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Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - Turbo coupe/cabriolet range

Our Opinion

We like
Extra engine performance, flexibility, economy and sound new realm of PDK transmission performance incrementally improved chassis dynamics weight reductions
Room for improvement
Purchase price, options prices, PDK still jerkier round town than a conventional auto

17 Feb 2010

THE mercury is nudging 35 degrees on a searing summer afternoon at the former Mitsubishi proving ground outside Tailem Bend in South Australia.

Two-up, loaded with lip-stick cameras, V-Box performance data acquisition gear and a near-full fuel tank, a fully optioned 911 Turbo is about to face its first acid test on Australian soil – albeit on a bumpy, gravel-strewn concrete and bitumen surface, in a strong and blustery crosswind.

We’d already witnessed the evolutionary dynamic advances made by Porsche with its 35-year-old flagship by driving the same vehicle to the unremarkable venue from the state capital via the Adelaide Hills.

Indeed, the more hard-core 997 Series II version’s firmer set-up and more responsive chassis – without detriment to ride quality – was immediately apparent on the tight, undulating bitumen surfaces surrounding Adelaide.

A tricky, double figure-eight motorkhana circuit, set up specifically for the media launch of the newest 911 Turbo at Tailem Bend, had also confirmed the merits of the Porsche supercar’s new active engine-mount system (which we’ve already sampled in the upgraded 911 GT3 at Queensland Raceway) and the similarly optional new electronic ‘torque vectoring’ system in the mechanical limited-slip rear differential.

Available only in conjunction with the $8590 Sports Chrono package, which comprises a 10-second overboost function that lifts peak torque output to a staggering 700Nm, a launch control function (in PDK models) and (downloadable) lap timing system, the dynamic rear engine mounts act like miniature shock absorbers that firm up during hard cornering to counter the yaw effect from the twin-turbo boxer six, while softening up lower speeds to maintain refinement levels during everyday driving.

Meantime, the torque vectoring system, priced at $3190, actively employs brake intervention on the inside rear wheel to counter the mechanical LSD’s tendency to drive in a straight line, incrementally improving on-the-limit cornering grip and the 911 Turbo’s already phenomenal ability to extract maximum traction during aggressive corner exits.

Having formed intimate relationships with the last two 911 Turbo generations over the past decade, not least by driving the 996 and 997-series models at both ‘cannonball run’ launch events between Alice Springs and Darwin via Kakadu in 2000 and 2006 respectively, we were keen to see how Porsche would answer an influx of imitators since then.

While two of the new Turbo’s key dynamic upgrades add significantly to the price, traditional options alone - like Porsche’s active suspension (damping) management ($7990), carbon ceramic brakes ($20,590) and 3kg-lighter 19-inch ‘RS Spyder’ centre-locking wheels and hubs ($7990) take the on-road price to well beyond $400,000.

That’s more than double the price of Nissan’s born-again GT-R (from $155,800), but falls short of the circa-$500,000 pricetag of this year’s gullwinged Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and is just over half the estimated $750,000 price of the Lexus LFA, which may not even be available to the public here next year.

At a base price of $360,100 for the manual ($1000 less than before) and $368,000 for the first PDK version ($1100 less than the Tiptronic S auto model it replaces), however, the new Turbo brings demonstrable increases in performance from the first all-new (and larger 3.8-litre) direct-injection engine in its 35-year history. It also uses less fuel than before.

Even more flexible than before (the MkII 997 will accelerate more briskly from 60km/h in the sixth ratio of its new double-clutch automatic transmission than its manual predecessor did in top gear), the latest Turbo feels stronger throughout its 7000rpm-wide rev range, delivers a great top-end rush than ever and sounds crisper, cleaner and more refined at all times.

Yes, although a multi-function steering is a no-cost option, the steering wheel with PDK shift paddles (which cannot be had with cruise or audio controls) should be standard rather than a $950 option in a car that costs this much.

But, despite weighing 15kg more than the manual (in a car that’s about 25kg lighter overall than before), its BMW M3-style launch control function brings a whole new meaning to Porsche 911 Turbo ownership, as we discovered at Tailem Bend.

Sports Plus button depressed, both pedals fully depressed and the tacho needle hovers around 5000rpm and the launch control ‘ready’ light illuminates on the right-hand side of the three-spoke shift-paddle steering wheel.

I release the brake and, despite being prepared for it, the 911 launches so cleanly and effectively that an acceleration force of 1.2g squashes my helmet into the head restraint and overrides all my senses.

Resisting the natural instinct to back off, I keep my right foot planted against the kick-down sensor on the floor and let the steering wheel dance in my hands as all four super-size Bridgestone Potenzas scramble for grip, while attempting to steer slightly into the gusting wind.

Before I can register, the automatic clutch has swapped first gear for second and then third and we’re still pulling half a g-force at 140km/h before flashing by the 400-metre markers. Three more rapid-fire PDK gearshifts later and we’ve completed the standing kilometre, before pulling another 1.2g in the reverse direction we as we stand on the carbon-ceramic brakes.

It’s an experience that leaves you drained and exhilarated in equal measure, and utterly convinced that even the world’s best drivers could never emulate the feat with their own left and hand and foot in a manual version.

Back at the V-Box laptop, the numbers tell the undisputable, glorious truth. We drove the Turbo to 100km/h in precisely 3.23 seconds and 200km/h in 10.99 seconds, before nailing the standing quarter-mile (400 metres) in 11.1 seconds at 201km/h and the 1000-metre mark in 20.5 seconds at 254km/h.

At two-tenths quicker than Porsche’s own notoriously conservative performance claims, we’d wager the newest 911 Turbo is good for 0-100km/h passes in three seconds flat.

Based on the claimed times of its rivals, that makes the 911T almost a second quicker than the GT-R to the national highway speed limit, 0.8 seconds quicker than the SLS AMG, 0.7 seconds quicker than the LFA and 0.4 seconds quicker than the circa-$580,000 458 Italia, for which Ferrari claims the same 3.4-second 0-100km/h pace.

In fact, the 911 Turbo is quicker than all but a handful of exotic limited-production supercars, including the near-$2 million Bugatti Veyron, which packs a quad-turbo 8.0-litre W16 engine that delivers 736kW, weighs more than two tonnes and runs on Michelin PAX run-flat tyres that cost $28,000 per set and can only be changed in France.

Putting it in another perspective, the latest 911 Turbo is at least two-tenths quicker to 100km/h than the best V8Supercars, or as quick as a 1250kg Carrera Cup car on slicks.

The same 911 completed eight similar runs at the hands of fellow journalists that day, idling in the baking sun between high-speed passes, then backed up the following day in even hotter, less ideal conditions to do it all again without skipping a beat.

Long live the king.

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