New Cars + New Gear + New Technology
It's two o'clock in the morning outside Lisbon, Portugal, and I have one fist wrapped around a single Veltins fine Portuguese pilsner in a last-ditch attempt to soothe my rapidly misfiring nerve synapses. I've been more or less wide awake for close to 32 hours, having flown here from Los Angeles this afternoon. But still I can't sleep. Tomorrow we take the spanking-new 500-hp 911 Turbo out on the famous-some might say insane-Circuito do Estoril. The sky is pissing rain, and will continue to do so well into the day, so the weather reports tell me. I can hardly wait.
There aren't many cars on Earth that have taken a single technical innovation and turned it into a name, a title, so iconic. I mean, there have been lots and lots of turbocharged cars turned out worldwide in the last hundred years of automotive progress. But let's face it-there has really only ever been one Turbo. You can pretty much omit make or model designation in everyday conversation; just say the word, and chances are people will know exactly which Turbo you're talking about.
This latest Turbo (call it 997-and-a-half) made its world debut at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show and is billed as the most powerful and efficient Turbo yet. Which it is. In fact, it has been roundly improved in all aspects. It develops about 20 more horsepower and 20 lb-ft more torque, has had its weight reduced by more than 50 pounds, and accelerates a claimed 8 percent more urgently than the previous (997 I) version.
For starters, the flat-six powerplant in this application has been totally re-engineered from the block out, with displacement pushed from 3.6 to 3.8 liters. This Turbo engine now features the Direct Fuel Injection technology introduced in last year's Carrera and Carrera S models, as well as an "expansion" intake manifold derived from the most recent 911 GT2, each of which serve to lower internal operating temperatures and increase efficiency for both greater power output and reduced fuel consumption. The engine also includes other standard Turbo features introduced on the original 997 Turbo like variable turbine geometry (VTG) turbos, which optimize turbine performance across the range of engine speeds, VarioCam Plus camshaft adjustment and valve lift control, as well as more new technology like a new dry-sump lubrication system to help increase operating efficiency through lowered power consumption, and a re-engineered exhaust system designed to contribute to better emissions and reduce engine weight.
The results of the improvements follow: 368 kW or 500 metric hp peak power output-493 hp in American SAE terms; 479 lb-ft of torque cresting just below 2000 rpm and running flat all the way to 5000; and estimated fuel economy in the 24-mpg combined cycle range (damn impressive for any sports car-if you can manage to keep your foot out of it).
The new 911 Turbo will also benefit from Porsche's optional Doppelkupplungsgetriebe-ahem, PDK-transmission. The dual-clutch automated manual actually serves to improve overall performance fairly dramatically; with its launch control function engaged, it reportedly shaves the zero-to-100 km/h (62 mph) run from 3.6 seconds (with a six-speed manual gearbox and Sport Plus function engaged) to just 3.4. That's about as fast as you can expect from any sort of sports car this side of a million-dollar Bugatti Veyron. This feat also takes into account the Overboost function available with the Sports Chrono Package, which increases peak torque output on full acceleration to a maximum 516 lb-ft.
With the latest iteration of PDK, Porsche has also taken notes from a critical world press and updated its push-pull "slider" steering-wheel-mounted shift mechanisms with true machined-aluminum paddles, the left-hander for downshifting, the right one for upshifts. (The central gear selector on the console, however, remains stubbornly push-for-upshift, pull-for-downshift in its operation.)
Incidentally, PDK-equipped cars will also see a slight bump in fuel economy. And if you're so inclined, there's a function called Race Track Gearshift Strategy, a transmission program that automates gear-shifting functions for optimum shift points and the shortest possible gearchange times to allow you to focus more on your driving line than on flailing for a gear selector.
One other available driver-aid system, which seeks to actively contribute to the overall performance dynamic, is what's known as Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV). This is intended to increase speed through corners and support existing functions like Stability Management (PSM) and Traction Management (PTM). The system consists of a mechanical rear differential and variable torque distribution deployed by automatic activation of the brakes. Essentially, PTV improves steering and precision and reduces understeer while navigating a bend. As soon as the driver actuates steering, the brakes are applied to the inner wheel, giving the outer wheel extra torque and helping the car negotiate the curve. This system is available with both the manual gearbox and the PDK, and is billed as especially effective on wet or slippery surfaces.
And to really drive home the extent of engineering on this nearly four-decade-old sports-car platform, a Sports Chrono Package Turbo incorporates dynamic engine mounts similar to those on the most recent GT3 that adjust to driving conditions to enhance the balance between sportiness and driving comfort. Seriously, self-adjusting engine mounts. Need I say more?
As it turned out, the rain never really let up, so our track time at Estoril was pretty limited. But on the narrow Portuguese roads winding across a mountainous landscape and out along the jagged coast, at the westernmost points in mainland Europe, the Turbo is more than enough car for just about anyone. Me, for one. One of the more incredible things about it is how it remains so docile during low-speed driving through the tiny towns and hamlets-the test of a truly daily-drivable sports car.
But more incredible is when you prod the accelerator with conviction, let the VTG turbos erupt in a tidal roar of whooshing, swooshing fury, and feel all four tires scrabbling for traction milliseconds before hooking up and slinging you to the horizon. It's then that the Turbo's real, hidden nature comes boiling to the surface and cements its super-sports-car pedigree. That some people, owners even, may never get to see that side of it is a travesty. Because after repeating the scenario all morning long and into the afternoon... well, it never gets old, quite frankly. Even if it's pissing rain.
Essentials Few people today seem to remember the oil crisis of the early '70s. In a typical industry reaction, economy became the catchphrase of the day, and in return we got some of the worst automobiles ever produced. And one of the best. Lost in the shuffle of Porsche Chairman history, the contributions of the late Dr. Ernst Fuhrman are truly historic. In the midst of crisis, what did Fuhrman do? He made the 911 Turbo. What balls. Now some 35 years later since its debut at the Paris Auto Show, the tradition continues. But to get to where the Turbo is today, a look back at some of the essential road and race auspuffers is in order.
3.8-liter flat six, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Six-speed manual; optional seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automated manual
Porsche-optimized MacPherson design (f), multi-arm axle with independent suspension (r), Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) with electronically controlled vibration dampers
Six-piston aluminum monoblock calipers with 350mm cross-drilled rotors (f), four-piston aluminum monoblock calipers with 350mm cross-drilled rotors (r); optional PCCB carbon-ceramic assemblies
Peak Power: 493 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 1950 rpm
0-60 mph: 3.6 sec.
Top Speed: 193 mph