Bad Driburg, Germany — Your first hour in the new Porsche 911 Turbo is on narrow lanes threading through villages, not exactly prime stuff for motoring, and you leave the car in sport mode. Your first thought? The Porsche is a bit cold, rather distant. Firing over a stretch of rolling hills between settlements, the instant-on speed is obvious, but there’s none of the flat-six rasp of a naturally aspirated Carrera — and certainly none of attack-wasp fury of the GT3. Instead, the sound of the turbos blows through the cabin in a hushed wave.
Your hand touches the Sport Plus button and the car opens a sleepy eye. Now it’s awake, all systems fully cocked, as if to ask, “You serious about this?” No, actually. You’re heading to a racetrack, a far better place to prod the 520 horsepower to full attention.
Welcome to Blister Berg
You pull into the gates of the Blister Berg Drive Resort, a new facility upon the grounds of a former military ammunition depot. It was created with input from Walter Röhrl, WRC champion and Porsche advisor, who’s a mild-mannered Jekyll until he sets foot in a sports car, when the maniacal tire-shredding Hyde appears.
The first recce lap, playing lead-and-follow with a junior Porsche racecar driver and two other colleagues, tells you nothing about the Porsche. No, this is simply a game of memory, gauging the fast turns and blind drops (yes, you’re actually turning as you descend into a deep gulley). The back straight has a sizeable whoop-de-do as you reach critical speed (will there be air?). And the track has two off-camber, uphill blind corners. Each demand that you turn just as the car goes light and the pavement falls away. Spirit and car willing, you can actually go flat-out through both. Diabolical.
All the technology Porsche can muster
After four laps and you’ve got some sense of the track and you pit, making your way to Porsche’s technical presentation. You already know what makes the car tick: the twin-turbo, 3.8-liter flat six, good for 487 lb-ft of torque starting at 1950 rpm. Good god, but the Turbo S is also here, with another 40 hp (560 total, at 6500 rpm) and 516 lb-ft at 2100 rpm
The product managers talk about the NASA-worthy suite of systems engineered to keep the rear-engine rocket pointed straight. Just imagine that kind of power in an old-school 911 — how easy it would be to come into a corner too hot with 500-plus hp pushing you and, panic-stricken, suddenly lifting off. It would not be a good scene.
So Porsche brings to bear all manner of technology. The latest all-wheel-drive system is now coupled with active rear-wheel steering, which can counter-steer the back tires up to 2.8 degrees for a shorter turning radius (a dandy 34.8 feet) or 1.5 degrees in sync with the front wheels at high speeds. There’s also an optional active anti-roll bar and dynamic engine mounts.
One of the neatest bits of engineering is an adaptive front spoiler made of resilient rubber. When the car is turned off, it hides under the nose. Engage sport and an air bladder pushes it partway out. In Sport Plus, and the spoiler fully deploys, redirecting air flow and lessening underbody lift. (A warning on the digital screen tells the driver that this also decreases front clearance.)
Guided by the numbers
The specs on both models are suitably supercar: 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and 2.9 in the Turbo S. Top speeds are 196 and 198 mph.
But this is the Turbo’s conundrum: It isn’t the driver’s 911. Few live in the wide-open spaces in which to exploit the power, and even fewer will ever track this car. With starting prices of $143,800 and $181,100, the Turbo and Turbo S attract those drawn to the top of the price pyramid, which isn’t necessarily where you find the ultimate 911.
Of course, from a style perspective, there’s no arguing that the Turbo has always looked the most badass of the 911s, with the everpresent wing and exaggerated dimensions. The latest generation is wider than ever; gaining more than an inch of breadth compared to a new Carrera 4. The rear of the body is 3.3 inches wider than the front. The wheelbase increases by 3.9 inches.
Launching and learning
Before heading back onto the track, you’re pointed toward a parking-lot autocross to test out the brakes and launch control. With Sports Plus engaged, it’s an easy process. Bring up the revs, a launch-control light flashes on and then release the brake. And….phew. The speed is alarming, Veyron-esque. If, in fact, if the Turbo is a one-trick pony, the Usain-Bolt blast is almost worth the outlay of cash.
The track finally reopens. You rush out and… your first laps go poorly. You’re trying to drive the Turbo like a regular 911, on the traditional racing line, but you’re too aggressive on the gas, getting the car out of shape. The 911 pushes wide and you’re missing apexes. You snap onto the gas to catch up to the car in front of you and the process repeats itself. Damn those turbos.
Streaking onto the front straight in anger, you’re riding hard on the back of a Turbo S, which comes standard with carbon-ceramic brakes. Your more-mortal stoppers (14.96-inch rotors front and back) are simply not commensurate. The S driver brakes hard and you change your line, quickly, to avoid a bad situation.
A foreign journalist goes off the track in your rear-view, spitting up dust, and the Porsche instructor pulls into the pits. What a mess.
Putting it all together
You shamelessly steal someone else’s Turbo S model — you want those carbon-ceramics — and jump right back into the lineup. This time you’ll concentrate on only one thing: Judicious use of the throttle.
Things start going right. The tricks of the track become more clear, as do the Turbo’s idiosyncrasies. It likes to move around, four-wheel slides at speed, and as you get comfortable with it, trust in the car, you use it to your advantage. Get it turned early, already threading in the gas as you apex. You’re at full blast by the time the steering wheel is straight.
Hell, you’re actually sliding at triple digit speeds and feeling confident about it. Not that you’re just that good, but that all those systems are working for you, engineered not to shut you down, but to keep the car screaming along.
Last laps of the day, and you’re running with a crew of like-minded colleagues. These final laps are serious. A cavalcade of Turbos and Turbo S’s blinding down the Blister Berg, a concert of fast.
The Turbo isn’t the best 911 to drive, either on windy roads or the track. But it is a 911 for god’s sake, and the spirit is definitely willing.
2014 Porsche Turbo and Turbo S
- Base Price: $143,800 and $181,100
- As Tested: $170,080, $188,730
- Engine: Twin-turbo, 3.8-liter six-cylinder
- Horsepower: 520 hp @ 6000 rpm, 560 hp @ 6500
- Torque: 487 lb-ft @ 1950-5000 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 2100
- Transmission: 7-speed PDK double-clutch
- Drive: All-wheel-drive
- L x W x H: 177.4 X 77.9 (with mirrors) X 51 in.
- Curb Weight: 3516 lb, 3538 lb
- EPA Rating (city/highway): 17/24 mpg