As far as weather events are concerned, a “bomb cyclone” sounds goddamn terrifying. It kind of feels like it should be the name of a lousy high school metal band – or ska, I could see it being ska – but it’s actually the term for a rapidly intensifying storm. And boy did we get a doozy of a bomb cyclone last week. I made it to Detroit for my annual holiday visit just before the storm screwed up a huge number of travel plans. But while my friends and family were battening down the hatches, preparing for what felt like impending doom, I was getting antsy. I just wanted to go for a drive.
Rewind a couple of weeks to when I asked Porsche if I could borrow a 911 during my stay in Michigan. I fully knew some kind of mega snowstorm was probably going to happen. You might think Porsche would have said “hell no,” but the company’s response was the exact opposite. Presto, a Gentian Blue 911 Carrera was mine for the week.
See, Porsche knows what I know: The 911 is a killer winter car. And I’m not even talking about one of the many all-wheel-drive variants or the just-drive-over-it 911 Dakar. I had a base, rear-wheel-drive Carrera coupe and it was perfect. Of course, it came with one crucial upgrade.
It’s All About the Tires
I will shout this until I’m blue in the face: If you live in a place that gets legit winter weather, you need legit winter tires. All-season tires are crap – jacks of all trades, masters of none. Buy a set of winter tires once and use them for years. Leave ‘em on steelies and look like a badass. However you do it, and no matter what you drive, winter tires are one of the simplest and most effective upgrades to keep you, your passengers and other drivers safe in inclement conditions. You cannot argue with me on this one. It’s a fact.
There are all sorts of snow tires optimized for everything from old sports cars to new SUVs (I’ve had good experiences with Bridgestone Blizzak and Michelin X-Ice tires on my personal cars). The key benefits are that the rubber compound is better suited to stay grippy in colder temperatures, and the tread pattern is deeper and specifically designed to expel snow and ice. Winter tires are great for improved traction and braking performance. Go get some. Right now.
In the case of this 911, Porsche swapped out the standard Pirelli P Zero summer tires for a set of Michelin Pilot Alpin snow shoes. If it were me, I’d have downsized the wheels by an inch, which is a common change people make when fitting winter tires, especially since this 911 had the larger optional 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels.
The truth is, I would rather go headfirst into a snowstorm in a two-wheel-drive car with winter tires than an all-wheel-drive car wearing all-seasons. A lot of folks know about the benefits of front-wheel-drive cars in the snow, where the weight of the engine gives you natural traction to accelerate and steer. These reasons are also why people tend to freak out about rear-wheel-drive cars in the same conditions, or why all my friends in high school used to put sandbags in the beds of their rear-drive Ford Rangers. On the other hand, let’s not overlook the superior ability of the front-engine, rear-drive layout for whipping shitties in an empty grocery store parking lot in your friend’s dad’s 1992 Crown Vic that you absolutely had permission to take out that night.
This is where the 911 has a major winter advantage. Its rear-engine design means there’s naturally more mass over the driven wheels. Plus, the Carrera’s rear tires are wider than the fronts – 305 millimeters vs. 245 – so they have a larger contact patch. More weight, more tire, more traction.
The 911’s Handling and Balance Helps, Too
It’s hard to fault the base Porsche 911 Carrera. Its 3.0-liter turbocharged flat-6 engine delivers 379 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque, and the 8-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission is an absolute peach. This setup gave me just enough power to make the 911 exciting, but not so much that the car would get away from me on a snowy road if I goosed the throttle a little too hard. At no point while driving this 911 did I think it lacked power, and that includes my time on dry pavement.
In the snow, the 911 was a hoot. Its rear end would shimmy a bit as I set off through a neighborhood in packed snow, quickly righting itself before I reached the next house. Left turn at the stop sign, the rear end came around just a bit before the traction control and a touch of countersteering whipped it all back into line.
On wider country roads with no traffic (or parked cars), drifting around turns was a cinch for these same reasons. Great steering with lots of feedback and a wonderfully balanced chassis gave me all the information I needed about the available grip at each corner. I could basically steer with the throttle. It was rad.
Honestly, I really had to try to get the 911 to misbehave while driving through snow and slop. Packed snow on suburban roads was a cakewalk for the Carrera, and rougher conditions like slushy, icy highways were drama-free, too. I kept going out of my way to take the long way home just so I could flick the Porsche through the snow. My feeble Californian cold intolerance didn’t matter. I couldn’t stay out of the cold.
Okay, There’s One Potential Problem
The single biggest advantage that crossovers, trucks and SUVs have over passenger cars in the winter is ground clearance, and that’s the one place where the 911 suffered. Or, would have suffered, if the bomb cyclone had dumped more than 3 or 4 inches of snow in southeast Michigan. I am not trying to convince you that a Porsche 911 Carrera is a be-all-end-all winter car. There are obviously deep-snow situations where this thing just won’t work.
Living with the 911 in the winter brought out a few other seasonal quirks as well. When it gets super cold outside – like, wind chill below zero degrees F – water and snow around the windows can freeze. This happens on all cars, but the 911’s frameless windows require the glass to drop by half an inch or so when you open or close the doors. The window motors aren’t always powerful enough to overcome the ice. This just means the 911 requires a little, let’s say, focused scraping to make sure the windows work correctly.
But you don’t have to worry about the electronic door handles succumbing to ice and snow. Even in frigid temps, the handles would break through the ice with a loud gunshot sound, like what you hear when you unlock a Mercedes-Benz G-Class, which is both awesome and terrifying the first time it happens.
My only other recommendation if you’re going to drive your 911 year-round: Get the optional ($370) rear wiper. The back glass gets really nasty from road salt and slush. Heated seats are standard now, thank god, but you’ll probably also want the $280 heated steering wheel. Oh, and good news: The seats heat up quick.
When my time in the 911 came to an end, I swapped into a Ford Bronco Raptor for the rest of my stay in Detroit. The Raptor was awesome, of course — though it’s worth noting, the chunky all-terrain tires on the Ford weren’t nearly as grippy in snow as the 911’s dedicated winter rubber, and the Porsche was more surefooted than the Bronco when the truck was in two-wheel drive mode.
Man, I miss that Carrera. With the right tires, Porsche’s legacy sports car makes every season a blast.