Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - Turbo coupe
Extra engine flexibility, devastating acceleration and speed, smarter new automatic transmission, outright grip, superior new all-wheel drivetrain, steering feel, brilliant brakes
Room for improvement
Tyre roar on course surfaces, price, options, lack of interior differentiation, some console vibes
18 Aug 2006
"THE challenge we face every day is to make the best even better." So says Dr Erhard Moessle, the man who oversaw development of the latest in a line of 911 Turbos - Porsche's flagship road-going supercar for more than three decades.
On paper, the new Turbo appears to have met that challenge. Quicker to 100km/h than the limited-edition (but sadly discontinued) Carrera GT, the fastest production vehicle to 200km/h bar none and even greater engine flexibility than before make the latest force-fed 911 an even more formidable speed machine than its highly acclaimed forebear.
But it's not until you drive the new model at speed for an extended period, as we did - from Darwin to Jabiru and back via Pine Creek on derestricted Northern Territory roads, and at the Hidden Valley circuit - that it's most significant new talents become apparent.
After driving the previous (996-series) 911T on similar roads seven years ago, what impressed most was not the first water-cooled 911's vision-blurring acceleration or intimidating ability to build speed, but it's incredible flexibility.
So, with memories of tootling effortlessly through Tennant Creek at 60km/h before being battery-rammed into plush leather sports seats all the way to an indicated 318km/h top speed in the same (sixth) gear still fresh in my memory, the new car's vastly improved in-gear tractability was perhaps the greatest surprise.
Yes, Porsche's world-first "variable-geometry turbine" technology does give the Turbo's 3.6-litre flat six a whole new dimension of drivability, which everyday drivers will appreciate every day.
And, yes, the fact the latest 911T will now rev cleanly from below 50km/h at just 1000rpm in top gear all the way to a higher (official) 310km/h top speed makes it even easier to drive quickly for the majority of owners.
Peak figures of 353kW at 6000rpm and 620Nm of torque between a wider 1950-5000rpm rev range still seem lackluster compared to rivals like Ferrari's F430, BMW's M6 and Benz's hottest SL AMGs.
But make no mistake, an "overboost" function that offers up to 680Nm between 2100 and 4000rpm for up to ten seconds of full-throttle at a time in a car that's substantially lighter (and 5kg lighter than before) spells serious mumbo.
Like the old Turbo, its successor feels happiest cruising at 200km/h in top at about 4000rpm. But it's the way it gets there that impresses. Change down to fifth and redline comes up even quicker at about 255km/h, with the twin water-cooled VTG turbos whistling madly all the way to a 6600rpm cutout.
While the previous 911T launch drive to Alice Springs allowed numerous top speed runs in relative safety, the busier, narrower and bumpier roads used this time round weren't ideal for such frivolity.
Even so, GoAuto saw an indicated 311km/h at a relatively relaxed 6000rpm, while one respected colleague claimed a peak number of 325km/h. So there's little doubt the new Turbo is both faster than before and, as usual, faster than it's claimed to be.
At those speeds on coarse-chip road surfaces, tyre noise easily overwhelms engine and wind noise. Indeed, Porsche engineers say in all the high-speed testing it conducted, none of it took place on roads as rough as those in the Territory.
Thank the bigger 19-inch wheel and rubber package for the extra tyre roar - the front hoops are 10mm wider at 235/35 (on an 8.5x19-inch forged rim), while the rears are up from 295 to 305/30 ZR19s (on a massive 11-inch forged alloy).
While the new car's bigger footprint might be louder on typical Territory roads, they're quite acceptable at speeds that are legal everywhere else, and on smooth surfaces - like the ones it was developed on - tyre noise is barely audible above the turbo whine.
Ride quality, despite the reduced amount of tyre wall between road and rim, is also improved - especially in the default "Comfort" mode offered by the Porsche Active Suspension (damping) Management system.
Naturally, PASM automatically stiffens up the damping as speed and cornering exuberance increases (a setting that can be manually selected by hitting the "Sport" button), and on the twisty section between Jabiru and Pine Creek the stiffer 997 chassis proven unshakable - even while dodging mid-corner roadkill and meandering Grey Nomads.
Some say the 911's variable-assistance steering lacks the off-centre precision of its predecessor in this situation, but such is the level of response and feedback that high-speed changes of direction require some familiarity to feel comfortable with. Without any doubt, despite also driving its front wheels, the 911 Turbo still offers more front-end feel than any car we've driven.
Alive in your hands even at walking pace, the Turbo's tiller picks up camber changes and surface irregularities you can't even see, and seems to communicate the intentions of both front tyres individually. That can be hard work at speed on a heavily cambered, bumpy surface, so it pays to relax in the knowledge the Turbo will track true - unflinchingly and quietly soaking up even the deepest potholes as it demonstrates an even greater level of high-speed stability.
The Turbo's bigger new brakes (with six-piston calipers now residing as standard up front) are simply phenomenal and now make the expensive PCCB ceramic brake option almost superfluous. Few cars combine such colossal initial braking power with so much pedal feel, stop after stop.
And the results are astounding, as an emergency test stop from 200km/h proved by leaving two black, foot-wide strips of burnt bitumen, which in our mirrors appeared to have been tilled by a cultivator.
We'll admit we were dubious about Porsche's new all-wheel drive system, which weighs just 36kg and ditches the previous model's viscous centre coupling for an electronic multi-plate clutch set-up.
Apart from its devastating performance, the previous 911T's greatest asset was its brilliant AWD system, which never directed more than 40 per cent of torque to the front wheels - enough to drive the car out of an oversteer situation but not enough to make it feel anything other than a proper rear-driven car.
So how can an AWD system that now directs up to 100 per cent of torque to the front wheels when required be better? The answer lay at Hidden Valley, where a few hot laps and wet-surface exercises revealed the 997's all-wheel drivetrain to be smarter and quicker-reacting than before - and even more rewarding to power-oversteer.
The fact is that unless one drives in ice (and for some reason the front wheels have more grip than the rears), the system will never direct all engine torque to the front.
In that situation it's nice to know it can, and the new AWD system therefore offers a greater level of inherent safety, but the fact that 60 per cent of the vehicle's weight rests over the fat rear wheels means that most of the power will always hit the road via the rear wheels most of the time. And it does so even more instantly than before.
The 996 was the best balanced, most forgiving and most fool-proof iteration of the lauded rear-engined 911 formula ever. The 997's stiffer, wider, lighter and smarter new chassis improves on all those aspects, but its Cayenne-style AWD system capitalises on the extra performance to actually increase real-world traction levels - as well as make it a sharper, more effective and ultimately more rewarding performance tool at the same time.
Yes, the new Turbo's interior could have been better differentiated from lesser 911s, but there's no doubt about the uniqueness of the huffed 997, which sucks 4000 litres of air through its massive front bumper inlets per second at 300km/h. (The more aggressive-looking side scoops now consume 1200 litres of air per second at the same speed to feed each intercooler.)
And, yes, as the flagship, the new 911 Turbo would have been the perfect model to introduce Porsche's new PDK double-clutch transmission that's proved so effective in Volkswagen guise.
But there's no doubt about the effectiveness of the upgraded five-speed Tiptronic S auto, which now stays in the selected gear when getting even partly off the throttle suddenly and which changes down during rapid throttle-off-brake-on manoeuvres.
What's more, the auto is not only quicker than the Getrag manual for the first time (because it keeps the turbos on boost more effectively, as well as co-inciding torque converter lock-up with maximum torque out put - now at just 1950rpm), but makes 0-100km/h passes in just 3.7 seconds a reality for anyone, time after time.
In lieu of increasing engine capacity beyond 3.6 litres (Porsche says it resisted this on fuel consumption grounds, offering a tantalising taste of what to expect from the Turbo S and future 911 Turbos - without even considering direct-injection), variable-geometry turbocharging appears to have been a masterstroke milestone for the 911 Turbo powerplant.
It not only widens an already stratospheric performance envelope and vastly improved day-to-day driveability, but reduces consumption, emissions, weight and servicing costs as well. Heck, it's now even good to look at, at least what you can see under the alloy engine cover.
We arrived in Darwin expecting only incremental gains over what was already one of the world's most accomplished supercars. We came away convinced Porsche has achieved the seemingly impossible in giving the 911 Turbo an even loftier, Ferrari-matching level of outright performance that's also more accessible, more practical and more affordable over time for mere mortals.
One can only hope the engineering miracle this constitutes is not lost one those than can afford such an automotive masterpiece.
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