The Eskimos are said to distinguish thirty-seven different kinds of snow and ice. The Laplanders, who live much closer to civilization, can probably still name seventeen different varieties. But I’m perfectly happy with a three-step gradation: slippery, very slippery, and god-awful slippery. You couldn’t find a worse location for a first drive in the new 480-hp Porsche 911 Turbo than here, on the public highways and byways of Lapland. We’re in preproduction cars, shod with normal, nineteen-inch mud-and-snow footwear rather than studded tires. Although some of the testing is done within the confines of a huge winter park where the only other traffic consists of elk (stupid) and reindeer (very stupid), we are traveling on real roads lined with real trees. It would seem that an appointment with a snowbank is in the cards.
The 997 Turbo is the most extroverted 911. It wears a deep nasal air dam that eats snow for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. The revised front end displays a light pattern consisting of LED indicators and sidelights plus small halogen foglamps. In addition, the Turbo sports flared wheel arches, tapered sills, and split lateral air intakes. It also features a radically different rear end with a bigger, automatically extending biplane spoiler, a skirted apron with graphic vents, and a pair of massive exhaust pipes. The triple-spoke aluminum wheels look surprisingly good in black and can be fitted with three different tires: winter (235/35ZR-19 front, 295/30ZR-19 rear); summer (235/ 35ZR-19 front, 305/30ZR-19 rear); and Cup (same dimensions as summer, but with a shaved, soft-compound tread).
At the Arctic Circle in December, daylight is a short three-and-a-half-hour phenomenon that thoroughly confuses your body clock, unless you’re Santa Claus. To adjust, you had better turn on the xenon headlights, increase the shutter speed of your eyelids, and switch your BCU (brain control unit) to anti-hibernation mode. Even after taking precautions, it helps to de-energize your right foot as soon as the Porsche hits the slippery stuff. Despite all-wheel drive, the 997 Turbo struggles to get going from a standstill, ferociously fighting its electronic helpers as it reluctantly picks up momentum and speed. In these conditions, steering, throttle, and brake inputs are crucial.
Over our first 100 miles with the new car, we’ve noticed two dramatic improvements over the 996 Turbo. Porsche engineers have done a great job taking the rough edges out of the previously brittle ride, thanks to PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management). The other area of improvement is the new all-wheel-drive system. Just six months after the launch of the Carrera 4, the tech team has revolutionized the AWD hardware by replacing the viscous coupling responsible for providing engine torque to the front axle with an electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated clutch.
The benefits of the new system are particularly obvious through quick third-gear corners, where the smooth and totally transparent response to the throttle is fabulous. Exaggerated inputs are counterproductive. Instead, you do very little with your arms and hands and only massage the accelerator to compensate for surface variations like ice-and even more ice. It takes a while to gain confidence, but at the end of our first day, a driftmeister award is within reach. The car’s controllability at the limit simply triggers one broad smile after another.
In this environment, top speed runs weren’t on the agenda: 125 mph was the fastest we saw on the digital speedo, and that was plenty considering how loose the rear end wanted to get. On another day in another country, the top-of-the-line 997 can reportedly be maxed at 193 mph. Although the final numbers have yet to be confirmed, the manual version is claimed to accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds. The Tiptronic model (a sequential manual will come later) does the job even quicker-3.8 seconds-eclipsing the much more expensive Carrera GT in the process. This essentially means the death of the GT2 model, but there eventually will be a Turbo S, which should be rated at about 510 hp. In its current guise, the force-fed, 3.6-liter boxer engine musters 480 hp at 6000 rpm and 457 lb-ft between 1950 and 5000 rpm. The new variable-vane turbocharger is responsible for both the tall, altar-shaped torque curve and for an overboost function that briefly kicks the torque up to 502 lb-ft.
At 3483 pounds, the new Turbo is twenty-two pounds lighter than the previous one-despite bigger brakes and more equipment. Most of the weight reduction was achieved by making the doors, hood, and trunk lid from aluminum instead of steel. The brakes are also new. You can choose either 13.8-inch-diameter cast-iron discs or ceramic rotors (15.0 inches in the front, 13.8 inches in the back), which cost a hefty $9300. There are six-piston calipers up front, with four pistons at the rear.
In this treacherous environment, stopping power was less of an issue than the more communicative modulation and the way the front discs lock up and go into ABS mode later. Thanks to the wider 8.5-inch front wheels, you also get a bit more rubber on the ground, which helps braking performance. Last but not least, the monster brakes enhance street cred by filling the space behind the wheel spokes.
One of the 911’s strengths is its steering, and the 997 Turbo is no exception. The variable-assist rack, which is governed by steering angle rather than vehicle speed, was taken over unchanged from the 911 Carrera S. The difference in feel is marginal, but the all-wheel-drive system adds a dash of clarity, and the wider tires add a touch of meatiness, especially around the straight-ahead position. Although it’s as slippery as the old Turbo, with a coefficient of drag of 0.31, the new car generates less front-axle lift, so the nose is better tied down over ripples and joints, and the familiar lightness one could feel through the rim at high speed has been replaced with a reassuring sense of connectivity. The only fault Porsche engineers didn’t fix is the excessive, 39.7-foot turning circle, which is definitely out of sync with the car’s otherwise flawless maneuverability.
The optional Chrono Plus pack is new for the Turbo. Push the button, and brace yourself for a five-stage go-faster scenario: quicker throttle action, more aggressive Tiptronic response, a tauter damper setting, turbo overboost (17.4 psi instead of 14.5 psi), and delayed stability control interference. This is the perfect introduction to the Turbo’s ultimate dynamics, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the character of the car without running the risk of spinning yourself dizzy. Once acclimatized, you can take bravery pills and switch off the stability system. The seamless torque delivery makes it easy to balance the car, and it’s so smooth that you wouldn’t be surprised to find a big-bore V-8 in that letterbox compartment beneath the extending whale tail. Unlike previous boxer engines, this one has been properly dressed up. Instead of being covered by black plastic cladding, the flat six now lies almost bare in its bay, displaying a pretty mix of gunmetal aluminum, polished steel, and high-class rubber.
After two days of hard driving, it’s difficult to find anything seriously wrong with the car. The official gas mileage figure is 18 mpg for the European cycle mix, which is a shot of cranberry schnapps less than the old one. After 300 miles of hooliganism, the onboard computer reads 12.6 mpg-a Lamborghini Gallardo or a Ferrari F430 drink that much with a grandmother at the wheel. The manual transmission has an optional sport shifter that we liked for its 15 percent shorter throws, but we didn’t appreciate the 30 percent increase in stiffness that seems to go with it. Finally, the price of the new 911 Turbo should be five to ten percent more than the $119,000 Porsche asked for the most recent model.
The fifth-generation Turbo engine radiates enough fascination to justify the substantial extra outlay over the Carrera S. The 997 Turbo also offers direct response in combination with supercar performance, a sensational all-wheel-drive system, incredible brakes, and super-sweet steering. The only jarring note, other than the garish array of external spoilers and scoops, is the cabin. The seats and pedals are fine, but the materials aren’t that great, the gauges have become gadget-laden fashion items, and the center console is a glittering jigsaw of tiny buttons. The cabin undermines the car’s appeal, but not enough to seriously undermine the desire to own one. Even in darkest winter, in frozen Lapland, the new 911 Turbo is a car that warms an enthusists’ heart.