As for driving at dawn, what I call "the lucky tree" still stands north of Lillooet. Once, I arrived as a man and woman scrambled from a sedan that had slid off the then-gravel road to lodge against the only tree in a long stretch of bare, steep river bank. A quarter car's length further forward or back and they'd have rolled unseen into the Fraser River and almost certain death. That wasn't so for a fellow my age, then 22, in the Lytton hotel beer parlour. He bet a half-dozen of us 25 cents each he could set an empty glass upside-down on a full one, then, with his hands behind his back, drink the beer and replace the top glass without setting it down. The technique entailed tucking the empty under his chin, kneeling, holding the other between his teeth, then tipping and draining it. Theory good, practice bad. The glass broke into sharp shards. Beer and blood spurted from his mouth. Jumping up, he upset our drinks and, as a fist-fight broke out at adjacent tables, he vanished, taking our stakes with him.
There this week, a familiar-looking woman spotted the parked Panamera's Ontario licence plate and asked: "Are you lost in Lytton in a car like that?" Old stomping ground, I replied. Drank in the hotel before you were born. "So did my dad," she said, adding he and I are the same age. It was tempting to ask if papa had scars around his mouth and, if so, to ask for my quarter back. If he was the same fellow, Joplin had a song for his long-ago proposal: Get It While You Can. As for the painfully flawed performance, she might offer advice Porsche seems to have heeded with the Panamera: Try (Just A Little Bit Harder).
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