The daily driver of supercars
As four-wheeled evolution goes, the Porsche 911 Turbo’s first three and a half decades have been spectacular.
First introduced at the back end of the oil crisis in 1974, Zuffenhausen’s iconic coupe began life with a 260-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter version of Porsche’s classic, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive.
By all accounts, the first 911 Turbo was monstrously fast in a straight line but a wild ride otherwise, and not easy to tame in the wet. Despite its faults, the fatalistic attraction of that first 911 Turbo stuck. Over 35 years and six model generations, it has grown in power, performance and standing.
The last one, the 997 launched in North America in 2006, served up 480 hp from its twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter flat-six and sent it to the corners through a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system. It was, as AutoWeek noted then, the most rounded 911 Turbo to date. It sold in bigger numbers than any of its predecessors, thanks in part to Porsche’s strategy to offer it in cabriolet guise and with an automatic gearbox.
That brings us to this car, the new 911 Turbo. Unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September, it is another evolution of the car that preceded it. But it has been extensively reworked in a two-year program that August Achleitner, Porsche’s head of passenger-car development, claims made it more entertaining to drive. Given the adrenaline-inducing appeal of its predecessor, it is hard to believe that such a thing is possible. Still, it would be out of character for Porsche to unleash a new model that didn’t improve on the one it replaces.
You’ve seen this before
The message here is familiar–bring together all the elements that have contributed to the 911 Turbo’s appeal through the years.
Not that it’s reflected in the styling. There’s little in the appearance to signal the extent of the modifications made under the 911 Turbo’s steel body shell. A close inspection reveals some subtle visual changes, including titanium-colored slats in the front air ducts, light-emitting diode daytime driving lamps in the space previously used by the fog lamps, exterior mirrors with a new double-arm design, altered taillamp graphics with LEDs, and larger tailpipes poking out through the rear valance.
This 911 Turbo rolls on new 19-inch forged alloys–some 8.5 inches in width up front and 11 inches at the rear. The two-tone wheels come shod standard with 235/35 ZR19 (front) and 305/30 ZR19 (rear) Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires. Alternately, customers can also opt for the RS Spyder-style wheels of the same size used on the 911 GT3, complete with center locking hubs.
A new heart
But there is a great deal to the 911 Turbo that has changed, starting with the engine. The 3.6-liter flat-six is replaced by a direct-injection 3.8-liter version, running reworked twin variable-vane turbochargers, a higher 9.8:1 compression ratio and closed deck architecture, which is claimed to boost rigidity.
Peak power climbs from 480 hp to 500 hp at 6,000 rpm, while torque has increased from 464 lb-ft in the outgoing engine to 479 lb-ft between 1,950 rpm and 5,000 rpm.
Not enough pull? Order the optional Sports Chrono package and, along with goodies such as electromagnetic engine mounts, you get an overboost feature which momentarily elevates torque by an additional 37 lb-ft to 516 lb-ft–or more than double that of the original 911 Turbo from 1974.
Power is still channeled through a Getrag-built six-speed manual gearbox to a four-wheel-drive system, or Traction Management system in Porsche-speak. It relies on a Haldex style multiplate clutch to apportion drive to the axle with the most grip. In extreme conditions, it is able to transfer up to 100 percent of drive to either axle.
For the new 911 Turbo, however, there are changes to the nominal torque split to provide what Achleitner describes as a “more tail-happy character.” Porsche has changed the software to allow the multiplate clutch to send a greater percentage of drive to the rear under a wider range of conditions.
The joy of PDK
There also is a new optional gearbox, the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch unit. Fitted to the car we drove, it replaces the Mercedes Benz-produced five-speed automatic on the old 911 Turbo. The gearbox, which comes with shift paddles mounted to the steering wheel, is based on the unit recently made available in lesser 911 models but gets beefed up clutches. The dual-clutch gearbox comes with a mechanical rear differential which, similar to the old 911 Turbo, achieves 22 percent lockup under power and 27 percent in overrun.
Also available as optional equipment on the new car is an electronically controlled torque-vectoring system–the first time such a system has been used by Porsche. It alters the 911 Turbo’s yaw properties by automatically braking the inside rear wheel upon turn in, and not just when it’s needed but at every corner.
How does all this come together? Imagine yourself behind the new three-spoke steering wheel of the new 911 Turbo at the end of a long and flat straight. You call up the Sport setting to active the dual-clutch gearbox’s launch control. With 5,000 rpm wound on the engine, you sidestep the brake and are launched with incredible intensity–the sort that sends your head careening back into the headrest and your stomach wishing it was somewhere else.
There’s no hint of delay, just immediate traction as the four-wheel-drive system doles out the power to each corner. A giant wave of acceleration propels you up the road. There’s no wild slithering or screeching from the huge tires out back, merely rapid forward progress. At this point, you need to focus hard just to stay on top of it all.
The way the 911 Turbo goes about its business almost defies conventional road-car logic. Along with an official 0-to-62-mph claim of 3.4 seconds for the dual-clutch model, Achleitner says the car also is capable or running from 0 to 100 mph in just 7.0 seconds, 0 to 124 mph in 11.8 seconds and–get this–0 to 186 mph in 38.8 seconds. Don’t forget, Porsche is notoriously conservative when quoting performance. Even the claimed 193 mph top speed is apparently 5 mph down on what the car is really capable of achieving.
Supercar for every day
Still, the way the new Porsche manages to devour long stretches of blacktop in one intense lunge is only part of the thrill. It can also carry massive speeds into corners with unwavering composure and can tame awful road surfaces without becoming unduly harsh. If there is such thing as an ultimate performance car for the everyday driver, this surely has to be it.
It is the engine, more than anything else, which stands out. There is no discernible turbo lag. Owing to the engine’s increased capacity and higher compression ratio, Porsche has dialed back boost pressure a touch, from the previous 14.5 psi to 11.6 psi, in the interests of added drivability.
The result is keen throttle response and a level of flexibility you have to experience to believe. You can plant your right foot at 1,500 rpm in any gear and the 911 Turbo will respond with a degree of vigor. It’s helped, of course, by the relatively low weight, which is trimmed by 55 pounds in models with the dual-clutch gearbox over those running the old automatic to 3,516 pounds.
Even so, it’s not until you have 2,000 rpm on the rev counter that you experience the sledgehammer qualities to which those acceleration claims allude. It is here where the big levels of shove begin. By the time you’ve breached the 4,000-rpm mark, it starts to feel monstrously fast. The delivery is acutely linear and remains that way all the way until you’ve dialed in well above 6,000 rpm. There is no crescendo up near the redline, just one urgent and omnipotent surge of revs accompanied by a flat and rather nondescript blare of exhaust.
When the road is straight, you’re treated to solid high-speed stability, albeit with some bobbing at the front end as lift forces begin the build. More remarkable, however, is the speed at which the dual-clutch gearbox picks off the gears without any interruption in acceleration, despite all that torque.
The steering-wheel-mounted paddles are nicely weighted, positive in action and enhanced by a Sport Plus function, which lights up on the left-hand spoke of the steering wheel to signal a remapping of the throttle for an even more aggressive throttle response and more rapid gear shifts when you choose. At the same time, a change in the engine mapping conjures up an additional 2.9 psi of boost, giving you access to that solid 516 lb-ft of torque.
More delicacy to the handling
Another of Porsche’s primary aims was to make the new 911 Turbo more entertaining.
“We were confident it had sufficient acceleration but wanted some additional delicacy to the handling,” explains Achleitner.
The handling certainly has gained in terms of overall agility, feeling less reliant upon the four-wheel-drive system for grip and more accommodating to sudden changes in direction. With the optional torque vectoring automatically braking the inside rear wheel, there’s a newfound willingness upon turn in, as well as a noticeable increase in the amount of speed you can carry through corners. On normal roads, the handling is virtually vice-free, with so much grip and such high limits of lateral acceleration through corners, it is rare to see the stability management spring into action.
It’s only on a racetrack where you can confidently begin to explore the 911 Turbo’s dynamic ability. When you do rush up to a bend with excess speed–something that’s all too easy–there’s less of a tendency toward early oversteer and a more neutral feel as you tip it in. While there’s some slight movement of the body when you’re really leaning on it, it is progressive and rarely builds to a level where you’re prompted to back off. More often than not, you’re reveling in the traction afforded by the four-wheel-drive system and the ability of the locking differential and torque vectoring to provide easily controllable drifts at the exit. Another highlight is the sheer brilliance of the brakes.
How good is the handling? According to Achleitner, the new 911 Turbo will lap the NÃ¼rburgring in 7 minutes, 39 seconds on standard Bridgestone Potenza tires–some 10 seconds less than the time quoted for its predecessor.
Still, there is a disclaimer in all this: “We don’t want to get ourselves into a race for NÃ¼rburgring lap-time supremacy,” Achleitner says. “The times we quote are not really representative because they are set on different days and in differing weather conditions.”
Is it too good?
Yet, as good as the 911 Turbo is, it can sometimes come across as lacking something. I’m opposed to calling it clinical, but in certain respects, that’s what it is, because of its way it is able to conquer everything you throw at it with such authority. With a pair of turbochargers damping the aural effects of the new engine, it never sounds quite as inspiring as some rivals.
There are more spectacular-looking, faster and better-sounding supercars for the money. But as an everyday proposition, the new 911 Turbo is just about beyond comparison. It achieves things that many perceived rivals ultimately fail to deliver on everyday roads, purely because it is so adaptable to such a wide range of conditions. It’s a car you hop into and feel confident right from the outset, despite its huge capabilities.
If you have the means and don’t want to die wondering, it’s a must. Whether you’ll manage to hold on to your driver’s license for long, though, is doubtful.
2010 Porsche 911 Turbo
ON SALE: January 2010
BASE PRICE: $132,800
DRIVETRAIN; Twin-turbo 3.8-liter, 500-hp, 480-lb-ft horizontally opposed 6; AWD; six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 3,516 lb
0-62 MPH: 3.4 sec