2010 Porsche Panamera
2010 Porsche Panamera. Click image to enlarge

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Panameras on Ice

Lake Pasasjärvi, Finland – Most people think of Porsche’s models – with the possible exception of the Cayenne SUV – as strictly fair-weather friends.

While it’s true that certain track-focussed models, such as the 911 GT2 and GT3, might not be suitable for winter driving, the company maintains that when equipped with proper winter tires, there’s no reason that most of its other models can’t be enjoyed year ‘round.

This is particularly the case with the company’s iconic 911 line, whose roots trace back to the Porsche 356 of the 1940’s/50’s. The 356 was closely related to Volkswagen’s Beetle, sharing not only its basic design, but initially even some parts.

2010 Porsche Panamera
2010 Porsche Panamera. Click image to enlarge

VW touted the Beetle as “what the snow plough driver drives to work” in some of its advertising, because having the weight of the engine and transmission almost entirely over the drive wheels (at the rear) gave it excellent traction; typically superior to the front-engine, rear drive vehicles of the day. That trait would have been shared by the 356.

Physics still maintain that this is the case, as the 911 family retains its rear engine layout, although modern electronic stability and traction systems have since levelled the playing field a little for everyone else.

In the days since replacing the 356, the 911 has evolved to offer all-wheel drive, and in 1998, liquid cooling, which meant that it finally had an honest-to-God heater to compliment its potential cold-weather prowess. The aforementioned electronic aids, along with years of engineering changes, have tamed much of the car’s tail-happy handling tendencies too.

But there are other Porsche car models too. The Boxster and Cayman also enjoy improved traction from their (rear) mid-engine design. Porsche’s latest model, the Panamera sedan, almost qualifies as a front-mounted mid-engine vehicle, and is available in both rear and all-wheel drive variants.

The Panamera was the focus of our visit to the Porsche Driving Experience Center Finland to sample the school’s “Ice Force” training program.

2010 Porsche Panamera
2010 Porsche Panamera. Click image to enlarge

Located just west of the town of Ivalo in the northern Finland municipality of Inari, close to 1000 kilometres north of the country’s capital of Helsinki and 230 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, the Ivalo PDEC joins just two other Porsche-affiliated sites offering winter-specific driving courses (the others are “Camp 4” in Rovaniemi, Finland and “Camp Austria” in Lungau, Austria).

The Ice Force program itself is the third stage of Porsche’s winter driver training, and participants would need to have successfully completed the school’s Ice Precision and Ice Performance courses beforehand.

Those courses lay the groundwork for what in Ice Force is essentially a combination of ice racing and rally techniques intended to maximize the driver’s speed, control, and – most importantly – enjoyment during winter driving conditions.

This is completely in keeping with Porsche’s belief that, not only are its vehicles capable of being driven in the winter, but that driving them can and should be a pleasurable experience in all four seasons.

2010 Porsche Panamera
2010 Porsche Panamera. Click image to enlarge

While the Ivalo PDEC normally provides examples of all of the automaker’s products – from the 911 and Boxster/Cayman, right through to the Cayenne – our highly condensed session was limited to three versions of the Panamera; the rear-wheel drive S model, and the all-wheel drive 4S and Turbo models, all wearing Nokian winter tires fitted with four-millimetre studs.

The Ivalo site is unique in that the Center’s training courses are located entirely on Lake Pasasjärvi. With an approximately 7.5 by 1.5 km surface at its disposal, the Ivalo PDEC merely has to clear whatever courses or areas are required to meet its needs, and some sections are up to 3.5 kilometres long as a result.

Beyond the obvious benefit of virtually limitless configurations, the open area of the lake means that there are no trees to hit or ditches to fall into. Porsche’s staff clear the driving surfaces right down to the ice, levelling the snow immediately around the bare areas to a height of about 30-50 centimetres so that it can act as a gravel trap of sorts.

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