The Porsche 911 Turbo is as different from most other cars as water is from wine. The breathy flat-six engine sitting way behind you, the fabulously sensitive and direct steering, and the way the scenery blurs at the edges every time the tacho hits 4,000 rpm. All trademark Turbo thrills — and have been since the first one was shown at the Paris Motor Show in 1974.
But then so have a number of other, less desirable, traits. To say the handling of the original Turbo models required a professional level of skill to master would be to understate the case almost illegally. You had to be on top of your game to get it out of an intersection cleanly, never mind navigate a series of curves. And that was on a dry highway. When it rained, well, you took a cab.
Not now, though. This 21st-century version of the 911 Turbo hugs the road like its tires and the Tarmac are made out of Velcro. Almost irrespective of the speed you find yourself entering a corner, you just ease the wheel and ’round it goes. It’s so capable, you start to take liberties with sense, turning into corners tighter than you imagined possible — and exiting them faster than is probable.
The Turbo’s chassis and engine combination is largely responsible for this astonishing progress. The clever bit is that the car lets you think and feel like you are some undiscovered motoring deity. Four-wheel drive, with a bias to the rear, ensures whichever wheel has the most appropriate grip gets the most juice. And the 3.6-litre, twin-turbo 415 horsepower engine makes sure there’s always plenty of that to go around.
Reinforcing this feeling of invincibility is Porsche Stability Management, or PSM. Even when switched off — for that supposedly unassisted driving experience — it continues to monitor the car’s attitude and has the power to intervene in any situation that test engineers have defined as being potentially terminal. And it does so without letting anyone know it has. It switches itself on, sorts out the problem, and you continue on your way. You can’t fail to be impressed with a feature that protects not only you and your car, but your ego, too.
What the Turbo we drove wouldn’t do for you was change its gears. And we were fine with that. You can get a sweet, self-swapping Tiptronic S gearbox with the Turbo, but unless you live in a congested city, this is not the enthusiast’s option. True, the change from first to second gear requires a practiced touch to complete smoothly, and can be more than a little tiring in nose-to-tail traffic. But once you are out on the open blacktop, coursing ’round curve after curve, the slick six-speed stick is the true route to automotive heaven.
Whichever “box” you decide upon, there’s plenty to keep you amused inside the car while you wait for the traffic to clear. A digital Bose sound system delivers the traffic reports in well-balanced, crisp tones, and you can play ‘how far is it to…?’ on the sat-nav for hours if gridlock sets in. There’s also a clever trip computer, which — in true Turbo fashion — tells not only speed, distance, and gas mileage, but also the prevailing turbo pressure.
If those are the nice touches, the standard interior trim is perhaps the most disappointing part of the latest iteration of the Turbo. While 911s have always had idiosyncratic switch and dial layouts, they have always given a sensation of permanence and quality. Not so with this car. The plastics used for the dash felt brittle and inexpensive, the fluffy carpet lining the lower half of the doors dated and inappropriate on a $120,000 car.
There is a way around this, however. Porsche has a long — possibly the longest — list of optional equipment for you to lavish upon your Turbo, and you really need to make good use of it to outfit the car with the interior it deserves. The plastic can be swapped for some infinitely more suitable carbon fiber or leather, and the overly hirsute carpet can be made to go away if the right boxes are ticked on the option list. Both are essential.
The exterior of the car requires no such meddling. Perhaps the most gracefully shaped 911 Turbo ever built, it is certainly the best proportioned, having none of the back-heavy visual and actual bias of its many predecessors. The snout is wide and low, with huge air ducts on either side of the gently rounded nose. And the enhanced sills flow into the most organically aggressive rear haunches available on any car made today.
The rear spoiler is still there, but it’s not the cartoonish whale tail of yore. It’s a two-piece device, the top half raising automatically at speeds above 75 mph to help keep the back of the car planted. If that seems like a little too clear indicator of law breaking, you can also raise and lower it by pressing a dash-mounted switch.
Technically, then, this is the most sophisticated and easy-to-live-with 911 Turbo. It has the most powerful engine — upgradeable to 450bhp with the X50 pack, the least demanding manners, and more ability than most of us will never know. Some die-hard traditionalists will say that it has lost some of the challenge that used to be part of Turbo driving. Others will simply embrace the changes and see the car for what it is: technically the best 911 Turbo ever made.
Prices for the 911 Turbo start at $119,165.