Wide-hipped and menacing, the original Porsche 911 Turbo played plucky underdog to the likes of Corvette and Ferrari by wielding stark Germanic styling and boost-induced brawn. Once pilots summoned the bravado to push past lift-throttle-induced terror, bigger-engined exotics could be vanquished by the sheer magnitude of the 911’s ferociously blown flat-six. Without the explosive turbocharger, how else could you compete against eight- and 12-cylinder foes?
My, what a few decades can do.
The new 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo S retains the prominent hallmarks — rearward engine, swollen-tail, Bauhaus silhouette. But beyond its familiar lines and homey ergonomics, the half-century-old platform has accumulated a compendium of physics-defying technology. Now more than ever, keeping up with the Joneses while staying in touch with your historic roots requires clever workarounds and go-fast tricks.
The second-generation 991-series Porsche 911 Turbo is now long removed from its brutishly boosted ancestors, and updates are focused on refinement and incremental performance gains. Beyond the subtle styling tweaks, Turbo and Turbo S models each gain 20 horsepower, bringing the total equine count to 540 hp and 580 hp, respectively. Zero to 60 mph now requires as little as 2.8 seconds, a tenth of a click quicker than before. Top speeds climb to 198 mph and 205 mph, the latter being the first time a factory Turbo surpasses the double century mark.
Porsche is the only automaker using two turbos with variable turbine geometry in a gasoline engine, and the newest Turbo S uses different engine hardware for the first time — in this case, larger turbo impellers and a modified housing, enabling a higher 7,200 rpm redline. Power delivery to the front axle is aided by new clutch material in the front differential that uses organic material for more precise torque transfer. A centrifugal pendulum has been added to the PDK transmission’s flywheel for smoothness, and the dynamic engine-mount bearing rates are increased for sharper response. PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) parameters have also been widened between Comfort and Sport modes, and a new Sport mode within PSM (Porsche Stability Management) enables yaw-friendly drift action.
Fancy short bursts of extra power? A new Dynamic Boost function offers KERS-like access to 20 seconds of bliss by pre-tensioning the drivetrain in anticipation of hard acceleration. In this heightened mode, the transmission drops into a lower gear, boost pressure is maintained in the turbochargers by holding the throttle valve open, and maximum torque climbs to 523 lb-ft in the Turbo and 553 lb-ft in the Turbo S.
The freshly restored Kyalami Circuit in South Africa is one helluva fast, sweeping track to tackle at 10/10ths after 22 hours of air travel. But then again, few exotics are capable of picking up the slack quite like the 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo S.
The Turbo’s cockpit lacks the bare-bones, track-ready sense of occasion as the 911 GT3 RS we’re chasing, but our first few seconds in the car hints heavily at the car’s more manageable disposition. Accelerating out of pit lane onto the 2.8-mile circuit reveals wickedly quick, head-snapping acceleration. Compared to the stiffly sprung, big-spoilered, naturally aspirated rear-drive GT3 RS, the Turbo feels safe as a house and fast as lighting, with effortless thrust coming from all four wheels as they pull this heavier specimen off the line.
The Turbo S bests the GT3 RS when it comes to an out-and-out acceleration (hitting 60 mph 3/10ths quicker), but it’s in the corners where their personalities truly diverge. Compared to the lighter, $176,950 GT3 RS, the Turbo feels a tad less dedicated to the corner, with high-speed direction changes evoking glimpses of its grand touring intentions. There’s a touch of front-end vagueness when entering fast corners, but once tucked in, the Turbo tracks into the apex nicely, with the rear-wheel steering offering an almost-perceptible shift in yaw as it settles into its groove with reassuring tautness. Corner exits are surprisingly easy, thrilling, and satisfying: Simply look ahead, mash the accelerator, and hang on as the rear tires dig into pavement while the fronts tractor ahead. Though it lacks the handling delicacy of lighter variants, the Turbo still manages to rotate properly and position itself appropriately, thanks in part to the concerted electronic efforts of torque vectoring, active aerodynamics, and rear wheel steering.
The acceleration is breathtaking — particularly above 3,500 rpm — and the effect reflects a cohesive triumph of complex electronics wizardry, mechanical grip, and ever-evolving chassis refinements. In so-called Speed mode (or when the drive mode is set to Sport+), the two outer parts of the front spoilers extend to send air around the body, which has the dual effect of reducing front axle lift and pulling air beneath the rear, stabilizing the tail and enabling a low drag setting for better efficiency and higher top speeds. A new Performance mode extends the middle section of the front spoilers so they join the edges, pushing more air around the car and creating a low pressure point at the tail. Helping squish the rear end earthward is the spoiler, which raises 3 inches and tilts forward 7 degrees. The net result: 291 pounds of downforce at 186 mph.
Though the brevity of our track sessions didn’t offer as deep a dive into the Turbo’s performance as we would have liked, blasting through the sprawling highways of South Africa’s Gauteng province revealed almost all you need to know about the $189,150 911 Turbo S’ real world capabilities. Though the steering may lack the telepathic, gravel-sensing feedback of the GT3 family, the Turbo addresses the road intuitively enough to encourage pedal-stomping aggression. Thrust felt practically limitless as we blasted past loaded-up minivans and modified Volkswagen Golfs, two of the most prominent automotive staples we encountered in the region. In fact, the speed was so addictive and confidence-inspiring, we thought nothing of our accumulating velocity until we looked down and saw an indicated 150 mph on the speedo during a particularly open stretch of highway. Hard braking revealed plenty of caliper-grasping power from the six-piston front monoblocs. And thanks to the automatically decoupling anti-roll bars, the ride was impressively supple over the bumpy stuff, though rough surfaces transmitted a bit of road noise into the cabin.
Final Analysis: The Turbo Turbo
Now that the second-generation 991-series Carreras are turbocharged, the question must be asked: Does the turbo Turbo differentiate itself enough to retain a unique character?
First, consider the current state of the 911 lineup’s upper echelons. With its naturally aspirated powerplant and lighter weight, the GT3’s athleticism is arguably of a purer form, while the GT3 RS takes an even more extreme approach to performance. The lower-line models might offer more engine flexibility and tossability than ever, but they simply can’t match the Turbo’s outlandish, warp-10 power.
If judged by outright speed and pavement gobbling capability alone, the 911 Turbo achieves its greatness through its supreme usability and approachability — precisely the opposite qualities that earned it a fearsome reputation decades ago. In this brave new world of autonomy, diehard enthusiasts may revel in the more driver-focused extremes satiated by the ragged edges of the Porsche lineup. For the rest of us, there are worse things than the 911 Turbo, a sports car that dares to combine supercar performance with everyday ease.
2017 Porsche 911 Turbo/911 Turbo S Specifications
|Engines:||3.8L DOHC 24-valve flat-6/540 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 523 lb-ft @ 2,250-4,000 rpm; 580 hp @ 6,750 rpm, 553 lb-ft @ 2,250-4,000 rpm|
|Transmission:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, AWD coupe|
|L x W x H:||177.4 x 74.0 x 51.0 in|
|0-60 MPH:||2.9/2.8 sec|
|Top Speed:||198/205 mph|