Wheels: Porsche Perfect

  • Paul Meyers

In the world of high-performance cars, the Porsche 911 Turbo has nothing to prove. Introduced to the United States in 1976 as the Porsche 930, the vehicle made quite a splash with its "whale tail" rear spoiler and 260 hp 3-liter 6-cylinder engine—the first series-production sports-car engine equipped with a turbocharger (hence the modern-day nameplate). The 930’s wildly exhilarating acceleration from zero to 60 mph in less than six seconds—a then-unheard-of achievement outside the rarefied circle of Italian-bred exotics—quickly made it the Porsche of choice among racecar enthusiasts. The car’s legend (as well as its sales numbers) grew with each passing year that it was available.

The present-day Turbo’s profile recalls the soap-bar-shaped silhouette of the 930, but its performance—though considerably more advanced—is comparatively tame. Whereas the original 930 channeled brute force and earned a reputation for treacherous handling, the new Turbo offers smooth acceleration and reassuring agility. Much like the famous "evolution of man" illustrations, the Porsche 911 Turbo has progressed steadily through each of its seven generations, acquiring more horsepower, creature comforts, and exterior refinements at every stage. Although this most recent iteration can easily serve as a proper daily driver, Porsche purists need not fear that the Turbo has gone soft: As a heavier vehicle (the coupe tips the scales at 3,516 pounds; the cabriolet at 3,682 pounds), this 500 hp track-day monster merely requires a firmer prod to the throttle to give the driver that sought-after adrenaline shot.

To drive this point home, Porsche invited a few journalists to drive the 2010 911 Turbo on the Circuito do Estoril racecourse just outside Lisbon, Portugal. Before letting the car loose on the 2.6-mile track circuit, however, the manufacturer delivered a 911 Turbo cabriolet to the airport for a scenic warm-up tour of the Portuguese countryside. Dropping the ragtop—an imperative for viewing the picturesque landscape—took less than 15 seconds, and getting comfortable behind the wheel required even less time.

The 2010 911 Turbo’s exterior, overall, looks very much like the 2009 model’s, while the interior—with its thick steering wheel and leather-wrapped seats—certainly compares favorably to those of the world’s best-appointed luxury vehicles. Yet the car’s most important enhancements are not immediately apparent: Only in those first few seconds of acceleration to 60 mph does one realize just how impressive its engineering modifications actually are.

The secret to the Turbo’s sensational speed is concealed beneath the rear deck lid. The direct-injection 3.8-liter boxer motor is the most powerful and fuel-efficient the automaker has offered since the Turbo was first introduced in Germany 35 years ago. Using only six cylinders, the twin-turbocharged engine produces a whopping 500 hp and 480 ft lbs of torque. (An "overboost" feature, offered with the optional Sport Chrono Package Turbo, increases torque to 516 ft lbs for up to 10 seconds, if needed.) With this power plant to propel it—and the right stretch of open road—even the convertible is capable of reaching speeds up to 194 mph.

The Turbo comes standard with a 6-?speed manual transmission for the traditionalist, but those interested in getting the most out of the car should opt for the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Dubbed Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK), the automated-manual gearbox features a launch control mode used to achieve the Turbo’s fastest off-the-line times. Although the Turbo’s PDK transmission assists in achieving whiplash-inducing acceleration, one of its more impressive attributes becomes readily apparent at legal speed limits: smoothness. The PDK’s ultraswift gearshifts are virtually imperceptible and provide a pleasant ride. For those who were dissatisfied with the push-and-pull toggle-shifting system of last year’s model, the automaker also offers an optional steering wheel equipped with a more conventional paddle-shifting arrangement.

After navigating some of Portugal’s smallest streets and tightest thoroughfares, our Turbo cabriolet eventually reached its destination, Circuito do Estoril, just before dusk. Porsche representatives insisted that all rides be limited to two laps, as the track would be made available for further testing on the following day. Essentially these two laps with the Turbo coupe were the orientation, in which an official Porsche instructor took the wheel and familiarized us with the track and the car. There is no better way to experience the thrill of a supercar than riding along with someone who can really ring it out. The car exhibited unwavering poise through the corners, and its sheer acceleration out of the turns was enough to put my stomach to the back of the seat. "This car is very balanced," said Michael den Tandt, the instructor, in his thick accent. "Very surprising for a rear-engine car."

However, the modern-day Turbo’s solid footing should come as no surprise, in light of the many engineering improvements made to the drivetrain and suspension. The car’s revised all-wheel-drive layout works in conjunction with Porsche Traction Management (PTM) and Porsche Stability Management (PSM) to keep the car grounded even under extreme circumstances. In addition, the 2010 Turbo has a new handling option: Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV). This system applies the brake to the inside rear wheel during stints of overly aggressive driving to reduce extremely rare instances of understeer through difficult corners. With all of these electrical safeguards, the driver can do no wrong. Experienced drivers can unlock the Turbo’s fail-safe systems.

Unfortunately, inclement weather on the following day kept anyone from experiencing the Turbo at full throttle with these safety elements off. In fact, incessant torrents of rain kept the fleet of Turbos off the track for the entire day—a misfortune that was, in a sense, appropriate. Although the Turbo is clearly a bona fide performance machine, it is not the track star of Porsche’s lineup. The automaker reserves that honor for the highly tuned and naturally aspirated GT3 RS, which is arguably the best purpose-built road-going track car on sale today. But after seven generations and more than three decades of production, the Turbo remains the flagship 911 model.

Although it carries the same sticker price as the $132,800 GT3 RS, the Porsche Turbo coupe has a much broader appeal than its track-bred stablemate. Both Turbo models—coupe and cabriolet ($143,800)—on average account for about 30 percent of 911 sales in the United States, making the design the most coveted current-production Porsche outside of the Cayenne.

The reasons for the Turbo’s popularity are more than evident to anyone who sits behind the wheel. While most exotics fall short of expectations, the Turbo exceeds them with its blend of practicality, poise, and performance. For those who worry that the car lacks the flair appropriate to a supercar, Porsche provides exclusive exterior enhancements through its Tequipment customization program. Everything from revised mirrors to racing decals and center-lock wheels is available—though, unfortunately, a modern-day "whale tail" does not grace the list of options.

For those owners who wish to stand out from the pack, Porsche has introduced a new Mexico Blue that is certain to grab the attention of fellow motorists. But regardless of its color, finish, or accoutrements, each Porsche Turbo remains a part of something truly special: a long and lively tradition.

 

Porsche, www.porsche.com

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