The app that kills of all technology is to make your life easier and more comfortable; your car’s GPS helps you find the best route to a restaurant when the traffic is slow, if you have cruise control you can set a speed on the highway to make sure you don’t get a ticket. These vehicle features are modern day staples, but because these complex systems are so essential to our daily lives, we only think about them when they are not working or, in the case of the Rebelle Rally, blocked for competition. .
Competitors in the Rebelle Rally – the annual off-road sailing competition for women – served as a test engineer for eight days, an experience that provided an in-depth understanding of what automotive quality really means, while competing to find control points hidden in the desert for points.
Running a high-tech product at or near its limit in an unfavorable technological environment is one way for automakers to test vehicles during pre-production. Automakers travel all over the world to places with extreme weather conditions and temperatures to test vehicles to make sure the vehicle in your driveway can withstand anything from subzero temperatures to snow, from mud and rain to intense heat, sand and wind, all running at or near the limit.
Yet this is a part of the process that very few even consider – that is, until you are in the middle of a sandstorm or walk through a desert, which I have faced. driving a 2020 Porsche Cayenne S. This experience has shown just how robust the automotive quality is and has given me a little taste of the kind of tests these vehicles go through before they are put into the hands of the consumers.
Competition to the extreme
The Rebelle Rally is a part-geocaching and off-roading competition that takes place each October in a variety of settings across the Western Desert of the United States. It was created by veteran rally driver and navigator Emily Miller, and 2021 marks its sixth year. Miller said she started the rally specifically for production vehicles or ones that haven’t been modified to tackle rough off-road terrain, as a way for women to really test the limits of the vehicle in their own right. alley.
On each day of the competition, 52 teams set out to find hidden geo-fenced checkpoints littering the landscape using nothing more than paper maps, portable compasses and map rulers to locate them. Some checkpoints have visible flags, while others have no markers, and each checkpoint has a specific opening and closing time.
Competitors use a portable GPS locator, an Iridium Yellow Brick tracker, to check in at each checkpoint and earn points based on various factors including location, off-road driving difficulty level, and driving level. precision or proximity they arrive at the right point of geolocation. At the end of the competition, the team with the most points goes up to the podium.
This year the competition has covered more than 1,500 miles of off-road trails in California, Arizona and Nevada, and manufacturers like Porsche, Rivian, Volkswagen, Jeep, Nissan and Toyota have often put women’s teams in races. OEM vehicles to show just how capable their crossovers, SUVs and trucks are. This year, eleven teams sponsored by the manufacturer took part.
The competition was a first for me and for Porsche North America.
According to Miller, the rally is “designed as a testing ground. We have some [companies] that have engineers participating so they can literally live and compete in the vehicles they design, some who see it as a real test drive for journalists, employee development, customer opportunities and incentives. And the collected content comes from some of the most scenic landscapes in the world. “
When sand and modern vehicles meet
This year’s event posed a more difficult challenge than in previous years due to the weather.
We have endured extremes ranging from lows in the 1930s with rain, snow and sleet to a massive sandstorm that lasted 24 hours in Big Dune, near Beatty, Nevada. Overnight during this storm, the gusts reached over 60 mph, created conditions of total whiteout, and forced most of the competitors, including my teammate Beth Bowman and I, to sleep in our vehicles out of order. security.
The wind and blowing sand shredded and destroyed the tents and caused extremely dangerous conditions for the tanker, which normally supplies fuel to more than 50 competitors every night.
These are precisely the kind of weather conditions that people like Ralf Bosch, Cayenne’s test director at Porsche, celebrate when they test a vehicle. “Sand is terrible torture for a modern vehicle. There are a lot of cooling systems, clutches and driveshafts that have to be specially designed so that they don’t break in the dunes, ”Bosch said.
Bosch and his team travel all over the world, from Finland to Africa, to test Cayenne prototypes, both thermal and hybrid, in extreme weather conditions.
“We are looking for extreme cold, extremely wet, drizzy and salty weather, extreme temperatures with mud and snow, to make sure these conditions don’t affect the car too much,” he said. “We drive the vehicles for days in sandstorms, then pack them in snow, ice and cold until everything is frozen and aim to have no indication of a fault.”
While it is highly unlikely that an owner will ever take their Cayenne into the wilds of Yellowknife in Canada, a popular and extreme winter testing site for automakers, this type of rigorous testing is a common practice in Canada. industry. These tests help automakers ensure that the technology, both inside and out, is automotive grade. This means that everything from your vehicle’s GPS to auto / stop-start system, motor or motor, will work in all kinds of conditions, especially extreme conditions, without breaking down or failing completely. .
Technology: a double-edged sword
The Rebelle Rally poses unique challenges for modern vehicles, especially as they become even more technologically charged. Since GPS and digital compasses aren’t allowed in the Rebelle, our Cayenne S, which we’ve dubbed Ruby after its scarlet interior, has undergone an extensive Porsche-led process to ensure the navigation system was totally confused and displayed the incorrect data in order to comply with the rules and regulations of the competition.
“In order to disable the GPS capabilities on the Cayenne S, we have removed all antennas (GPS, GSM and WiFi) and further programmed the PCM to only scan for non-US satellites so that it does not connect to our network. US-based satellite, ”Kyle Milliken, the Porsche press fleet technician who worked the system, said.
This meant that the whole time we were driving in remote areas of the desert, the system thought we were somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and its digital compass was completely useless.
Like most modern vehicles, our Cayenne S had a single display that controlled everything from temperature to ride height and traction. These last two features are absolutely crucial for tackling any tough off-road trail in an all-wheel drive vehicle, as you need to be able to actively manage and control ride height and power distribution. If Porsche hadn’t properly confused the GPS, the Rally would have physically blocked our access to this screen, rendering us unable to do much more than put the car in gear, reverse, park and neutral.
Unlike the first-generation Cayenne, which has a legitimate reputation for being an off-road beast (as it had a sturdy chassis and came with locking differentials and a transfer case accessible via physical buttons), features and programs All-terrain vehicles of a modern Cayenne can only be accessed via the main screen in the center console.
On top of that, you need to be able to access the screen (and its menus) to change a tire on a modern Cayenne S with air suspension, like Ruby was. You have to turn off the auto-leveling feature that makes the Cayenne comfortable on and off the road to lift the car. If the Rally had blocked our screen because of the GPS, we would have had a much harder time competing.
Some of the really good off-road settings that come with the Cayenne S’s air suspension (my favorites were Sand and Rocks with chassis height on Terrain) got a little too smart in our version of the torture tests.
As we trained in the Oceano Dunes at the end of August, Beth and I struggled to intentionally get stuck in the soft sand so that we could practice the self-rescue skills we would need during the rally. The traction control system on the Cayenne would neutralize and stop the wheelspin when I pulled it to immerse us in this workout. Fortunately during the rally itself we never got stuck – neither did I have a flat tire or broken anything on the vehicle. The Cayenne turned out to be so strong that we even saved another vehicle stuck in the Glamis Dunes.
All of this is a testament to the robustness of the extreme testing that goes into the development of automotive grade technology and components, especially those of the modern Cayenne. Despite a huge sandstorm (plus two more small ones that bombed us over the course of the eight days), extremely harsh environments, and tricky driving, the Cayenne S performed as expected every day.
Every morning Ruby purred, kept us comfortable and warm (or cool) and never shed a single blemish. We never had to blow the air filter or the brakes and went straight from the Weird Glamis Dunes on the Freeway and back to the chaos of Los Angeles, doing nothing more than adding air to the 20 inch tires we rode on.
This is precisely what “automotive grade” testing is designed to help you stay on the road no matter what type of weather or environment you face.
“If it’s that good on the road you think it can’t be as good in such sandy and dirty condition,” said As Bosch. “We try to keep the off-road performance by improving the on-road performance of the Cayenne and it’s a very capable vehicle. “