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Published: 07/30/2001 - by Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
There are two types of people who will read this story. First, there are the scattered few who really do need information about the 2001 911 Turbo. Robb Report hasn't been sufficient, and important questions need answering. Should you buy this car or a Ferrari 360 Modena? What about an Aston Martin Vanquish? Or should you just forget the whole car thing and buy a Sabre 452 sailboat for your timeshare in Barbados?
Then there's the remaining readership, ranging from 14-year-old boys to mid-level corporate managers who can only afford a 911 Carrera 4. And though I don't know you, simple socioeconomic data and a rough estimate of 911 Turbo availability indicate that you, like me, are part of the unwashed masses. The 911 Turbo is a dream car, a car you aspire to someday see, touch, drive and, yes, maybe own. This story, just like a frosty bottle of Bud, is for you.
Ah, but where to start? Motorbooks.com currently lists 31 books about the 911 plus a handful more concerning Porsche in general. Could there possibly be any more arcane trivia bits left? Is there a cliché out there that has just one or two uses left in it? It's a bit intimidating to write about such a legendary car. As an automotive journalist, getting to drive a 911 Turbo is like being a football player making it to the Super Bowl, or Sylvester finally getting to eat Tweety.
The 911 Turbo has been the ultimate Porsche production car sold in North America since 1975. Untold pages of magazine road tests have extolled their virtues. The new model is the fastest and best-handling ever. Think about that for a second. This car is the pinnacle. It is The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's, a bottle of Dunn 1980 cabernet sauvignon or Star Trek's Wrath of Khan.
Or maybe even a 959. In the mid-1980s, Porsche created a stunning supercar called 959. It not only rewrote all the world records for top speed and acceleration, the car also featured many advanced technologies, such as computer-controlled all-wheel drive, four valves per cylinder, sequential turbochargers, a self-leveling suspension, lightweight body panels and advanced aerodynamics. No supercar before had received so many technology breakthroughs as the 959.
The 959 was never imported into the United States, but it is interesting to compare it to the new 911 Turbo. Both have all-wheel drive, advanced electronics and twin-turbo, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engines generating more than 400 horsepower. European test figures from the '80s indicate that the 959 was slightly faster than the Turbo. But only 230 959s were built, and the asking price was $230,000. For almost identical performance, a 2001 911 Turbo can be picked up at the local Porsche dealer for half the price.
With such similar capabilities, it is surely not coincidence that the 911 Turbo, in the process of being modified from the regular 911 Carrera, takes many design cues from the 959. Up front are three large lower air intakes and unique high intensity discharge xenon headlight clusters (both the low and high beams are HIDs). The new air intakes give the Turbo a droopier appearance than the Carrera, but Porsche says the radiators behind them provide 50 percent more cooling surface.
The rear is even more like the 959, with gaping air scoops integrated into the widened fenders and louvered rear cutouts behind the wheels. The scoops channel air to cool the intercoolers, while the cutouts release air from the turbocharger wastegates. The Turbo also features a two-piece wing, a change from the previous Turbo model's "whale tail" design. The new wing's upper piece automatically rises at speeds above 75 mph.
This would be fascinating stuff normally, but the first time I approached the car, all I could think about was how it costs $114,000. This isn't like road-testing a Hyundai Elantra, which for all practical purposes, is disposable. If something bad happens to the Turbo, I might as well turn in my resignation and sign up for five years of serving cafeteria food at Porsche headquarters.
So it is with some nervousness that I unlock the door and settle myself inside the cockpit. It's a snug fit thanks to the thickly padded seat bolsters. The Turbo's seats are power operated, and there's memory positioning for the driver seat, but the headrests don't adjust and lumbar support isn't standard. I am immediately reminded of the 911 Carrera 4, as the two cars have virtually identical interiors. A center-mounted tach and a speedometer dominate the gauge cluster, with small numbers angrily fighting for space on the speedo's face (you try putting 0 to 200 mph in only a few square inches). Thankfully, there's a small digital speed readout below it.
Small, high-gloss black plastic buttons dot the instrument panel. After some trial-and-error poking (obviously, I'm too smart to bother with the owner's manual) I manage to get familiar with most of the controls. But other than the metal trim on the shifter and doors, I'm rather unimpressed by the interior design. There's not much in terms of storage space (no glovebox), and some of the interior materials are below par for such a high-caliber vehicle.
Is this of any consequence? There's only one way to find out. After a bit of preflight check-in and a mental communiqué to the car gods about no scratches, dings, bent wheels or bird guano, I twist the key. And with that, the power of 415 horses comes to life.
I'd like to tell you that ignition is a rumbling, eye-widening space-shuttle-launch experience. But that's not really the case. The flat six emits a bark and then settles into a normal idle. That's it. Whatever distinctive mechanical chatter remained of the flat six after Porsche went from air- to water-cooling has been muffled by the turbos. Somebody could put me in a VW Jetta GLX with a sport exhaust, and I probably wouldn't know the difference.
But this car certainly isn't a Jetta as I timidly venture out onto city streets. For one, the clutch is heavier and trickier to modulate. Rush it and the car stalls. Fortunately, by applying extra concentration, I manage to avoid this humiliation. And after driving a few blocks, I come to a realization. If you set aside all of the worries about driving a car that costs more than some people's homes, the 911 Turbo is pretty easy to drive. The shifter breezes from gate to gate and the steering twirls easier than any economy car's non-assisted rack. Visibility, with the mirrors adjusted properly, is just as good as a $20,000 sport coupe. Even the engine isn't the truculent beast I thought it would be. Why, my grandmother could drive this car! (Aha! A cliché!)
Indeed, my grandmother could drive a 911 Turbo, and she doesn't even know how to work a stick. For the first time, the Turbo can be had with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. It takes some guts for Porsche to offer a component that the enthusiast community generally regards as highly as Ralph Nader bumper stickers or tree-shaped air fresheners. But check the Turbo's option list and there it is, an advanced Tiptronic S with the sequential shifting mode and steering wheel-mounted shift buttons. From Porsche's standpoint, offering an automatic is only going to help sales, not hurt them, and I'd have to agree.
Ever since its first model, Porsche has designed the 911 Turbo to be a fully equipped grand touring car. The latest version comes with items like leather power seating, heated exterior mirrors and windshield washer nozzles, a trip computer, automatic climate control, a power sunroof and a 10-speaker audio system (a CD player is optional). Porsche also keeps the two flip-up backseats from the Carrera. Yes, they're tiny, and yes, no adult without extensive yoga training would want to sit on them. But they can be used to transport small children, an attribute not found on most of the 911 Turbo's competitors. Buyers with even more cash on hand can spring for options such as GPS navigation, painted body color wheels, special exterior colors, carbon fiber or leather/wood interior trim packages, and aluminum-painted gauge faces.
The grand touring mission also bleeds into the tuning of ride quality. Stiff? Oh, of course. Broken pavement and railroad track crossings are not the 911 Turbo's most favorite pieces of tarmac. The suspension layout is the same as in the 911 Carrera, though the 911 Turbo adopts several parts from 911 GT3 (a normally aspirated, limited-production model not imported to North America). The rear track is wider by 1.57 inches, and spring and shock tuning is even more sport-oriented. Body roll? We don't need no stinkin' body roll. But there is compliance in the suspension, and there's no question that the Turbo could be used to travel long distances.
But what am I going to use it for? I can't quite decide as I wander out onto a major highway heading out of the city. Show it off to friends? Drive it to an expensive restaurant and valet it? Submit to young punks who just saw The Fast and the Furious and think that their 17-second Civics with green paint can race a Turbo? Don't think so. I'm surprised by the amount of recognition the car gets. 911s are as common in Los Angeles as bleach-bottle blondes shopping on Rodeo Drive. Yet motorists' heads swivel, fingers point and jaws slightly drop. They see the scoops, the vents and the 18-inch wheels, and they know exactly what they're looking at.
I burble along the freeway for a bit longer. At cruise, the engine makes itself known, more than the tire roar or wind noise. It's not an unpleasant drone, but nor is it exciting. It's just there. Perhaps I just had high expectations, but I find the engine and exhaust note to be rather disappointing. It lacks the barrel-chested roar of the Corvette Z06 or the high-pitched wail of the Ferrari 360 Modena.
Soulless? Maybe. But short, indulgent squeezes of the throttle release tantalizing bursts of power. The fourth-generation 911 Turbo makes a departure in engine philosophy from its predecessors. Previous models used turbocharged versions of air-cooled Carrera engines. The new engine is not based on the current Carrera. Instead, it is derived from the 3.6-liter engine used in the Porsche GT1 racecar, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998.
Intake air enters through an inlet in the rear spoiler. The turbos then pack air into the engine at a maximum of 26.8 psi, more than double the maximum boost possible in the previous Turbo. Add dual intercoolers, dual overhead camshafts, 24 valves and Porsche's VarioCam Plus system (which alters both valve timing and valve lift) and the result is a magnum load of 415 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 415 pound-feet of torque at 2,700 rpm. The torque peak stays flat until 4,600 rpm.
As with the previous Turbo, power is routed to all four wheels via a viscous multi-plate all-wheel-drive system. The system directs 5 to 40 percent of the torque to the front wheels, depending on available traction and power applied. Porsche says it designed the system to enhance handling mainly on dry road surfaces. The Turbo also comes with Porsche Stability Management, a stability control system. Using data from several sensors, PSM can detect a loss of grip and reduce instability by applying braking to individual wheels and, if necessary, altering engine power. The result is reduced chance of skids and spins due to negligent driver error.
PSM can be deactivated, though there should be an audible warning that says, "Are you sure you want to do this? This car is smarter than you are." I keep PSM on, thank you, and exit the freeway in search of the two-lane roads that cross the Santa Monica Mountains. It takes only a couple turns to appreciate the 911's steering feel and response. Around town, the wheel seemed a bit heavy, but now its weighting is appreciated. Through the steering wheel and body structure, the Turbo opens up a 1-800 hotline, informing me of tire grip and body stability.
Faster now. Full throttle. Paint strips whiz by, the scenery warps, birds scatter and leaves get sucked up into the back draft. First gear is amazingly short, and I need a quick hand to shift at redline. Yanking the lever into second and releasing the clutch is like working the action of a pump shotgun and pulling the trigger. The car explodes forward. Third gear. Still accelerating. I think of Mr. Sulu "Warp six! Warp seven! Warp eight!" as I glance at the flashing digital speedo. This car is stupendously and ridiculously fast.
On tight roads that make the Viper GTS and Corvette Z06 feel like brutish louts with no table manners, the Turbo seeks through with unerring accuracy. Over humps and dips, the all-wheel drive keeps the power under control. The Pirelli P Zero tires seem to meld into the pavement. Fast sweepers, medium corners, tight bends; the 911 relishes them all. Braking is just as swift thanks to the GT1-derived 13-inch rotors and four-piston calipers. Unless your family linage can be matched up with last names like Haywood or Ickx, the 911 Turbo's limits are simply too high for the public road. Owning one of these is like owning every episode of Cheers on VHS. It's complete overkill, but it's nice to know you have it.
Once within the safe confines of our test track, we fire up the instruments and make sure that the Turbo is as fast as it feels. And it is. Zero-to-60 mph takes 4.2 seconds and the quarter-mile whizzes by in 12.7 seconds. Sixty-to-0 mph braking is likewise impressive, with a short distance of 117 feet. As of this writing, the only vehicle we've tested with quicker acceleration times is the Dodge Viper GTS ACR. Porsche might regain the title in 2002; by then the 911 GT2 will be available, with more horsepower and less weight than the Turbo. For more performance testing information and specifications, see our Performance Summary page.
There's little point in discussing buying decisions here. At this level, each car has its own advantages. The Corvette Z06 is the best deal; it offers near identical performance for less than half the price. The Viper GTS ACR is a smidge faster. The 360 Modena is more passionate, and likely a more involving car to own. The 911 Turbo, perhaps due to its sheer competence, seems a little flat. But in the real world with its rain-slicked roads, bad drivers and 6-year-old offspring needing a ride to school the 911 trumps all.
Being a journalist, I know I won't ever make enough money to own one, so the night before the Turbo turns back into a pumpkin (or a minivan, more likely) I take it out for a final drive. It's past midnight, and I'm on one of Los Angeles' ubiquitous multilane highways. A light fog has settled in, misting over L.A.'s illuminated downtown skyscrapers that appear in the side window. The car's xenon headlights reach out, casting a blue-tinted glow.
Despite the early morning hour, there are still numerous cars on the road. People are driving their Hondas, Fords and Toyotas to self-important places. Home? Boyfriend's? Airport? I can only guess. Meanwhile, the Turbo lurks, a reef shark prowling its territory. No radio or CD for me. Just the sound of the tires, wind and engine. On a whim, I drop from sixth to fourth and plant the throttle. The turbos spool, the 911 rushes forth, and we disappear into the darkness. Yes, the legend is intact.
Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says:
Anything with 415 horsepower, all-wheel drive, and a top speed approaching 200 mph is easy to like. But what's amazing is, a lot of Porsche-philes don't like this latest Turbo. "It's too diluted," they whine. "It's not a real Porsche anymore," they moan. Uh-huh, and the latest Corvette is just too capable to be a real sports car, right?
These people need to get over themselves. As someone who still loves the visceral nature of the Viper, I can certainly appreciate the idea of a ragged edge machine. But does a car that coddles you while driving in a restrained manner, yet throttles you when pushed, really deserve the "poseur" label that these folks try to attach to it? The way I see it, if you can drive it everyday with little drama while still dusting almost anything else on the road when the opportunity arises, where's the rub?
Beyond its truly amazing capabilities, I have to comment on the interior design, which doesn't live up to the $110,000 price tag. Stark? Sure, but that's typical in German cars and not really a problem for me. No, the issue I have is with the semi-hard interior panels and the seats that offer limited adjustments. I also don't like the upper seatbacks that tilt away from your back (Porsche could consult with Saab in this department). Better seats are available, but like everything in a 911, they don't come cheap.
Still, this is simply one of the most amazing vehicles currently sold in these United States. I can't afford one, and if I could, I'd likely spend the money on something a little more practical like a house! But I can't begrudge anyone for choosing the 911 Turbo as his or her conveyance. I only begrudge the weenies who think a comfortable, likable vehicle can't also be a real sports car.
Road Test Editor Liz Kim says: I was tapped for a Second Opinion precisely because I'm not a true sports car enthusiast, and would be able to provide the viewpoint of Joe Schmoe from Podunkville seeing the Taj Mahal. Entering the vehicle while somewhat quaking for fear of putting some sort of contusion on the most expensive vehicle I've ever had my hot little hands on, I was determined to drive the 911 as a regular car, and not as the godlike entity that its price tag insisted it was.
Ergonomically, this car isn't for the daily driver the buttons for the stereo and climate control are too tiny, and the glossy switches for the windows remind me of press-on acrylic talons of the local Kmart shopgirl. There's a sunroof but no moonroof option, and the dash is fraught with rattles from various sources. While the covered doorbins barely excuse the lack of a glovebox, a center console that can only be opened by the ignition key was a source of consternation. The throws of the gearshifter are too long, and there were too many strange clicks in the clutch and accelerator pedal. Around town, it's a pretty rough ride. You've got to be ultra-careful over speed bumps; every zit on the road surface is transmitted to the driver.
But once I got it onto the open road, all transgressions were absolved, all faults exonerated. There are very few cars that make me giggle with pleasure, and this car is one of them. From the limpet-like grip of the tires to the innard-resounding exhaust melody, the Porsche seductively implored me to explore its limits; and despite my best (and admittedly limited) ability to do so, I knew that I barely toed the border. Yet it gave back, and generously; it didn't hide its talents, coyly revealing them only to the esoteric few. Que bueno.
Some may balk at the prospect of Porsche's lowering itself to the unwashed masses. Well, don't worry, the price will ensure that no itinerant pleeb will unduly infiltrate the exalted ranks of Porsche ownership.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
"Porsche. There is no substitute." These famous last words were uttered by Tom Cruise's undersexed teenage character in the 1983 movie Risky Business, just before he dumped Dad's car into a lake. When that career-making strip of celluloid was playing in theatres, I was an undersexed teenager working as an usher at Eastland Cinemas on 8 Mile Road in Detroit, intensely watching the Tangerine Dream train scene from the shadows night after night. And though the gold 928 featured in the film was pure exotica to most meat-and-potatoes Midwestern boys, it didn't do much for me.
It took the introduction of the Boxster S to make me think of Porsches as more than overcompensation for deficiencies in other areas of the owner's life. Now that I've spent some quality time with the new 911 Turbo, I won't be able dismiss Porsches as mere icons of wealth and power flaunted by nouveau riche weenies who otherwise couldn't land a date with two tickets to Paris and a $25,000 Visa Gold credit limit.
The 911 Turbo is flat-out exhilarating. More fun than a Mustang Cobra R. More refined than a Corvette Z06. More intense than a Dodge Viper. More alluring than a Jaguar XKR. More fleet-of-foot than an Acura NSX. A better rush than any pharmaceutical and without the pesky side effects.
Tarmac instantly blurs between the bulging front fenders as you blaze through a short first gear with your head plastered to the front seatback. Shift quickly before the rev limiter kills the fun (it's a rather long throw, but you barely notice or care), and 60 mph comes and goes with blinding speed. Hey, the 911 Turbo is just getting warmed up. Blast into third (careful, don't miss the shift), and you're into triple-digits, the car racing toward the horizon. Grab fourth and the car continues to build ridiculous amounts of velocity, seemingly invincible to aerodynamic drag. Then, before you get in over your head, it's time to stab the brakes, meaty suckers that require a strong application of the communicative brake pedal. The binders retard forward motion almost as brilliantly as the blown six-cylinder motor builds power.
Now mix in a curvy road, where the Turbo's needle-sharp steering, seamless all-wheel-drive system and steamroller Pirelli P Zero tires come into play, and the real fun begins. You've got to push this car hard to get it out of balance, and even if you do, Porsche Stability Management is there to rescue you (unless you've unwisely shut it off thinking you're more capable than the software). Without question, this is the greatest sports car I've ever had the privilege of driving.
If you want to know about the sun glare on the dials, the heavy clutch and tricky gear engagement, the cheap-feeling interior materials, the fussy stereo design or the number of surgically -augmented babes that leered at me during a ride through Santa Monica at lunch hour, you're reading this story for the wrong reasons. Get your head on straight.
Porsche. In the case of the 911 Turbo, there really is no substitute.
System Score: 7.25
Components: This system consists of a pair of dashboard-mounted midrange-tweeter combination speakers that fire directly up into the windshield. An identical pair of midrange-tweet combos grace the rear quarter-panels. These are coupled to a pair of 6.5-inch woofers in the doors, which produce thundering bass. The speakers are powered by a significant power amplifier, which gives this system excellent sound.
The radio, however, is the one of the worst designs I've seen. The preset buttons are miniscule and have no spacing between them, making it difficult to choose stations with any certainty a major problem considering how fast you'll be moving in this vehicle. A row of buttons along the top of the faceplate have strange markings and letterings (German hieroglyphics?), most of which do little to clue you into their function. I found the radio confusing and difficult to use, and I marked off heavily for ergonomics and lack of user-friendliness. A six-disc CD changer occupies the trunk, although it took a while for us to figure out how to engage it, since nowhere on the faceplate does it say "CD." A cassette player is hidden behind the faceplate, which folds down when a button is pressed.
The system also offers a number of preset EQ curves, such as "Rock," "Pop" and "Classical," (including three memory settings of your own), in a panel at the bottom of the center stack. This set of controls boasts DSP circuitry, as well.
One funky touch: a black plastic pop-out cassette holder (which holds only four cassettes) occupies the space immediately below the head unit. This is made of the cheapest, flimsiest plastic you can imagine. We popped one out while traveling at a high rate of speed, and it jiggled around like Richard Simmons doing an exercise video which prompts a couple of questions: Why does Porsche put such chintzy stuff in a $120,000-plus car? And who listens to cassettes anymore?
Performance: This is an aggressive-sounding stereo system. The bass is thunderous and just plain loud. The highs are soaring and assertive. It's the perfect system for getting out on the road and cruising, the faster the better. Everything is perfect in this system except for the overly aggressive midrange. Because the mids and tweets are positioned in the dash directly in front of the passengers, reflecting off the windshield glass and into the passenger compartment, and because glass is a very acoustically "bright" material, you're left with a system that just about tears your head off with its sound. This in itself is not a problem, and a lot of headbangers will love banging their heads with this system; but for those of you with a more refined sensibility, you'll want to adjust the tone controls or play with the preset EQ curves, which are precariously located at the bottom of the center stack, behind the gear shift (precarious because you'll be going so fast in this car, you shouldn't be looking down there). All in all, though, because this system is so loud, it's a superb companion to the 911 powertrain.
Oh, one other thing. We noticed a loss of FM signal when we cruised the canyons. Although some of this is expected, it seemed excessive to us.
Best Feature: Loud and proud.
Worst Feature: Funky head unit.
Conclusion: If you like your music as aggressive as second and third gear in this car, this may be the perfect sound system for you.
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