Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Porsche 911 Turbo: A ferocious and beautiful beast

Porsche 911 Turbo

Although not always the most spectacular, the Porsche 911 definitely was the most memorable sports car of the first century of the automobile. The first came off the line in the autumn of 1963 and the series hasn’t stopped evolving for almost half a century.

Moreover, the Turbo has always been the most charismatic of all the factory standard 911s. Porsche has produced much more expensive and exotic sports cars – the 959, for example, or even the Carrera GT – but none was as complete as the current version of the Turbo.


The first Turbo was unveiled in 1973 in the middle of the gas crisis. Its 3.0-litre rear engine produced 260 horsepower and it was particularly difficult to control but its performances and its large spoiler made it an instant classic.

The Turbo has become more and more powerful since, but its most significant transformation came in 1995 with the launch of the 993 Turbo. It was also finally equipped with an all-wheel drive to tame its twin-turbo engine’s 400 horses.

In 2001, Porsche launched the 996 Series version of the 911 Turbo, marking the first time the famous six-cylinder flat engine was water-cooled. It was followed in 2006 by the 997 911 Turbo that was distinguished by the variable geometry fins of its turbochargers.

Subtle novelty
The wizards in Zuffenhausen made so many modifications and touch-ups on the 2010 version of the 911 Turbo that they introduced it as a second edition of the 997 series. Its exterior dimensions were unchanged and only insider immediately noticed the diode headlights, the titanium-coloured air intakes and the larger exhaust tips.

The Car Guide team met and drove this new 911 Turbo for the first time in Portugal during the world launch on the circuit at Estoril and on the roads that surround it.
Noteworthy changes included the larger control screen and the steering wheel equipped with large aluminum controls for easier shifting with the PDK automated twin-clutch gearbox. Gone were the wheel-mounted buttons previously used for this task. During the launch, Porsche declared that they were expecting that up to 80% of the Turbos would be sold with the PDK transmission and the rest with the standard six-speed manual transmission.

But this new 911 Turbo also received its first new six-cylinder engine in 35 years. It capacity increased from 3.6 to 3.8 litres and its power rose from 480 to 500 horsepower with a torque of 479 lbs-ft at only 1,900 rpm. For the first time, this engine had direct injection and lubrication by a dry sump with integrated pump and tank. Its variable geometry turbochargers were endowed with a larger impulse turbine, helping reduce fuel consumption by 16% and CO2 emissions by 18% with the PDK and 11% with the manual transmission.

The PDK gearbox offers a very easy to use and frighteningly efficient electronic launch control. Judge for yourself: on the Estoril circuit’s straightaway, used exclusively for this purpose, we went from 0-100 km/hr in 3.32 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 11.28 seconds with a top speed of 204.1 km/hr. We obtained nearly identical numbers in a 911 Turbo Cabriolet a few minutes later. In both cases, the measurements were made using our own VBox device with GPS sensors. Truly supercar-esque accelerations.

Ironically, our colleague Gabriel GĂ©linas was scheduled to drive the Lexus LFA a few hours later, a few thousand kilometres away. Furthermore, the Japanese giant claims that its first exotic car, sold at almost three times the price of the 911 Turbo, goes from 0-100 km/hr from a dead stop in 3.7 seconds, despite its V10’s 552 horsepower and its carbon fibre body.

Of course, the LFA is a rear-wheel drive and it does not feature an assisted launch device. Consider that the Audi R8 5.2 with a 525-hp V10, all-wheel drive and launch control could do no better than 4.19 seconds from 0-100 km/hr and 12.20 seconds for the quarter-mile despite our best efforts during the AJAC’s annual test drives.

On the same surface, the Porsche Panamera Turbo luxury sedan covered the same distances in 3.83 and 11.93 in spite of its, um, modest 500 horses and 300 more kilos. We suggest that Audi borrow this launch control mechanism from its cousins at Porsche at all costs. Not sure how Porsche would feel about it though...

The proof is in the numbers
Regardless of the car, you don’t truly know how good it is until after a complete test drive on our roads. The new Turbo turned out to be more refined and had a firmer but more comfortable ride. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as impressive on our roads at it was on Portuguese roads during the preview. At first, we thought that the Turbo was now able to offer a ride that was as exceptionally comfortable as the Audi R8, but that is still not the case.

This takes nothing away from its inherent attractiveness. The most striking feature is the fabulous roar it makes in flat-out acceleration. This music is new for the Turbo, which still doesn’t have as captivating a sound as some of its rivals or even as other Porsches with naturally aspirated engines.

In any case, the Turbo is most impressive when you’re glued to your seat with the pedal to the metal. Our best time with our test Turbo with the standard transmission was 3.7 seconds from 0-100 km/hr and 12.41 seconds for the quarter-mile, with a top speed of 199.5 km/hr.

That’s barely better than the previous model’s 3.8 seconds and much less impressive than the 11.75 seconds of the 480-hp Turbo. This is undoubtedly a matter of grip and actuation, since the clutch has to be released at no more than 3,000 rpm while the previous models easily demanded 4,500 rpm for a perfect launch.

However, the 911 redeemed itself a few weeks later during the AJAC’s new annual test drives, but this time using a Turbo S equipped with the PDK gearbox and the Sport Chrono package that helps fully exploit the electronic launch control.

With its engine that increases from 500- to 530-hp and a torque that climbs from 480 to 516 lbs-ft, the Turbo S goes from 0-100 km/hr in 3.29 seconds and inhales the quarter-mile in 11.23 seconds and a maximum speed of 204.3 km/hr. In both cases, these were the best accelerations that we recorded all day.

The 911 Turbo S was also awarded the AJAC’s Best New Prestige Car ahead of direct rivals like the Audi R8 Spyder and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, even with its less eye-catching lines and its less thunderous engine.

Dances better than ever
On the road, it’s nearly impossible to get close to the Turbo’s limits in terms of handling with its all-wheel drive, enormous tires and electronic systems. On a circuit, it understeers if you keep them engaged but if you deactivate the stability management (PSM), it turns out to be more agile and fun to drive than ever.

With its improved all-wheel drive, the torque transfers are more progressive and skidding is easier to control and hold using the accelerator. We discovered this on the tight indoor circuit of the Sanair Tri-Oval and on the long curves that encircle it during a recording of the show “Le Guide de l’auto”. You can also see this 911 Turbo test drive in the full episode on the Canal Vox’s Guide website. Look for LE GUIDE DE L'AUTO #11 in the viewer.

For pure driving, there’s the GT3 and GT3 RS that are now sold at $132,000 and $154,600 and for brute power and speed you can choose the GT2 RS and its 620-hp engine, but that’ll cost you $279,500. The base price of the new 911 Turbo is now $159,400 and our test car will run you $166,190.

Despite its astounding performances, the 911 Turbo is pleasant and obedient on the road. It’s remarkably compact for a large sports car and the coupe version offers incomparable visibility. It’s a great sports car that features exceptional performance and is coupled with a very respectable Grand Touring quality if you don’t mind a limited baggage capacity.

For skis and snowboards, there’s always the optional roof rack. You’re sure to arrive at the slopes before everyone else.

source: carguideweb