Detroit News auto critic puts the new Porsche 911 turbo through its paces at Thunderhill Raceway Park north of Sacramento.
When Jeep does a media test program they take us to places like Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area south of San Francisco, a sort of boot camp for cars. We tortured a Renegade there last year off sandy cliffs, over rocks and through a cement mixer of water and mud. The subcompact crossover is that tough, even if Joe Suburbia never takes it off asphalt.
When Porsche wants to introduce a new 911 Turbo, they take us to remote locations like Thunderhill Raceway Park north of Sacramento. In August. In 103-degree heat. It’s the “Willows” ramp off Interstate 5, the exit right before “The Fires of Hades.”
Over four hours, we flogged Stuttgart’s latest through four 20-minute sessions over one of the longest (4.6 miles), most punishing closed race courses in North America. This is production car abuse (by comparison, I do three, 20-minute sessions over seven hours in my purpose-built Porsche 906 race car on a typical race day).
Why? So Joe Suburbia knows that his $200,000 Porsche is as fast and reliable as they say it is. Even if the only course it ever comes near is a golf course.
As if 18 LeMans endurance victories weren’t enough proof, Porsche engineers the fastest, most durable sports cars on the planet. And everything they have ever learned is wrapped in a rocketship labeled internally as version 991.2.
The world will know it as the 2017 911 Turbo and Turbo S.
Since its debut in 1973, the Turbo has had the mostest: the most horsepower, most technology, most drivability of any 911. On Thunderhill it didn’t disappoint. Like the 911 Carrera on which it is based, Turbo feels smaller than its 3,527 pounds. Credit German engineering that brews this masterpiece with a tried-and-true recipe: fast-back shape, rear-mounted boxer 6-cylinder, and a rear track wider than a 747.
Then add the latest spices, like a standard all-wheel drive system that rotates the car’s mass through corners with rear-wheel steering. The payoff comes at exit, when you floor — yes, floor — the 3.8-liter engine and all four paws channel its 540-horsepower (580 in the Turbo S) for launch to the next corner. At Thunderhill, I hit 140 mph on the short front straight.
This AWD grip is surely part of what’s driving the mid-engine Corvette’s development because the horsepower arms race shows no sign of letting up. With 650 ponies at its disposal, Chevy needs to move its engine rearward so the front wheels can help manage all that grunt. In the rear-wheel-drive ’Vette, power application can be a hairy enterprise.
In the Turbo it’s pure joy.
Of course, bringing nearly two tons of fury to heel isn’t easy. The Turbo S options massive, 16-inch front carbon-ceramic rotors to do the job. You’ll know them by their yellow six-pot Brembo calipers. And $9,210 price tag. The Turbo’s standard steel rotors are just fine, thank you very much, showing no sign of fade under my 20-minute whippings.
Frankly, if you’re going to put a Porsche through regular track torture, you’ll want a 911 GT-3 RS or the mid-engine Cayman GT4. These nimbler track rats weigh 400-500 pounds less than the Turbo.
But even if the Turbo never sees a track, it packs plenty of thrills for the street.
Begin with “SPORT Response,” an unassuming little button within the Driving Mode dial on the steering wheel. Pushing it unleashes the Hounds of Hell.
Its purpose is akin to IndyCar Racing’s “push-to-pass” mode which boosts horsepower for 10-second passing bursts. In the 911 Turbo, SPORT Response primes the drivetrain for 20 seconds of maximum performance.
Luffing along on the road to Thunderhill, I encountered a conga line of slow traffic. Pressed the button. The automatic tranny instantly dropped from seventh to third gear. Revs spiked to 5,000 rpm. I stomped the throttle and the car shot forward like a greased torpedo. FOOOOMP! I was past the line doing a million miles an hour — and well before my 20 seconds was used up.
Try this in normal driving mode and you’ll feel a moment’s hesitation as the tranny downshifts. In SPORT Response there is no delay, no drivetrain interruption at all. A Porsche engineer explained how this is possible. I didn’t understand a word. Let’s just say it’s Black Magic. And very addictive.
Did I mention the Turbo no longer offers a manual gearshift option? You won’t miss it.
Computer-driven tech like SPORT Response is only possible with modern, lightning-quick, dual-clutch PDK (PDQ would be more appropriate) trannies like that in the Turbo. Sub-100 millisecond gear changes propel the lag-less Turbo from 0-60 mph in a breathtaking 2.6 seconds.
That’s Tesla Ludicrous Mode-like acceleration — but with 430-mile range.
On track I love to row a manual box. But Porsche’s computer is smarter — never missing a shift, never selecting a wrong gear. PDK allows you to concentrate on your line. Off-track, the Turbo is a pussycat — a whisper-quiet, roomy, all-wheel daily driver that will even cut through Michigan snow drifts.
No wonder Porsche race star Hurley Haywood, who led us around Thunderhill at a smart clip, says the 2017 Turbo is the best 911 he’s ever driven.
“And I thought the last generation, 991.1, couldn’t get any better,” the Daytona- and LeMans-winning driver says. “But on the last gen you could feel the rear-drive steering jerk you into a corner, while in the new car it’s seamless.”
You sense some relief in the 68-year old’s voice after driving — and surviving — Porsche race cars for the last 50 years. Including the legendary, 1,100-horsepower, 1973 Porsche 917. “That car was scary,” he concedes.
With all this engineering bravado in the 911 Turbo, I scratch my head at what’s missing in this $200,000 jewel: No voice recognition, no proper cup holders (they still flop out from the dash). Manual transmission aside, these are Porsche’s stubborn nods to tradition. No buttons on the steering column (SPORT Response button is at the end of a stalk). No storage on the console (performance buttons only). No starter button (left key required).
In the $200,000 supercar toy department — McLaren 570, Audi R8 V10, Acura NSX — 911’s tradition is its reputation. The others may look and sound more exotic, but Porsche is betting that after 20 minutes the old lion will still be King of Thunderhill.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2017 Porsche Turbo
Rear-engine, all-wheel drive,
four-passenger sports car
3.8-liter, twin-turbo flat 6-cylinder
Seven-speed, dual-clutch PDK automatic
3,527 pounds (Turbo S as tested)
$160,250 ($192,310 Turbo S as tested)
540 horsepower, 486 pound-feet torque
(Turbo); 580 horsepower, 516 pound-feet
torque (Turbo S)
0-60 mph, 2.6 seconds (Car and Driver);
top speed: 205 mph
EPA 19 mpg city/21 mpg highway/24 mpg combined
Ridiculous acceleration; push-to-pass SPORT
No place to put your phone; I wouldn’t trust those
flimsy cupholders at 1-plus G-loads
Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★