DRIVEN: Driven: 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo - The Turbo, Totally

November 24, 2009
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How much 911 do you need? Objectively, the difference between the 345-hp bottom-rung Carrera and the latest 500-hp Turbo is not nearly as dramatic as the numbers would suggest. With the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission set for launch control, the Turbo beats the base model from 0 to 60 mph by 1.3 seconds, according to Porsche. When you compare the manual-transmission models, the acceleration advantage shrinks to an even less meaningful one second flat. As far as top speed is concerned, the wide-body Turbo's 194 mph eclipses its slimline sibling by a relatively unsensational 14 mph.
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Price-wise, however, the two rear-engine coupes are separated by a whopping $56,500 - about the price of a Boxster S. So how can we possibly suggest that the 2010 Turbo is the best-ever 911 and even more desirable than the discontinued 530-hp GT2 and the awesome 435-hp GT3? Why would we happily fork out such a massive premium for a top-of-the-line model that, in naked numbers, is not that much quicker than the no-frills Carrera? Because the new Turbo is an even faster-responding, more complete, and better balanced driving machine than its predecessor. Because the new Turbo's handling and ride comfort lift it to a plateau above the uncompromising GT3 and the devilishly difficult GT2. And because the intoxicating mix of explosive turbo grunt, tenacious four-wheel-drive grip, and intuitive dual-clutch shift magic makes this 911 incredibly transparent and accessible.
Appearance-wise, the differences between the 2009 and 2010 model 911 Turbo are marginal. Fresh details are limited to a revised front air intake; LED running lights and taillights; optional bixenon cornering lights; slimmer, low-drag sideview mirrors; and larger tailpipes. Inside, we find a redesigned steering wheel with proper shift paddles rather than the clumsy, thumb-operated buttons found in other Porsches (and still standard here). Also part of the upgraded Turbo package are full leather trim, modified instruments with silver faces and white backlighting, the touch-screen navigation system we already know from lesser 911s, and a powerful Bose sound system with thirteen speakers. Among the goodies Porsche still charges extra for are the paddleshift steering wheel, the highly desirable dual-clutch transmission, carbon-ceramic brakes, cruise control, a sunroof, electronic torque vectoring in conjunction with a passive limited-slip differential, and the indispensable Sport Chrono package, which includes active engine mounts and an overboost function.
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The Turbo's most elementary new feature is its completely reengineered engine. Although displacement has gone up from 3.6 to 3.8 liters, weight has come down by 26 pounds. The closed-deck, high-compression flat six features a two-piece crankcase, direct fuel injection, a pair of variable-vane turbochargers, more efficient unequal-length tumble-and-roll intake manifolds, and larger intercoolers. As a result, the power output increases from 480 to 500 hp at 6000 rpm, while the maximum preoverboost torque is up from 460 to 480 lb-ft. The torque curve is flat from 1950 to 5000 rpm. In overboost mode, the engine can deliver an even brawnier 516 lb-ft for up to ten seconds. At the same time, Porsche claims that average fuel consumption has decreased by sixteen percent. (U.S. EPA figures aren't yet available, but the company promises that the new 911 Turbo will not be subject to the gas-guzzler tax.) The acceleration time depends on the type of transmission and on whether the vehicle is fitted with the optional Sport Chrono kit, which adds the launch control feature. Although the manual-transmission version zooms from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, the PDK variant can do the same job in 3.4 seconds. The combination of Sport Plus and launch control will shave another two-tenths. But never mind. Even at 3.5 seconds, the new Turbo beats the defunct GT2, the Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano, the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, and about nine out of ten supercars we can think of.
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Dynamically, the 2010 model has made a substantial leap ahead. "We wanted to enhance ability without altering the character," confirms senior vehicle line engineer August Achleitner. "The result is a lighter and faster car that is also easier to drive, more comfortable to ride in, and more environmentally friendly. How much faster? Well, on the [Nürburgring's] Nordschleife, we knocked off ten seconds compared to last year's version, and that was even before the team started playing with the Sport Plus calibration and with shaved tires. We also modified the software that masterminds the four-wheel-drive system, chose a slightly more compliant damper setting, and introduced torque vectoring, which automatically decelerates the inner rear wheel on turn-in for more neutral handling behavior. The yaw effect of this momentary brake actuation is supported by the limited-slip diff, the locking ratio of which increases from 22 to 27 percent under trailing throttle. Last but not least, the new 911 Turbo can be ordered with dynamic engine mounts that improve the ride and the directional stability by reducing undue vibrations, minimizing negative inertia effects, and compensating critical axle-load variations."
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It never ceases to amaze how clever fine-tuning can improve a car's overall performance. The outgoing 911 Turbo was a highly competent piece, but compared with the follow-up model, it shows a few rough edges, some dynamic idiosyncrasies, and certain odd handling traits at the limit. One is the relatively abrupt transition from understeer to oversteer, which has now all but disappeared.
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Even through corners taken at the limit of adhesion, the 911 Turbo's body motions have been reduced by a tangible amount. On smooth surfaces, the confidence-inspiring chassis will tolerate a more pronounced tail-out attitude than last year's sharper-edged suspension setup. On bumpy surfaces, the new Turbo is more relaxed, avoiding excessive tramlining, terrain-induced steering fight, and overly aggressive front-end pitch.
By changing the spring and damper rates from taut and tough to supple and stable, the Turbo's whole attitude to irritations like bumps, ridges, grooves, dips, and ripples has become more forgiving. The car remains totally connected to the road, it still tracks with absolute accuracy, yet it always stays cool and composed. Its responses are as prompt and unambiguous as ever, but the man/machine interaction is now notably smoother and more consistent.
Sport Plus is best suited for the racetrack, where you can appreciate high revs, late upshifts, early downshifts, generous slip angles, and lightning-fast throttle response. On public roads, however, one is much better off in Sport, which synchronizes the software that governs the dampers, transmission, stability control, and four-wheel-drive system. Sport is also required to free an extra 36 lb-ft of overboost torque, which further beefs up midrange urge between 2100 and 4000 rpm. Redlined at 7000 rpm, the twin-turbo six rarely needs more than 5000 rpm to defend its king-of-the-road status. Unlike the discontinued five-speed Tiptronic transmission, which was too cushy and reluctant to respond to kickdown orders, the new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic will happily shift down two or even three ratios at a time. When you back off and let the engine spin on a long leash, the chips take their time before they eventually call upon the fuel-saving top gear.
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Predictably, the large, sickle-shaped shift paddles are much nicer to use than the standard shift buttons. But they are attached to the steering wheel, not the column, so it helps to pay attention when winding on more than one handful of lock.
Like very few sports cars, the new 911 Turbo feels at home in all three quintessential speed zones. In the 0-to-60-mph range, spreading the propulsive effort across four wheels leaves ample grip for cornering. In the 60-to-125-mph bracket, the mighty boxer engine, the pragmatically spaced superquick gearbox, and the talented chassis fuse to form a winning team. Through the 125-to-194-mph high-speed zone, the light weight (3461 pounds on manual-transmission models, down 33 pounds), the lifesaving brakes (there's no need to upgrade from the standard cross-drilled and vented cast-iron rotors), and the riveting aerodynamics (serious downforce in the rear, modest lift in the front) effectively smooth out and control the flight path.
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In older 911s, going flat out even on a straight was often a test of courage. In the 2010 Turbo, exploring the car's limits is a reassuringly fearless affair. Although the weight distribution has barely changed since Ferdinand Porsche invented the Volkswagen Beetle, evolutionary engineering and state-of-the-art electronics have since taken the sting out of exploring the Porsche 911 Turbo's true talents. A host of active aids control the torque split between the axles, aerodynamic balance, traction, turn-in, and deceleration, as well as pitch, yaw, and roll. But beware - those who switch off stability control should be prepared to cope with the dark sides of the Turbo, such as abrupt breakaway and lurid oversteer.
The Carrera is just fine for 911 aficionados on a budget. The GT3 is perfect for Sunday morning autobahn blasts and for sessions on the racetrack. The Cabriolet and the Targa are fashion-oriented variations of the same addictive theme. But within the 911 range, the new Turbo is without a doubt the best all-rounder, the best all-road driving tool, the best all-season sports car. In its latest 500-hp guise, it combines supercar guts with rental-car practicality, unites impeccable active safety with dual-clutch efficiency, matches the strongest brakes in the business with the best steering, boasts a made-to-last body and a chassis that has been designed to deliver.
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Are there drawbacks? Well, it does drink when pushed, and it could benefit from more focused ergonomics. But when the red light inside your head turns green, this is still the car to beat on that familiar flat-out run from point A to point B. It also is one of the very few high-performance sports cars that feels equally at home on the 'Ring, through a snowstorm, down the autobahn, and in rush-hour traffic. Even though the Turbo is an anachronism as much as it is an icon, the top-of-the-range 911 is, in its latest form, once more a totally fascinating and truly charismatic driving machine.
2010 Porsche 911 Turbo
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base price $133,750
Powertrain
engine: 24-valve DOHC twin-turbocharged flat-6
displacement: 3.8 liters (232 cu in)
horsepower: 500 hp @ 6000 rpm
torqu:e 516 lb-ft @ 2100 rpm
transmission type: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
drive: 4-wheel
Chassis
steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
suspension, front: Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Multilink, coil springs
brakes: Vented discs, ABS
tires: Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
tire size f, r: 235/35YR-19, 305/30YR-19
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Measurements
L x W x H: 175.2 x 72.9 x 51.2 in
wheelbase: 92.5 in
track f/r: 58.7/60.9 in
weight: 3516 lb
FUEL mileage: 16/25 mpg (est.)

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