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.