Test Drive: Porsche 911 Turbo

By Guy Bird for Daily Express, Nov 2009

As therapy for any perceived mid-life crisis, the 911 Turbo is probably as good as any prescription drug out there

The Porsche 911 Turbo has always been a great male mid-life crisis car. With that be-spoilered silhouette instantly recognizable on the road as furiously fast, massively capable, unaffordable to 99.9% of the UK’s youth and impractical enough to avoid requests to take things to the dump or on the school run it’s practically perfect (for a man of a certain age seeking a little escapism). Porsche’s own stats back up the theory: 91% of Turbo drivers are men and their average is 54.

Based upon such criteria, the seventh generation coupe and cabriolet will not disappoint this demographic and no doubt keep Porsche GB’s customer loyalty rating – those who buy Porsche after Porsche – close to the current 50%. Visual changes are slight – the space where the front fog lights used to sit is now occupied by neat and narrow side indicators and LED rear lights, more sculpted exhaust pipes and new wheels make up the major rear design adjustments. The 194mph sportscar is now 20bhp more powerful (up to a whopping 493bhp) and packed with even more options to assist drivers with sporty aspirations, including proper paddleshift gearshifts for the first time. It’s also a bit more expensive – £101,823 for the coupe and £109,048 for the cabriolet – but still only offers two proper adult seats and a front-end ‘boot’ that will take no more than a couple of weekend bags.

The 911 Turbo has always been a great male mid-life crisis car: furiously fast, massively capable, unaffordable to 99.9% of the UK’s youth and impractical enough to avoid requests to take things to the dump or on the school run 

Of course other sportscars can claim to be similarly swift (and even more impractical) but what marks the 911 Turbo out as one of the world’s true supercar icons is its unchanging classic looks and ability to be a hardcore track-day maestro one minute and a relatively comfortable everyday runabout the next – its rear seats can even fit small kids for small showing-off trips if necessary. It’s the technological flagship of the overall 911 range and represented more than a fifth of all UK 911 sales in 2008. The new Turbo is also lighter (a significant 25kg less on some versions) plus boasts improved aerodynamics that collectively help fuel economy and emissions.

All that performance comes courtesy of one brand-new six-cylinder 3.8-litre petrol engine – remarkably all previous Turbo units were developments of the original 3.6-litre launched in 1974. Let the car work the gears for itself by utilising the special ‘launch control’ function combined with the PDK double-clutch semi-automatic gearbox option – after pressing the appropriate button all you basically need to do is steer and brake – and the car can reach 0-60mph in a mind blowing 3.4 seconds, a fifth of a second quicker than versions with just a PDK gearbox and almost half a second more rapid than the manual version. All models, regardless of roof style or gearbox, can reach an incredible 194mph top speed and if driven carefully, the semi-automatic gearbox now musters better fuel economy and emissions figures than the manual – 24.8mpg and a relatively modest 268g/km of CO2 – down nearly 18% from 326g/km.

The sheer rush of putting your foot down hard in this car is hard to describe. Even without the quicker ‘launch control’ function, the acceleration potential of this car feels immense. It stays remarkably true in a straight line and corners can be taken so much faster than would be wise in lesser cars with almost zero pitch and roll. The responsive steering is taut when needed but light enough to make small adjustments easily. The standard manual gearbox is smooth and accurate and when it’s time to stop the standard brakes are plenty, although Porsche offers £5677 ceramic composite versions if you want even more stopping power. Low speed ride quality is actually not very good though, with the chassis bumping and wobbling over all sorts of quite average surfaces, with the wide tyres tending to ‘tramline’ along the course of ruts in the road. Choose the wrong seats and you’ll feel that discomfort even more (see later).

But driving fast is what the 911 Turbo is all about and there is a wide array of different options to help. Porsche expects 80% of buyers to go for the PDK seven-speed semi-automatic gearbox over the manual as its double-clutch system – where one clutch engages the gear you’ve just selected as the other readies the next one – ensures super quick and smooth acceleration. At £2552 it’s pricey compared to some other brands’ auto gearbox upgrades but works superbly well with Porsche’s steering wheel-mounted gearshift paddles (another £271 option) that conform to the now industry standard of up shifts with the right paddle and downshifts with the left, rather than the awkward ‘push for up’, ‘pull for down’ plasticky buttons on either side that Porsche still offers on a different steering wheel.

Almost all of the expensive Porsche options list can safely be avoided. Many are plain daft while others actually damage driving comfort

However, if you prefer the pure involvement of manually changing gears you could avoid the £2823 auto-plus-paddles cost and spend it on the £2629 ‘Sport Chrono Package Turbo’ option instead. It offers a power boost, tauter handling and a sportier throttle as well as a ‘dynamic engine mount system’. The clever latter bit of kit basically acts like adaptable shock absorbers for the engine: go faster and it hardens and stiffens the mounts, go slower and it softens them. Porsche says it makes a real difference to track-day times. There is also a ‘sports shifter’ gearbox option that offers shorter shifts between gears for £372, but it can feel notchy and stiff at low speeds without careful practice and is perhaps an unnecessary extra unless you spend a lot of time trackside. The soft-top cabriolet roof adds more than £7000 to the coupe price and, although well insulated with the roof up and almost as solid to drive, seems somehow inappropriate for this pure a vehicle.

In fact, almost all of the expensive Porsche options list can safely be avoided. Many are plain daft while others actually damage driving comfort. For instance, Porsche will relieve you of £264 to swap normal seatbelts for ones that match the exterior bodywork, nearly £5000 for several bits of carbon fibre trim ‘upgrade’ that look fake and tacky and £1939 for slim but un-adjustable bucket-style sports seats that make the ride more unpleasantly hard than it already is (especially for passengers without the pleasure of driving to distract them). While on the subject of negatives, some interior trim is far too plasticky for a £100,000-plus car, with pseudo-metal trim starting to scratch off the test car’s steering wheel after just a few hundred miles, and outside tyre and road noise really intrudes into the Turbo’s cabin, requiring conversation volume to be raised considerably or the decent stereo to be turned up very loud. Rival upstarts like the Nissan GT-R suffers from an even cheaper interior – but costs some £40,000 less and drives at least as well as the Turbo – while the Audi R8 V10 is more powerful, but more thirsty and polluting with it.

Ultimately though there will be plenty of purists of a certain age who will prefer the reassurance of a car with 35 years of sportscar provenance, less brash, more classic exterior styling and be content to merely listen to the sound of the engine and quietly smile at the car’s agility as it flatters flatly through corner after twisty corner to make its owner feel like king of the road. For those drivers, as therapy for any perceived mid-life crisis, the 911 Turbo is probably as good as any prescription drug out there.

 

Logbook lowdown

  • Model: Porsche 911 Turbo
  • On sale: Now
  • Price range: £101,823-£109,048
  • Engine range: 493bhp 3.8-litre turbocharged petrol
  • Power: 0 to 60mph in 3.4 seconds, 194mph top speed (Coupe PDK semi-automatic with Sports Chrono Package Turbo)
  • Average fuel economy: 24.8mpg (Coupe PDK semi-automatic)
  • CO2 emissions: 268-275g/km.
  • Insurance groups: 20E
  • Rivals: Audi R8 V10, Nissan GT-R
  • Stars: *****

 


Related Articles : Cars