On the rare occasion that my 13-year-old son invites me to play Need for Speed on his new Wii, I'm always given an automatic-lest I slow down the game trying to figure out how to shift. "It's easier," he says, fewer distractions for the slow old man. So when COO Paul Burkman casually (cautiously, gauging my reaction perhaps?) mentioned Performance Outfitters Group's (POG) current showpiece-a Porsche 996 Turbo nicknamed "Raven"-was equipped with a Tiptronic transmission, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of slow old men the Group caters to. I'm sure I mumbled something polite all the while thinking real men drive six-speeds while we packed up and headed out for some photos, then he asked if I would like to drive.
At first everything was fine. Just another 996T, or so I thought, waiting for the tuner hyperbole to start. "996Ts are a dime a dozen nowadays," Burkman says (at least in his wealthy corner of Connecticut) as we cruised sedately through town, "Though we wanted to build something unique, with a bit of flair but with a darker image, hence Raven." The light ahead turned red, we slowed to a stop, and I realized traffic ahead of us would have had a chance to clear. Having just been down this rolling bit of narrow divided highway running along a reservoir while cruising for photo locations, I knew the way ahead was clear with no side roads, so I checked the mirrors and tentatively planted my right foot when the light turned green.
The temptation to keep the pedal floored was undeniable and Raven's acceleration was unrelenting. Trees blurred as my eyes lifted, checking the road ahead as it rushed closer at extraordinary speeds. Our two lanes felt as narrow as a rock-walled Welsh Lane and I needed to breathe the throttle as the highway engineer's broad curves suddenly felt more like chicanes. Thank goodness for the Tiptronic for I surely would have forgotten to shift and scattered 3.6 parts all over the road had the transmission not had a mind of its own.
I tried mightily to avoid more antisocial right-foot led behaviors on the reverse run but when the white BMW flashed past as the light changed, I was compelled to give chase. Darker indeed, Raven's power leads one into a desperate spiraling descent into temptation (and hyperbole) ... plunging downhill toward the reservoir, it was interesting to feel the suspension work as it compressed under the car's weight, but the scraping sound as we crossed the expansion strip leading onto the bridge rudely brought me back to reality. Visions of a shattered carbon-fiber splitter rumored to cost more than my daily driver flooded my brain. The big monoblock Brembos quickly bled any excessive speed (I never did glance at the speedo) and, mortified, I handed over the keys and jumped back in the photo chase car (an M5 Raven made me feel like a gutless wonder) at the next light.