DRIVING NORTHWEST: Porsche 911 Turbo


by TOM VOELK / KING 5 Car expert


Posted on October 28, 2010 at 10:46 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 28 at 10:46 AM

Our society puts a premium on time. We covet faster computers, convenience foods and gadgets designed to reclaim minutes of our lives (though generally they’re usually time sucks). Understandably we crave fast transportation as well and the Porsche 911 Turbo rests comfortably near the top of the automotive heap when it comes to acceleration. This car (or perhaps low flying plane) does speed very well, a sensation which we humans either love or fear. This machine should appeal to both personalities since it tames velocity completely.

Normally Bose sound systems, satellite navigation, or heated and ventilated leather seats are the highlights of a car. Nice. They’re all but forgotten after a launch in the 911 Turbo. Remember the first time you saw hyperspace in Star Wars? That’s how a sprint in the 911 Turbo feels. Stuffing an entire Disneyland of thrills into one classic package, an argument could be made that the 135K base price (149 as tested) could actually save a person money. With one of these in the garage there’s no need to ever pay for an amusement park ride again.  

Why so pricey?

Porsche over engineers their cars to make sure things don’t go wrong at 194 miles an hour which is this cars top speed. Sophisticated electronics, massive brakes, and an active aerodynamic rear wing all inspire confidence. A prime technology example is Variable Turbo Geometry. How they manage to vary the vanes on the turbocharger borders on magic, but it’s sorcery that not only improves low end torque and eliminates all traces of turbo lag, it improves fuel economy as well. The EPA rates this Porsche at 17 city, 25 highway, better than some mid-sized family vehicles.

This supercar could be a daily driver because suspension firmness, transmission response and throttle sensitivity can be adjusted. Even in comfort mode ride quality is far too firm for the Lexus crowd but enthusiasts will find it perfectly acceptable.  However, pushing the Sport Plus button makes this car as harsh and edgy as Simon Cowell hopped up on amphetamines and a Venti Frappuccino. ES350 owners need not apply.

Go power

911 Turbo is a rear engined car. The flat-six horizontally-opposed boxer engine, only partially visible under the open rear lid, lays flat and low for better balance. Considering the name it’s not surprising to find two turbochargers and intercoolers. Porsche refines the technology by routing cooler denser air into the cylinder rather than straight hot exhaust gasses.  The result is 500 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM. Torque is rated at 480 lb-ft in a wide 1,950-5,000 band.  

The aural experience is completely different depending on whether you’re inside or outside the cabin. At full throttle, by-standers will hear the rush of 100 Dyson vacuum cleaners switched on simultaneously only to quickly disappear as the 911 vanishes from site.  Drivers and passengers enjoy a deep growl and faint refined whistle when the foreground suddenly becomes background. The Bose surround sound system is wasted here, I’d rather listen to the engine.

Transmissions? Choose between a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (or PDK) unit which can be driven like an automatic or shifted manually from the console or steering wheel paddles. It’s the gearbox I prefer in this car. Lightning quick shifts are practically imperceptible as the brain first and foremost strains to make sense of the velocity. Automatic gear changes come in handy when 0 to 60 miles an hour rockets up in less than 3.5 seconds. The Turbo will easily blow past 100 MPH before many cars reach the 60 mark.

Launch control to Major Tom

Those who know their Porsches understand that the clock-like device on the instrument panel means the car has the Sport Crono package which among other things blesses the 911 with launch control. To activate maximum velocity mode, shift into D or M, push the Sport Plus button, depress the brake then the throttle. RPMs will rise and hold, lift off the stop pedal and watch the scenery rush by in a blur. Rain began during our testing and photography session cutting launch fun short.  It revealed much about the binders though. Even on wet pavement the massive brakes demonstrate epic stopping ability.

With very direct steering and excellent road feel, cornering ability is almost surreal, effortlessly taking corners at speeds that would send lesser cars into full electronic stability panic. At thoroughly illegal speeds the 911 is completely relaxed and confident though road noise is on the high side.  Obviously in the good old US of A, the only way to experience the full awesomeness of this car is on a closed course (or take your chances with jail time). I can assure you that a bottomless pit of power makes it very tempting to play hard on empty country roads. Very, very tempting.... and that’s all I will admit to.

Enjoy the blur from a leather lined cabin

People expect performance from this brand but the unfamiliar seem surprised by craftsmanship. Fit and finish is perfect with vent surrounds and steering wheel spokes looking more like hardware than just plain old trim. Proper performance gauges favor RMPs over speed info (a large digital MPH display in the tach is a big help).

Buttery soft hides cover the firm chairs, the roof liner is suede-like alcantara, and controls operate with taut mechanical precision. The ignition is in the normal Porsche location, to the left of the substantial leather wrapped wheel. Looking for the cup holders? Their operation is pure Porsche, springing from a metal strip above the glove box. It’s an impressive show but I found out the hard way they don’t hold drinks well when driving in spirited fashion. The sunroof does not have a glass panel, if you want sunshine on your shoulders a breeze is part of the deal.

Convenience wise there’s Bluetooth for phones, the nav system is easy to use, my tester has the optional iPod interface or tunes can be loaded on an SD memory card. The sat nav system is an easy-to-use touch screen unit.

Obviously with its iconic teardrop roofline, the 911’s rear seat space is not intended for adults. My 5’1” daughter fits fine and actually likes the way the deep bolsters hug her tightly. More often than not this area with flip down seatbacks will be filled with a briefcase or Niemen Marcus shopping bags.

Car go

A behind the scenes info McNugget, the TP Trunk Test generally requires a good amount of time figuring out the maximum number of bath tissue bundles that will fit in a cargo hold. That effort often revels a Rubik’s Cube arrangement that allows for one more pack to be wedged in. Not so much with a 911. It’s pretty obvious that if the hood is going to close only one bundle stows up front. I was able to stash two carry-on sized suitcases in the cubby... barely.  Two more will easily fit behind the front seats if need be. Want practicality? Buy a Cayenne or Panamera... or a minivan.

The Turbo is available as a cabriolet or, for those who need to go even faster, the S version. This icon attracts a good amount of attention, and most assume the driver is up to no good. A law enforcement officer who happened upon us setting up for the photo shoot just drove slowly by shaking his helmeted head. Seems like every STI and Evo encountered wants to race. I even got the impression a woman in a C-Class Mercedes wanted to drag race from a stop light. I let her win. All of them are probably missing the point. The 911 Turbo is more than just fast, it’s a Porsche. The name is more than marketing, there’s a tangible feeling in this car that wells up from its soul and, yes, it does have a soul. Those who can afford the quality and performance that this machine delivers are fortunate souls indeed.