The Perfect Storm
"No! You did it again. Never let the car roll." That's what Mike den Tandt, my 20-something German instrukteur, said as we caught the tail of the 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo with much more than a dab of opposite lock.
He was right, because we were doing it wrong. In our misguided effort to drive the new Turbo into the corners as smoothly as possible here, we were being too gentle and too timid. It appeared the only way to drive the new 500-horsepower all-wheel-drive 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo would be to grab it by the scruff of its neck and throw it past the apex on the gas, and always on the gas. Slow-in, fast-out. It is, and always has been, "The Porsche Way."
He continued, "Nixt co-nah, brick ha-dah, off szoon-ah, then kvickly on zeh gaz. Don't let it roll — and you just missed the second apex! Tell me agin vhat you do for a living?"
That's pretty much how our first-ever lap of the 2.7-mile Autódromo do Estoril circuit in Portugal went in the seventh-generation $133,775 911 Turbo. Our instructor seemed happy that the Porsche Stability Management (PSM), also known as "Physician Survival Mode" system was keeping a watchful eye on the attitude of the car, even with the racetrack-tuned "Sport Plus" button selected.
Den Tandt admitted later with a chuckle that there was a very good reason the exceptionally capable car felt like a two-legged stool. He had immolated the car's 305/30ZR19 Bridgestone RE050A rear tires all morning long; first for the 10-plus passes for sideways, smoke-billowing video footage and again for our amusement as a passenger.
His tire-shredding session had essentially re-vulcanized the tires and, as the standard tire-pressure monitoring display revealed, had also pumped the rear tire pressures to over 50 psi. "Ya, this definitely changed the attitude of zeh kah for you," confessed den Tandt, laughing.
For our second day of lapping at Estoril, we found a brand-new set of rear tires (about $350 each) on the very same car. We also discovered the car's dynamics completely transformed for the better.
The Perfect Storm
In many ways, the 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo represents a perfect storm. A whole set of disparate components and technologies have been floating around in the Porsche-sphere, either in racecars or production cars, and now combining them for the first time has produced a tempest that's ready to wreak havoc on unsuspecting adversaries of the 911 Turbo.
The Turbo's squall is fueled by bulletproof components borrowed from and modified by decades of endurance racing, clean and efficient technologies perfected in modern laboratories and all bolted together with care and by hand in Zuffenhausen (right alongside factory racecars), just as every 911 Turbo has been since the iconic model's inception. In 1974, Porsche released the first series-production car with a turbocharger, and the supercar world has never been the same.
This is, without a doubt, the fastest, best-handling and most technologically advanced Porsche 911 Turbo in the car's illustrious 35-year history.
Fuel for the Storm
At the heart of the Turbo's perfect storm is a power plant that makes an astounding 132 hp with each liter of displacement, or 83.3 hp per cylinder. Each cylinder is slightly smaller than the size of a typical 750ml bottle of wine and yet a six-pack makes 500 hp and 516 pound-feet of torque when equipped with the Sport Chrono Turbo package's overboost feature (without this option, the output is 479 lb-ft).
Based on the recently released 3.8-liter flat-6 in the 2009 911 Carrera S, the new twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine in the Turbo is essentially a brand-new unit from the bottom up. While variable turbine geometry (VTG) debuted on the six-gen 997-I Turbo (2006-'09), the new 997-II Turbo's closed-deck block now features direct fuel injection (DFI), first used on the V8-powered 2008 Cayenne.
Also new is the Turbo engine's use of an integrated dry-sump oil lubrication system with six oil-scavenge pumps, first seen on the water-cooled 911s in 1999 but never on the 911 Turbo. The expansion intake manifold that effectively cools the air before it enters the turbochargers themselves appeared on the mega-turbocharged 530-hp 2008 911 GT2.
Despite all the extra output, Porsche claims the 2010 911 Turbo's engine is 16 percent more fuel-efficient than last year and will thus be exempt from our gas-guzzler tax.
This year, Porsche introduced dynamic engine mounts on its 911 GT3. These electronically controlled units allow the engine to gently wiggle relative to the body for better isolation, or alternately to firm up for crisper response. Sold separately on the GT3, they are but one element of the Turbo's $3,830 Sport Chrono package.
And Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) two-position dampers make a comeback for the 2010 Turbo. One change, however, is that PASM now has less to deal with in the rear of the car because the suspension acts on an aluminum (not steel) subframe for the rear suspension, a feature made possible by the car's optional automated-manual transmission, the PDK.
The Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) transmission began providing seamless and lightning-quick shifts in the last iteration of the Porsche 962 endurance-racing cars. In its debut in the 2009 Porsche 911, the seven-speed PDK was shifted with either a lever on the center console or buttons on the spokes of its steering wheel. For an extra $490, the 911 Turbo offers more traditional shift paddles affixed to a unique steering wheel. Rendered in cast zinc, the left paddle downshifts and the right one upshifts (and there has been much rejoicing).
A six-speed manual transmission is still standard equipment, and the PDK will run you a worthwhile $4,550. But to be honest, the several programming maps for the PDK's automatic shifts are so intelligent that we left it in Drive for almost the entire time and were never disappointed. The programming in Drive does, however, allow for a temporary override by allowing you to simply pull a paddle, or you can kick the console shifter over for full manual mode.
Getting the Power Down
The center differential distributing power between the front and rear tires has been an electronically controlled clutch-pack unit (rather than a viscous coupling) since the introduction of the 997-I Turbo in 2006. The unit has been beefed up and updated for smoother and quicker operation in the more powerful 2010 Turbo, but there's a brand-new bit of optional tech at the rear of the 997-II Turbo.
Porsche calls it Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV). By its name alone, Porsche had us thinking PTV would be an active system supplying variable amounts of power to right- or left-side wheels. The system actually uses brake intervention in certain corners on the inside rear wheel at speeds up to 160 km/h (99 mph), sending power back through the limited-slip differential to the outside wheel.
For one thing, we've criticized similar systems on everything from a Lexus IS-F (since addressed) to Dodge Challenger SRT8 (also addressed). Granted, neither of those cars had the sophisticated limited-slip of the 911 Turbo and needed something to keep from spinning a rear tire exiting a corner, but it still makes us cringe to think that applying a brake to go faster makes sense — especially in an all-wheel-drive Porsche 911 Turbo.
Nevertheless, we suspect PTV was probably one of the elements that contributed to Porsche's recent claim of lopping 10 seconds off the previous 911 Turbo's lap time around the Nürburgring Nordschleife, but we're sure there were other things at work as well.
Back on Track
So what did all this hardware and software do to the new 911 Turbo after its lovingly roasted rear tires had been replaced? It was as if they had replaced the entire car.
On our out lap, we kept hearing den Tandt's voice in our head: "Never let the car roll!" After just a half lap, we were indeed on the gas szoon-ah, and finding the rear of the car remained planted and trustworthy, unlike before. We were braking much deeper and harder, and carrying far more speed past each of the apexes of the 13 corners.
On the gas past each apex, "the Porsche Way" was definitely working to keep the car happily planted and pointed in the right direction. True, oversteer still could be provoked on a tricky left-right flick, but the car wasn't threatening to spin as it was with tattered tires. Sure, a midcorner lift/stab at the throttle made the car twitch, but that's because it was being upset.
On the exits, we could feel the Turbo's awesome torque shove the earth behind the car with giant lurching steps. This was especially true on the tighter corners where the all-wheel drive (and presumably torque vectoring) could be exploited.
So confident was the car that on the 0.62-mile-long front straight, we clenched our jaw and saw 155 mph right before standing on the brakes for Turn 1. Turns out we could've gone deeper, because the lack of the optional $8,840 carbon-ceramic brakes on our test car didn't seem to matter much. The standard 14-inch ventilated and cross-drilled steel discs front and rear proved their mettle and withstood 10-plus hot laps. True, the pedal grew a little softer, but the brakes are tremendously powerful and obviously dissipate heat well.
The PDK transmission works like magic. Every upshift was so quick it never upset the car — even midcorner on giant Parabolica Ayrton Senna (about 300-foot radius) when all four tires were howling at about 90 mph. Nearly imperceptible, automatic rev-matching downshifts came at the right time. We love the real shift paddles and the bespoke steering wheel, but it turns out you don't really need them. Like the Nissan GT-R, the 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo is faster in Drive.
Only after an entire day of pushing the car to its limits did the front tires (not the rears) begin to influence the behavior of the car when it began to exhibit very mild understeer.
After the Storm, a Masterpiece of Speed
Two important things surfaced regarding the 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo after two days in Portugal. First, and this might be an obvious one, the health of the tires — especially the rears — contributes to or detracts immensely from the performance of the car when pushed to its absolute limits. If the tires are shot, the Turbo can make you feel heroic in one moment and moronic the next.
Second, Porsche has once again built the ultimate everyday supercar. Our meandering trips to and from the racetrack on assorted A and B roads proved the seat comfort, suspension tuning, PDK transmission programming and updated navigation system were better suited to a daily slog than a brittle Nissan GT-R, a loud and flamboyant Lamborghini Gallardo or even a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. The only car that might be as well rounded a supercar would be Audi R8 5.2 FSI, but try to take Ironman's car to the Gas 'n Sip without drawing a crowd.
In other words, The 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo is everything we expected it to be and more: more comfortable, more powerful, more capable, more fuel-efficient and only a little more expensive. Sometimes, a Perfect Storm arrives at just the right time. Long may it reign.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.