LE MANS winner and racing legend Paul Frère once wrote that the Porsche 911 was a triumph of development over design. He was of course referring to the less-than-ideal weight distribution that can result from having the engine hanging out behind the rear axle-line.
The natural drawbacks of this layout have long since been ironed out by Porsche engineers, but the process of development continues some 47 years after the first version was shown to the public, and 36 years since the first Turbo – the model that propelled the 911 into the rarefied atmosphere of the so-called “supercar” category – first saw the light of day.
And it certainly is rarefied air that the new Turbo occupies, showing the way to exotica that make far more outrageous visual statements and cost far, far more.
Let’s say it up front: the new Turbo is the fastest accelerating road car that this magazine has ever tested. Bring on your Lambos, your Ferraris, your Zondas: none has managed the zero to 100 sprint – or, for that matter, the standing start kilometre – in a quicker time than the ice-white machine delivered to us for test.
No wonder importer Toby Venter chose this very car to set the fastest time over the Franschhoek Motor Museum Time Trial course (see the report in the April issue of CAR), before nonchalantly handing it over to us to test – with a mere 260 km recorded on the odo. But more about the performance later…
Visually, the 911 Turbo is now so beautifully proportioned, so civilised-looking, that it pales in terms of sheer presence beside an Italian supercar or even its own (VW Group) Audi R8 stable- mate.
Remember when the Turbo was a gross caricature of a 911, that big wing and the exaggerated fender flares giving those early versions an uncouth, almost boy-racer look? It was a style ogled by schoolboys and loved by the power-hungry nouveau riche…
In its 997 iteration the Turbo is generic Porsche, sitting more comfortably alongside an early 356 than the early boosted 911s.
That rear wing is now integrated into the swoopy rear end and, as for fender flares… what fender flares? In this Mk 2 version, released overseas towards the end of last year, the styling is further subtly refined. There are new LED tail-lamps, new-look wheels and… well, the real changes are under the skin.
Starting with the engine, a newgeneration unit displacing 3,8 litres. In fact, it’s the first allnew engine in the Turbo since the first model appeared in 1974. Gone is the old 3,6’s separate dry-sump set-up, compensated for by a clever internal oil-storage system. Porsche calls this an “integrated dry sump”.
Whatever the engineering speak, it makes the engine more compact, lowering the car’s centre of gravity accordingly. Optional “dynamic engine mounts”, offering a varied degree of stiffness to suit driving conditions, are also offered.
For cruising and low-speed work the softest mode is selected, with the hardest settings, activated by passing an electric current through the mounting fluid, engaged during extreme cornering and braking.
For the first time on a Turbo direct injection is used, allowing a higher compression ratio (9,8:1 versus the 997 Mk 1’s 9,0) and giving improved outputs: power is increased by 15 kW to 368 kW at 6 000 r/min and peak torque is raised by 30 N.m to 650 N.m on a plateau between 1 950 and 5 000 r/min.
When using the (standard) Sports Chrono package, this is upped even further by an “overboost” facility that delivers 700 N.m (between 2 100 and 4 250 r/min) for a few seconds when needed.
The higher outputs have been achieved despite a decrease in maximum boost pressure from 1,0 to 0,8 bar. Less stress and greater efficiency have also improved fuel economy, the PDK version (as tested) now being good for a CAR fuel index of 12,77 litres/100 km, equating to a range of 525 km on a 67-litre tank of 95 octane.
The other big change is to the drivetrain, with a 7-speed PDK replacing the old Tiptronic (alongside the 6-speed manual, which is still offered).
Along with the twin-clutch ‘box, for the first time you can specify real paddles instead of the namby-pamby buttons that have been provided (and still are) in their various confusing forms. With this set-up most of the team found the new Turbo a treat to drive, though there was one dissenter who would still have a stick-shift, no matter what.
Suspension is pretty much as before, as is the four-wheel drive set-up, but there is a new stability control system, dubbed Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV). This optional fitment (R17 950) uses sensors to counter the understeer characteristic of fourwheel drive, braking the appropriate wheel and working with the mechanical limited-slip differential to tighten the line through a corner the instant that the front begins to push.
The launch control included in the Sports Chrono system was one of the reasons for the new Turbo’s blistering test performance. It sprinted to 100 km/h in 3,4 seconds and completed the standing start kilometre in 20,58 seconds, completing the distance at a speed of 258,8 km/h.
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about it all is the effortlessness with which the figures are achieved: there is a boxer beat to the engine note, but it’s noticeably subdued, mainly due to the sound-damping of the twin turbos.
Top speed (claimed) is 312 km/h, which would have severely tested the safety margin of our test strip. Stopping ability is just as impressive, the latest version of Porsche’s carbon- ceramic inner-ventilated disc brake system (R119 510 extra!) pulling the car up in an average of 2,72 seconds in our punishing 10-stop 100-to-whoa braking test.
But more impressive than the straight-line performance is the chameleon-like ability of this new Turbo to adapt its character to whatever is thrown at it. Driven in anger, the level of grip and the stability are breathtaking.
Steering is communicative and precise and, though you can feel the moment induced by the rear engine at the limit, it is never allowed to stray beyond the bounds of control.
At everyday speeds the car is a doddle to drive, so civilised that it requires no more special attention than a mid-range hatch. And the ride is near-perfect in every situation…
Can a supercar be too perfect? That was the debate around the CAR offices after we’d all sampled the new 911 Turbo. All of us were simply overwhelmed by the ability of the latest in the line.
But the more blasé teammembers – most of them not dyed-in-the wool Porsche-philes but folks converted by the sheer competence of almost all of the models Zuffenhausen turns out – felt short-changed, feeling it lacked the raw excitement one expects when spending that kind of money on a sports machine.
Even telling them there was the GT3 – not to mention the forthcoming next GT2 – for that, failed to convince the nay-sayers. Porsche-lovers, on the other hand, were simply bowled over.
So the new Turbo will please the faithful. But for fickle lovers of extrovert machinery, perhaps it’s too understated, too capable for its own good.