Weekend brake: an adventure in Porsche's new estate

Panamera Sport Turismo is Porsche's idea of an estate. Perfect for a weekend break in, um, Canada

Weekend breaks are all the rage. As well as compressing how much money you spend on a holiday, they compress how much time you spend away. Our fraught and busy lives make 48 hours in a European capital a more readily available prospect than a fortnight on a beach. And a far better way of actually soaking up a country’s culture, too.

Problem is, you’ll probably share the budget flight with a stag do. Or seven. And once you’ve sampled the local food and hurdled the language barrier, continental cities arguably aren’t that removed from ours. A weekend break a bit more far-flung is surely more adventurous. Somewhere like Canada. Home of some of the world’s greatest scenery and wildest wildlife, and a place where cheesy chips and gravy is an actual delicacy. It sounds like heaven.

Words: Stephen Dobie/Images: Mark Riccioni

If these breaks are about saving time (more than money), I think we’ve got the perfect car for the job. The Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo is Stuttgart’s idea of an estate, and in Turbo spec it boasts 542bhp and a 3.6secs 0–62mph sprint. Compressing time is its thing. But with the same length and wheelbase as a regular Panamera, its selling point seems reserved to a lower bootlip and greater headroom, rather than its marginally greater luggage space. Not a car to lug home a new sofa in, then, but perfect for a weekend away.

Specifically, a weekend away on Vancouver Island. Covering the world’s second largest country in 48 hours would have been ambitious, but the Canadians have us covered. Sitting just off Vancouver city on the west coast, the island’s 19,440 square miles make it half the size of Scotland and a mere 0.3 per cent of Canada’s 6.2 million square miles. Yet it appears to host the same sights, sounds and creatures. You’ve heard of a model village? This is a model country.

We pick the car up from Victoria, easily accessible by seaplane or, well, airplane. And then double-take to check we even have a Sport Turismo. A regular Panamera has a hatchback, too, so it’s the Turismo’s slightly longer roofline and tiny spoiler that give it away. It’s also the first Panamera available with five seats. Ours only has four, but as we’ll be flipping them down to cram in gear, that’s not a concern.

I’d had ideas of Vancouver Island being quaint and untouched, perhaps fooled by how little of it the Google Streetview cameras have recorded. Immediately ending up on a 75mph highway proves a bit of a surprise, but a nice reminder that the second-gen Panamera is a refined, almost silent thing at speed. The sort of car that’ll stave off fatigue for hour upon hour. Jolly good, given our schedule.

Bored of the very American big roads, it’s not long before we route inland a bit. We stumble upon the brilliantly twisty Pacific Marine Road, and the perfect chance to see if the Sport Turismo’s extra 40kg has blunted the Turbo’s bombastic performance (nope) or whether its size is a hindrance at on Canada’s idea of a B-road (nope).

It feels substantial yet still turns sharply and its all-wheel drive feels infallible on the wet tarmac. Its twin-turbo V8 sounds utterly mischievous when you’ve twiddled the steering-wheel dial into Sport Plus, too. Which seems mandatory on the burnout-stamped stretch of the road that marks a memorial for a pair of local petrolhead brothers.

Now, the extended roofline has given us a bit of an idea. Canada has more lakes than any other country, and grippy though the Panamera is in the wet, I’m not sure it’s the best way to explore them. The whoops of delight at Orka kayak hire in Lake Cowichan as we pull a £117,000 car in front of their shopfront confirm we’ve made the right decision.

Several minutes of portable roof-rack inflation later and staff Darren, Ryan and Justin are less befuddled and offering me a choice of colours. “Red, to match the brakes?” is one of the least cool replies I’ve proffered anyone.

Darren helps me manhandle our vessel atop the Porsche, which then swallows the oar inside with almost perfect snugness. Too many estates and SUVs have a load of lifestyle nonsense in their marketing bumf. It’s genuinely quite satisfying to defy the odds and load a car up like the smiling models in the pictures do.

And Darren’s very surprised when we tell him we’re headed for town of Tofino, half the island and some 180 miles away. Especially given we’re bringing his kayak back in 24 hours. We’ve identified a shortcut, though, and one that skirts nicely around the north shore of Lake Cowichan.

It’s at this point we make the sort of mistake you’d never manage on a sight-seeing tour in Prague, and only on a proper adventure. “End of public road”, reads the sign, but it’s a proper road on our map and a further sign says “no shooting”, which brings us a reassuring step back from the result of our “what’s the worst that could happen?” conflab.

The speed at which the road turns to mud, gravel and rock is quite alarming. Yet with AWD beneath and air suspension you can crank right up, we don’t even utter any words before deciding to soldier on. I’m cautious enough that wise locals in their Rams and Hiluxes hurtle past as if we’re stationary, but the Panamera has 21in wheels (a £3,000 option) to fret about. We plod on for 10 miles until the road, um, stops. There’s a big red barrier fixed across where we should be heading north, and there’s a short silence before we realise we need to turn around and repeat the crawl, our finely prepped route now fit for the bin.

But when we return to where the fateful decision was made, hopping out so Mark can take a picture of the wantonly ignored sign, I circle the car with my face resembling the heart-eyed emoji. It’s covered in filth, the kayak’s dusty, bits of gravel are pinging from the wheelarches… and it looks brilliant. I’d been cynical about the Sport Turismo when we picked it up, unsure what a £2k premium really bought you. Right here, right now, it’s the most wonderfully versatile car I’ve clapped eyes on.

There’s no time to be profound though, as we’re severely off track. So I begrudgingly point us at the highway I wanted to avoid, and we spend a few hours trying to catch up with our schedule. Traffic-light stops are good for making us feel like rock stars – a dirt-splattered Porsche with its own water transport mustn’t be a common sight – but just as I’m feeling like our route has taken us away from “real” Canada, we pull over for lunch in the spectacularly quirky town of Coombs. And eat poutine in a restaurant whose selling point is a roof that houses live goats. Is this representative of Canada? Don’t know. Do I care? Not one bit.

Our jubilance continues, when shortly after Coombs we reach the start of the Pacific Rim Highway. It’s the road that will take us all the way to the town of Tofino on the Pacific Ocean, the turnaround point of our two-day tour. Immediately the scenery changes, and it’s like an I-Spy game of Canadian must-sees. Huge fir trees are ticked off at the breathtaking Cathedral Grove, where the highway drives right through 800-year-old red cedars. The murky mist clears to reveal snow-peaked mountains in several directions. And then we reach the almost dagger-shaped Sproat Lake.

Some impromptu off-roading has got us here far later than planned, and sunset isn’t far off. As I reverse the Sport Turismo to the lake surface ready to offload the caliper-coded kayak, everyone else is lining up alongside with pickups and trailers to take their boats home. Fine by me. I last kayaked on a school trip in the Lake District 19 years ago, and unleashing my inept paddling in front of as few people as possible holds plenty of appeal. 

And once I’m out on the water, I’m genuinely thankful for our delay. It’s utterly placid out here with the tourist rush done for the day, and it’s the perfect taster of what’s to come. We stay locally and set our alarms for 5am to desperately make up time, and awake with the Pacific Rim Highway all to ourselves.

Each of its tourist honeypots is empty, and it’s one of the most privileged experiences we can remember. Climb aboard a coach tour and you’ll see different waterfalls and lake clearings to us, ones smothered in selfie sticks and branded cagoules. Get a car, wake up at an ungodly hour, and you’ll see them as nature intended.

Considering it’s the area’s major highway, this is also an inordinately good road to drive. The way it dips, climbs, twists and turns, all in quick succession, seems unbecoming for tarmac that will be covered in RVs and slowly driven hire cars a few hours from now. There’s no run-off, and some devilish bumps rattle through the Panamera when its suspension is hunkered-down in Sport Plus mode. 

It’s the only blemish on its absolute monstering of the road. Just as I ponder if I’m driving with a bit too much enthusiasm for our cargo, Mark utters the words “I think the canoe just moved backwards…” In the top 10 sentences to temper fast driving, it’s a surprise new entry. We stop, shuffle the kayak forward and pull the straps a bit tighter. But much like yesterday’s off-road adventure, I don’t feel shame, only pride in the car. It’s proving supremely multi-faceted. I’m falling for it.

We reach the west coast and first visit Ucluelet, a town famous for its guaranteed whale sightings. There’s even a nice sign to tell you about the vast array of breeds you’ll actually see. But while we got up nice and early this Sunday morning, it appears the whale community is having a lie-in waiting for the papers. The brief minutes we’ve allowed ourselves to stare onto the ocean aren’t enough. Nor does time allow us to venture into the woods which, the signs tell us, are brimming with bears and wolves. Several I-Spy boxes go unticked.

We’ve seen lakes, mountains and ginormous trees. But the island’s natural zoo is evading us, save for two deer that darted out in front of the Porsche (and were smartly picked out by its optional £1,751 thermal-imaging camera), and I’m wondering if a weekend to do Canada was a touch too adventurous. Even a miniature scale model of it.

As we reach the astoundingly scenic town of Tofino right on our deadline for turning back to fly home, I know it was. Its harbour is just buzzing into life, seaplanes taking off for aerial bear-spotting tours, and it’s an utter wrench to leave. This is a gem of a place.

It’s has been a memorable weekend break, but getting to know Vancouver Island in two days has felt extremely hurried, even with our tailor-made transport. I’ll be back to see Canada – the full-scale version – at greater length. I can only hope I have something as bewitching as a dirt-flecked, kayak-topped Sport Turismo to do it in.

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