AT A GLANCE:
2007 PORSCHE 911 TURBO
ON SALE: Summer
BASE PRICE: $123,695
POWERTRAIN: 3.6-liter, 480-hp, 460-lb-ft turbocharged H6; awd, six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 3495 lbs
0 TO 60 MPH: 3.7 seconds (mfr.)
FUEL MILEAGE: 21.6 mpg (mfr.)
The front end began to skate over the surface of the road, the wheels every so often twitching with disaffection at some unseen annoyance. Not crazy twitching—it certainly didn’t feel like the front end was getting too light—but it was worrisome enough to warrant a quick glance down at the speedo. And just as we’d expected, there lay the answer: At 175 mph, we had blown by the manufacturer’s recommended Vmax of our snow tires by 25 mph.
Yeah, snow tires.
Given the foot of snow that blanketed Stuttgart just two days prior to our arrival, Porsche worried about plunging us into a baptismal of slush—and turning our first sneak-preview taste of the mighty 997 Turbo into an adventure more to do with finding the limits of its all-wheel drive than its all-around righteousness—and shod our sample cars in the black-ice-thwarting compound.
Thankfully, most of the white stuff melted by the time we slid behind the wheel, but the car still wore winter rubber. As endless stretches of autobahn lay before us, we suppressed any inclination toward disappointment. This was, after all, the Turbo, and no matter the circumstances by which one finds oneself coddled inside its cockpit, it’s a thing to relish, snow or otherwise.
So relish it we did. From our very first foray out of Zuffenhausen and into the surrounding countryside, weaving through cornfields and whizzing by cow pastures, we could easily tell this Turbo would out-Turbo all that came before.
The power comes on fast and smooth, with great gobs of torque found wherever you ask for it, in any gear and at any revs, a seemingly endless supply of tire-twisting propulsion. And all of it can be had with barely a hint of turbo lag. Amazing stuff.
But power is only half the Turbo’s raison d’être, because it loves nothing more than putting down that power with the steering wheel cocked. The more challenging the turn, the more eager the Turbo feels tackling it: powering in on entry, braking late, the body hunkering down while all four wheels grip and grip through the apex, and finally blasting out the other side with a figurative thumbing of its nose at the rest of automobiledom.
And all on snow tires, no less.
Long ago, driving enthusiasts the world over anointed the Turbo as King of the Road. While not an official title—the appointment is one won in countless, hard-fought water-cooler elections rather than by a preponderance of punched chads—the Turbo has retained its status in the face of all comers. Viper? Too vulgar. Ferrari? Too prissy. Corvette? Too blue-collar. Lamborghini? Too, well, irrelevant. Or so believe the faithful.
And this sixth-generation Turbo promises to rule more supremely than any before it, even with a lineage that reads like a Best Ever list.
From the 930 3.0-liter that bowed in 1974 through the 964 and 993 in the 1990s to the 996 in 2000, the Porsche Turbo has sat high atop the sports car mountain. If any disappointed, the 996 may have tweaked the sensibilities of the air-cooled diehards, but its performance? Undeniable.
Consider also that with the debut of the 997 version, the Turbo will have undergone a 20 percent increase in displacement, an 85 percent increase in output and a monstrous 81 percent increase in torque since that very first 930.
The 997 Turbo still draws power from the same 3.6-liter boxer-six as found in the 996, though with some significant changes boosting horsepower to 480 from the previous 420. Porsche engineers focused much of their attention on tuning the turbochargers, developing a variable turbine geometry, or VTG, for the first time in a gasoline engine to production standard. The way VTG works is this: The compressor fins on the main turbine open fully at high revs and close at low revs—or any point in between—effectively maintaining higher exhaust gas flow and pressure to the intake even when engine loads are lower. It results in less turbo lag, especially for such large turbochargers, because in the closed position they essentially act like smaller units.
Yes, the Tiptronic is faster than the manual. Porsche says improvements made to the Tip’s hydraulics allow for brake torquing on takeoff, letting the turbos spool up and deliver full boost pressure immediately. It’s faster in passing speeds, too–if only by a hair–because gearing in the Tip is such that the turbos maintain full boost pressure throughout the rev range rather than dropping off slightly at shift points.
The challenge for engineers to this point has always been in dealing with the extremely high temperatures encountered in this sort of application, with exhaust temps reaching more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, which, Porsche likes to point out, is “white-hot, not red-hot; diesels, for example, only reach [about 1500].”
So engineers turned to high-temperature-resistant aerospace metals for the turbocharger, used the most advanced calculation methods in structural mechanics and flow dynamics, spent 20,000 hours testing on a dynamometer and ran almost three-quarters of a million miles on the road—all to ensure the turbocharger could deliver what they demanded from it.
What they demanded was no less than 460 lb-ft of torque, available between 1950 and 5000 rpm, with an additional 45 lb-ft on reserve between 2100 and 4000 rpm in what they dub overboost. Overboost raises the turbo pressure almost 3 psi and is available for 10-second bursts—in the same vein as a Champ Car’s push-to-pass, if you will.
If we could call anything on the Turbo gimmicky, it’s the overboost function. We said gimmicky; we didn’t say it wasn’t fun.
Porsche says the Turbo should reach 60 mph from a standing start in 3.7 seconds with the manual, and in just 3.4 with the five-speed Tiptronic. And to illustrate just how fat and broad that torque band is, Porsche says the Turbo will run from 50 to 75 mph in 3.8 seconds—and a blindingly quick 3.5 with the Tip.
That all adds up to one heckuva crazy lap time on the world’s greatest test track, the Nordschleife at the Nürburgring, which the automaker claims the car will circle in seven minutes, 42 seconds shod in the optional sport tires and with Porsche Traction Management activated.
Take the 996 Turbo as a point of comparison: Its best time will barely crack the eight-minute mark, says Porsche. The C6 Corvette Z06 just nudged under 7:43 by a hundredth of a second. A Carrera GT will dip below 7:30, but beyond that the challengers are few and far between: A Murciélago gets close, as does a Pagani Zonda, and Mercedes-Benz claims its McLaren SLR can do it in 7:40 flat. Short of an actual comparo between all of the above, it’s safe to say the 997 Turbo runs in a rarified crowd, for sure.
To achieve such numbers, Porsche focused attention on aerodynamics as well as power. For one, the car’s giant rear split wing is 23 percent larger than on the 996 model, and when fully extended (by 1.77 inches) at 75 mph significantly reduces rear axle lift. An underfloor cover measuring 97 percent larger than on the previous model gives the Turbo a virtually flat underbody, while optimizing the flow characteristics of the various intakes helps give the Turbo a Cd of 0.31, for a 4.8 percent reduction in drag vs. the old model. The company claims a top speed of 193 mph.
It can’t hurt that this Turbo is not only more powerful and slipperier than the 996, it’s also a little lighter, thanks to generous use of lightweight materials. The doors and hood are now stamped out of aluminum, while the entire rear decklid—wing and all—is molded out of plastic. All told, the Turbo, at 3495 pounds, weighs less than its predecessor by about 10 pounds.
The turbo oozes a German ethos, rooted in its precision engineering, its balance of form and function, a respect of its heritage and a quiet confidence in its ability—if not, dare we say it, outright superiority.
It distinguishes itself from lesser 997s not only in expected ways—that double-deck wing as well as a pair of gaping intercooler intakes punched in the rear fenders—but the face also features turn signals stretching horizontally within the radiator intakes, flanked by fog lamps poking out from the bumper itself; larger oval exhaust pipes housed within the rear fascia; and air outlet vents tucked behind the rear wheels.
Engine displacement may have increased only 20 percent since its debut, but the Turbo now puts out 85 percent more horsepower, with an 81 percent increase in peak torque. But all of that is eclipsed by the fact that the Turbo has also witnessed a whopping 171 percent increase in torque at 2000 rpm.
Porsche hasn’t released all the specifications prior to the car’s official release this summer, but suffice it to say, like the model it replaces, the Turbo is a wide-bodied car, its rear fenders flaring out from its flanks to house a pair of meaty 305/30R-19s, themselves wrapping a new two-tone forged rim design.
The Turbo will come standard with Porsche’s alphabet soup of performance and safety electronics, including PASM (active suspension), PSM (stability control) and PTM (traction control, basically, but integrated with the electronic all-wheel-drive system to maximize grip). In the Turbo’s case, all-wheel drive is an actively controlled setup with an electromechanically controlled multiple-plate clutch to split torque front-to-rear (it allows up to 100 percent either way) rather than a passive viscous coupling design.
And we more than welcomed all of the above when blasting toward our rendezvous point on the autobahn. When slowing to exit, we feared we had failed to brake early or hard enough to manage the tight 270-degree turn without needing every electronic safety measure engaging to keep the car rubber-side-down and on the asphalt. Fact is, we didn’t need any of it, the car is so balanced. We only needed to bring a steady pair of hands, a confident right foot and the gumption to hang on and not panic. The car did the rest.
On snow tires.