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Friday 21st November 2008


PORSCHE 911 TURBO

Can a rear-engined, six-cylinder Porsche really be called a supercar? PH took one to the Mulberry Supercar Meet to find out...


Despite the gloomy twilight, the yellow 997 Turbo couldn’t have stood out more in the line of Italian exotica. The fact that I had parked it like a blind orang-utan hadn’t helped matters one bit. 

So what was I doing nervously eying a badly-parked Porsche in Hyde Park in the dark on a Sunday morning anyway? Well, two reasons really; firstly I was heading to the Mulberry Supercar Meet, and secondly I was meeting a convoy of supercars to follow down there.


My very presence in the park had thrown up a rather large conundrum. The aforementioned twin-turbocharged 911 that Porsche had kindly lent me just days before was sitting somewhere in the middle of a queue of Ferrari 348s, 355s and 430s, Lamborghini Diablos and Gallardo Superleggeras, quietly questioning the very meaning of the word ‘supercar’.

Then, not one but two Bugatti Veyrons arrived just to make things a little more complicated. You see, the Porsche looks, well it looks a little sensible. It’s sophisticated and low key (even in yellow), and certainly has bags of presence, but where’s the glass-roofed, mid-mounted, V-something? Where’s the lashings of carbon fibre and laughable rear-visibility?

So where does the Porsche fit into all this? With the sun starting to poke through the buildings and trees on the horizon it was time to find out. 20 cars now made up the convoy and we set off for our first destination, the Runnymede Hotel in Egham, just a short blast down the M4.


We were ultimately heading to the Mulberry Pub in Chiddingfold in Surrey and having never done anything like this before I was excited but slightly nervous. Before we left the only instructions we had been given were to ‘not drive too fast and not drive too slow.’ Right, it may have helped if I had a ball-park figure for both.

Heading towards the M4 we had slowed significantly to allow those at the back to rejoin. It’s not often you have to wait for a 253mph Veyron to catch up so I spent the next few minutes admiring my surroundings. The Turbo makes do without annoying compromises, instead treating you to electric leather chairs, sat nav, climate control, an eardrum-splitting Bose stereo, rear seats/luggage space, room, a phone, and pretty much anything else you could ever need.


It’s easy to drive too. With 457lb ft of torque at 1,950rpm you can waft along, accompanied by the distant clatter of the flat-six. But, and this is the bit, if say a Lamborghini Diablo was to come past you in the outside lane of the M4, your options are not limited to a decent sat nav system.

Theoretically, if at this point you decided to squeeze the 911’s floor-mounted throttle it is akin to banging on the gates of hell with a big stick. The Turbo seems to momentarily take a breath to fill its lungs before spitting you down the road at a truly alarming rate. The rear squats down and the steering lightens a touch before the car hunkers down on the tarmac, four-wheel drive system gripping limpet-like to the tarmac.

Outlandish bewinged Italian supercars are left with a yellow Porsche hanging on as if it has fired a grappling hook, eight or 12-cylinders fighting against six. Ease off in the Porsche and you can hear the boost getting dumped out the back, before the flat-six bellows again. The power is addictive and unrelenting, while the 911’s rock solid stance encourages you to use more than perhaps you should.

Before long my rear-view mirror is filled with Veyron, and seconds later I am in a £2million Bugatti sandwich – a scenario that focuses the mind like a quadruple espresso with Red Bull chaser. I let them pass, knowing that I have more than met my match, and soon we arrive in Egham.

I park up in a sea of Ferraris and although the Porsche should be the enemy but it’s already made a reputation for itself. ‘I thought Porsche drivers were rude and inconsiderate, but you’ve changed my mind,’ says one 430-driving woman. I’ll take that as a complement. A yellow Ferrari 456 pulls into the car park, followed closely by an F50. The next stop is Ripley Services on the M3 and after a less eventful run down the M25 we arrive to a mouth-watering selection of metal.


By this point the Porsche is no longer the loan German gatecrasher at a Mafia party – there are 997 GT3 RSs, 996 GT3s, a Carrera GT and the loudest 964 I have ever heard. Not to mention TVR Cerberas, a Ferrari F50 and Enzo, a Ford GT and even an E-Type. In all there must be at least 30 of the finest supercars money can buy here and in half an hour we have created possibly the world’s most expensive Little Chef car park.

The final leg of the journey is the short blast to The Mulberry. Leaving the services gives me another chance to stretch the Turbo’s 472bhp 3.6-litre flat six. While other cars may be fighting to get the power down the car’s four-wheel drive system gives it the neck-jarring take off that you would expect in Japanese rally rockets.

Not a single bhp is lost as the car catapults forward. Once the engine has churned up to 3,000rpm the acceleration is mind-boggling. Only looking at the digital speedo (which is not something I would recommend with foot flat to the floor) gives you a perspective of the velocity gain. Instead of the numbers increasing as they would on a stopwatch they appear to be on some kind of randomiser, your eye catching the odd digit before it dawns on you just how fast you are going. The car may accelerate to 100mph in 8 seconds but it is the way this 1,585kg 911 moves from 65mph that really impresses.


The problem, if it can be called that, is that the Porsche always feels in control, taking anything you throw at it in its stride. There is no twitch or skittishness to tell you to stop. If other supercars are a devil on your shoulder, the 911 Turbo is both devil and angel, and both of them are telling you to push harder.

Peeling off the M3 I get a chance to find out a little more about the 997. This car has the retina detaching carbon ceramic brakes fitted which, although squeaky, never feel like they will fail you.

The feel through the pedal is perfect, asking you to push slightly harder than you would normally but rewarding you with controllable and progressive stopping power. This 911 is a manual, which works just fine thank you, with a short precise feel to the gearbox and an eerily light clutch pedal.

911s like to bob slightly as they ride over bumps and ruts and, especially with ‘Sport’ switched off, this Turbo is no exception. But what may sound odd on a piece of paper or computer screen is strangely endearing on the road, reminding you that this is no ordinary car, with the weight slung over the back. No doubt if this was erased Porsche fans would be up in arms – it’s all part of the experience to put it another clichéd way.


Yes, the Porsche may not feel as frantic and knife edge as certain Italian supercars, but for some that will be one of its great strengths. The 997 Turbo is ruthless in its efficiency, it simply swallows miles and sees off more expensive cars with minimum fuss.

After using the effortless swell of power to despatch some slow moving traffic, and to keep up with the faster moving metal, we arrive at the meet. Or not quite, we reach the tail end of supercar gridlock as millions of pounds worth of metal is fitted into a pub car park. The list is endless: Veyron, then Veyron, then Carrera GT, then Ferrari 400 Convertible, then TVR Sagaris pre-production prototype, Enzo, 599, Ultimas, an Aston DBS, it goes on and on.


After a few hours it is time to head home, and this is when it starts to rain. Perhaps one of the great downsides of the Turbo is the fact its otherworldly grip means you never really get to feel the limits in the dry on public roads. With the rain falling it is possible to coax the tail out in the Porsche although it will only let you take enough of a liberty to tighten the line and cancel any understeer.

The rest of the time you never feel like you have to alter your driving style that much, despite the near monsoon conditions. Switch on the radio and short shift the 911 and it will eat up the miles no matter what the weather.

Offloading some of the work to the car gives me time to think about whether it really does qualify as a full-fat supercar? Well, I’m afraid that one really is down to your point of view. Flick through the pages of certain motoring mags and that’s the section you will find this £99,920 car. You may say there’s not enough cylinders, or the engine’s in the wrong place, but then the same could be said about the Porsche 959, and that’s a supercar isn’t it?

If you expect a supercar to be lairy, scary and have the looks to give small children nightmares then perhaps this car is not for you. If a supercar is about raw ability and supernatural speed then the 911 Turbo cannot be ignored.


 

Author: Oli S