It's unnecessarily hot at Northern California's Thunderhill Raceway; I'm chasing Hurley Haywood around the full 5-mile configuration in Porsche's new 911 Turbo. The air conditioning and ventilated seat are working flawlessly. I clearly have more mechanical sympathy than empathy. I would never subject my own car to this sort of thermal torture, but Porsche seems to revel in pushing its cars in ways sane people wouldn't. To everyone's delight, but with little surprise, I find the rest of the mechanical systems in the king of the 991.2 model lineup are capable of performance beyond the average driver's imagination.
I try to envision this same story four decades earlier when the first air-cooled 911 Turbos were pounding around tracks. First, you wouldn't attempt it in this heat; if you did, the air conditioning would consist of windows and the evaporative cooling of your own sweat. Han Solo didn't have ventilated seats, much less sports cars. Hurley would be making the car dance, fighting against a chassis that was not all that well balanced and driving on tires that pale in comparison to today's all-seasons. Instead of hanging off his rear bumper, someone of my skill level would be both the center and cause of a smoking hole on the outside of one of the high-speed turns.
This Turbo is different—completely different from the early air-cooled Turbos and it is even substantially different from the 991.1 it replaces, at least in the way it drives. I sometimes struggle to call new cars "better" than old cars. But it is, without a doubt in my mind, better than any previous 911 Turbo. Yes, even the one from the poster hanging in Jerry Seinfeld's sitcom apartment.
As I've stated before in 911 reviews, aside from aesthetics, the Turbo has always been my least favorite of the 911 family. In the early air-cooled days, I never liked the turbo-lag, the complete lack of low-end torque (yes, they are different things), and the overall driving experience when compared to its normal-breathing siblings. Today, we look at the lag as quaint and romanticize about how you had to be a "real man" to drive those cars. Even my predecessors described the 911 Turbo as the "widow maker." By the 993, Porsche had gotten a handle on the lag and questionable driving dynamics, but while it crushed the "regular 911" on spec sheets, it still didn't match the driving experience.
Once Porsche went water-cooled, the 996 Turbo was all about the performance numbers and became even more of "the nightclub 911"—don't get me started on Turbo Cabriolets. Hardcore driving enthusiasts had cars with "GT" on the decklid. Suddenly, even the most performance-jaded journalists were talking about the Turbo like a supercharged Shelby Mustang. Everything was 0-60 mph and quarter-mile trap speeds. The handling and, even more regrettably, the driving experience had taken a backseat to blowing away Corvettes at stoplights. By the time PDK and launch control came around, 0-60-mph times were competitive with purpose-built drag cars on DOT slicks. Since I know you're curious, Porsche rates the new Turbo S at just 2.8 seconds from 0-60, but expect better in actual testing. They still handled remarkably well, but it wasn't what the car was about. The last 991.1 Turbo I drove on a racetrack was, in my opinion, too good for its own good. Coming out of turns, you simply mash the gas, the turbos spool, and the chassis sorts out the rest. I had resigned myself that this was to be the future for the fastest 911—no subtlety, just giant g-forces in all directions.
The 991.2 is a refresh of that same car. It takes an eye trained better than mine to tell the difference without close examination of grilles, vents, and slats. The inside is closer to the interior decorating style of the 918 than the dot-one, but like most 911s, it's underneath where all the magic is happening.
First, the engine: For the first time, the Turbo S gets different turbochargers than the standard Turbo. The S's are slightly larger units than the standard Turbos but still feature VTG—variably turbine geometry. The VTG turbos have been in use since the 997, but there is a new tech trick here. Porsche's Dynamic Boost allows the turbos to stay spooled up, even while the driver is braking. In the past, when the driver lifted out of the throttle, the throttle body closed and the turbo stopped spinning. With Dynamic Boost, instead of the throttle body closing to stop the engine from making power, the engine leaves the throttle body open and cuts fuel. The intake charge blows through the engine and then through the turbochargers, helping to maintain the turbocharger's rpm. When the driver tips into the throttle pedal, fuel is added to the equation, making torque near instantaneously.
The effect of the system is an engine that feels very linear and natural; you might even say unturbo-like. The previous cars required thinking ahead of the power delivery; now you can drive a Turbo like a naturally aspirated car. You ask for a little power, you get a little power; and even better, you can maintain that little bit of power with small inputs. Thunderhill has some epic sweepers that call for maintenance throttle for most of the turn. In Turbos of the past, you had to basically "pump the throttle" to try and dance on this line of on and off the boost. It forced you to stay below the car's actual cornering limits as the torque shifted the weight of the car around. With Dynamic Boost, you can now settle in right on that limit, which is that soul-satisfying sensation that keeps us going back to racetracks and buying high-performance cars in the first place.
That isn't the extent of the improvements, however; that alone wouldn't cause me to rethink my stance on the Turbo. The 991.1 at the limit isn't as satisfying as this. It stutters on breakaway and will slide a little, then catch, then slide, and catch. You feel the rear-wheel steering working, and it never feels completely natural. It's still amazingly capable but satisfies those who place more value on being the fastest car instead of the fastest driver. The 991.2 has changed that with the ability to deliver long, lurid slides and rear-wheel steering and torque vectoring that works in the background. It rewards drivers for being good drivers, not for being rich enough to pay the entry price. Part of this is a more liberal PSM, Porsche Stability Management system, that allows for more fun at the limit. Another part is a brand-new Pirelli PZero tire that matches lap times of the outgoing, track-focused Dunlop Sportmax. Also, just good old-fashioned suspension tuning has improved.
Thunderhill is full of elevation changes, even more challenging camber changes, and weird crowns during direction changes. The Turbo sucks up all the bumps and uneven surfaces with suspension travel and well-tuned damping rates. I cringe at the thought of owners who will buy this car and immediately lower it, giving away this car's ability to stay so composed. I just can't imagine someone driving one of these and thinking, "Yeah, it just isn't good enough; I can make it better." If you need another reason not to "F" with the car for the sake of vanity, PAA or Porsche Active Aerodynamics at both ends of the car generates almost 300 pounds of downforce at speed by manipulating airflow over and under the car.
Whether on or off the racetrack, the new Turbo is comfortable and capable of either long-haul duties or sport driving on mountain roads. Driving modes are now available via the steering wheel rotary knob instead of buttons on the center console. Unlike previous cars, which felt as though Sport+ was a bit more theatrical than functional in its twitchy responses, it now feels more dialed in. I'm still not sure I would ever use it on anything but a track, but at least now it is suitable for something other than showing your friends how hardcore your car is. A button in the center of the mode selector dial allows for an overboost function while in any driving mode. Porsche describes it as "adrenaline for your car." What was it we were saying about theatrical?
I was wrong. Porsche has not only made the Turbo the highest-performance 911 to date, but has also given it a complexity of experience the old cars, even the air-cooled cars, can't match. Yes, the new car is PDK only. Yes, it has active suspension, rear-wheel steering, torque vectoring, electric power steering, and several other things that make purists gnash their teeth. Did I mention how good the ventilated seats are? Yet, the driving experience is as good as it's been in a force-fed 911. There are so many choices in this supercar-exotic space these days: McLaren, Audi, Aston Martin, Mercedes, and more are all competing for sales in this segment. Porsche admits that when you are looking at a car in the 200-grand range, another 70 grand this way or that is not a concern to these customers. The Turbo is not the flashiest in the category, but it excels at everything else you would want a car like this to do. Would I buy one? I'm still more of a GT3 kinda guy, but in the right circumstances and for the first time, I can actually imagine owning, and enjoying, a Turbo.