Porsche's Rally Car, the 953
Porsche, to most, is a brand that represents on-road performance. Some may not categorize the Macan or Cayenne as an off-road capable vehicle, however, with Porsche’s proven track record in off-road competition, the brand is no stranger to being off the tarmac. In 1984, Porsche made a move to off-road competition; the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally specifically, which is known as one of the most challenging motorsport events in history. Porsche saw this as an opportunity to develop a strong all-wheel drive platform and test it on a global stage. Now known as the Dakar Rally, this off-road endurance event requires competitors to use true off-road vehicles as opposed to modified on-road vehicles. It consists of desert dunes, mud, rocks and heavy grass areas with competitors driving up to 900 km per stage each day. The extreme temperatures combined with the extensive distance creates a challenge unlike any other for vehicle manufacturers. Porsche won the Dakar in its first year of entry (1984).
Entering this race meant the chance for Porsche to stretch their legs even further into the off-road four-wheel drive market, while simultaneously developing a platform for future models. By creating a heavily modified version of the 911, the 1984 Porsche 953 was born. The 953 was extremely well designed even though its intended life was only one year. It had aggressive suspension and produced 300 bhp. When it came to all-wheel drive systems, Porsche engineers recognized at early stages that torque distribution was incredibly important.
Of all the upgrades, the most influential had to have been the manually controlled four-wheel drive system (intended to be used on the 959). It was state-of-the-art technology at the time of its creation. This advancement has ultimately led to other intricate systems such as the current active all-wheel-drive system, which can be found on all Porsche Macan models. More all-wheel drive technology advancements can be found in the Cayenne model. An example of this is the locking differential feature – a setting that helps you crawl over and out of uneven surfaces.
As mentioned, Porsche continued to apply all-wheel drive technology throughout many of their models after the 953. Beyond the Macan (standard AWD) and Cayenne (standard AWD), the 911 and the Panamera come in all-wheel drive variants. This is not specifically because of an off-road application, but rather because getting power to all four wheels is a huge advantage while cornering. Equal torque distribution to four wheels while exiting a corner is more effective than two wheels as it simply provides more contact patches with power.