Porsche's best case yet for the six-figure sports car
Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Our desire to be Bill Adam has nothing to do with his actor looks or house in Palm Beach. No, we want to be Bill Adam because of what he can do behind the wheel of the 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo.
Unlike the hedge fund managers and Hollywood agents who buy most of the Porsche 911 Turbos, Bill can push a 911 to its limit and keep it there; a talent that earned him a win in a GT1-class 911 at the 12 hours of Sebring in 1996. Riding shotgun as he lapped the Watkins Glen road course in upstate New York, we watched him drift the all-wheel-drive Turbo from one turn to the other, catching each slide with a quick flick of his hands and a smooth right foot. He made it look easy. It's not.
They were the kind of maneuvers this 480-horsepower sports car was made for, but try it yourself and you're likely to turn an afternoon drive into a $123,000 mistake. It doesn't mean you can't have fun in Porsche's newest 911 flagship. After all, with up to 505 pound-feet of torque and tires so big they barely fit under the widebody rear end, the Turbo goes pretty good in a straight line, too.
Yet another 911 Like every new 911 introduced in the last two years, the Turbo builds on the standard rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive 997 Carrera introduced in 2005. Upgrades to the Turbo include wider rear bodywork, standard all-wheel drive and a pair of variable geometry turbochargers feeding a 3.6-liter flat-six engine. Although it shares the same displacement as the standard Carrera, the Turbo's six is more closely related to the engine used in the track-focused 911 GT3, with a stronger block and lower 6,600-rpm redline.
Adjustable vanes allow the new turbochargers to mimic the feel and performance of both small- and large-displacement turbos. Combined with Porsche's Variocam adjustable valve timing, this Turbo generates 65 more horsepower and 45 additional pound-feet of torque compared to its predecessor, despite identical displacement. The added efficiency pays off at the pump, too, as this is the first 911 Turbo not subject to the gas-guzzler tax.
In addition to the new turbocharger design, the 997 Turbo also introduces a new active traction-control system designed to react faster to slipping tires. The new system replaces the previous Turbo's viscous coupling with an electronically controlled clutch pack that can actively redistribute torque among the car's four tires based on data from numerous sensors throughout the car. If that's not enough, there's also a rear mechanical limited-slip differential on the options list.
By using aluminum for the doors and trunk lid, Porsche shaved 11 pounds compared to the previous model. Curb weight is now listed at 3,494 pounds with the manual transmission, 3,572 with the Tiptronic automatic.
Reality check After a few laps with Bill, it's time for our turn at the wheel. We pause to admire the standard 19-inch lightweight wheels and retractable split-level spoiler. There are extra-large air intakes up front along with LED turn signals unique to the Turbo. There's also the telltale set of rear quarter-panel air ducts that feed the intercoolers for the turbos. For a car with a top speed of 193 mph, the 911 Turbo looks restrained.
Sliding into the optional sport seats, it's clear they're built for drivers who aren't familiar with the nearest Krispy Kreme. Adjustable lateral support bolsters give you a little leeway to add some room, but if you haven't seen your shoes in awhile, stick with the perfectly good standard seats.
The rest of the interior is typical 911. Same big tachometer front and center, same maze of cell-phone-sized buttons on the center stack. Since the Turbo is the top-of-the-line 911, it gets a full leather interior standard along with a sunroof and 13-speaker Bose audio system.
Our Turbo also has the optional Sport Chrono package. For an extra $1,840 it not only adds the fancy stopwatch atop the dashboard, it allows you to quicken the throttle response and sharpen the suspension with the push of a button. This is in addition to the standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) control, which has its own Normal and Sport suspension settings.
If that doesn't make you want to part with the extra $2 grand, consider the overboost function that's also part of the package. In addition to the quicker throttle response, additional rear power bias and less restrictive stability control, hitting the Sport button also activates an overboost function which engages only at full throttle and only for 10 seconds at a time. It allows for an extra 3 pounds of boost, which translates into a brief 505 lb-ft of peak torque at just over 2,000 rpm.
Even without the added thrust, Porsche claims this Turbo will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds — provided you opt for the five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Stick with the standard six-speed manual and it's three-tenths slower, something about not being able to spool up the boost as efficiently on launch as the auto.
A different 911 Firing up the force-fed engine produces the same raspy exhaust note as any other 911. Grabbing 1st gear, however, doesn't feel so familiar. Standard Porsche shifters are light through the gates, with solid notches at the end of each throw; this one requires shorter but firmer shoves to get from one gear to the next.
The clutch is a little trickier, too. Try dialing your stock broker coming out of your driveway and you'll stall it. We get past that minor hurdle and immediately dip into the throttle to see how 460 lb-ft of torque feels when it's running through 235/35R19 tires in front and 305/30R19 tires in back.
Because the engine develops its peak torque at a low 1,950 rpm, there's no off idle lag, just a diesel-like pull a Kenworth would be proud of. Drop to 2nd or 3rd and you get the same deep reserves of torque that force the digital speedometer to count by fives and tens more often than not. The engine hits full stride between 4,000 and 6,000 rpm with a linear push so strong it feels like you're getting shoved by an Amtrak engine.
More than just horsepower Our Turbo's carbon-ceramic disc brakes are an $8,840 option and aren't really necessary unless you plan on some track time, but after a couple heavy braking zones it feels like they could stop the Turbo and the locomotive pushing us along. And this was after Bill worked them to the edge of lockup for two straight laps.
As expected, the steering was dead-on and the feedback from the suspension made even our maiden laps of Watkins Glen enjoyable. Dialing up the tighter suspension settings makes a noticeable difference, but unless you have the skills to make use of the extra capability, the standard setting feels just as good. This is especially true when we hit the surrounding country roads, as the Sport setting feels jumpy and skittish over rougher roads. Dialed down to its softest settings, however, the Turbo is a legitimate daily driver.
Still the best sports car A decade ago, the 911 Turbo's chief competition consisted of a handful of predominantly Italian exotics, most of which cost twice as much and were half as reliable. The 997 Turbo doesn't have it so easy. Now there are cars like the BMW M6 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage, both of which offer similar performance for less money.
If we could drive like Bill Adam the decision would be easy. The 911 Turbo is a better sports car than its competitors, and when you're on the track its capabilities are astonishing. Then again, we can't drive like Bill and most of our time is spent on the street. We'll take the Turbo anyway.
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