Tell Me I'm Wrong: Porsche 911 Turbo

Taking aim at a car as iconic as the 911 Turbo is, even within the context of Tell Me I’m Wrong, a bold move. The clue is in the title though and the invitation to tell me I’m full of it is open and just a click away. But at least let me have my say first!

Quick, slow, quick, quick, slow...
Quick, slow, quick, quick, slow...
Now, the beauty of the 911 is that it can be had in any number of different flavours to suit different tastes. Such is the adaptability of the basic package – and Porsche’s long practised ability to monetise it – that you could argue that ‘911’ describes a standalone class of car, rather than a single model with lots of derivatives.

The person, for instance, who buys a two-pedal 4S Cabriolet is likely to have very, very different tastes to the one who buys a track-prepped GT3 variant full of scaffolding and with a loyalty card at the Pistenklause in the glovebox. If only they did such a thing.

I’m talking sweeping generalisations here as someone will no doubt pop up and say “I’ve had both!” below but work with me here. They’re different cars aimed at different people and this isn’t a value judgement about who’s right or wrong.

Turbo used to equal scary but not any more
Turbo used to equal scary but not any more
Simple pleasures
I’ll put my cards on the table and say my personal tastes in 911 are pretty simple. Coupe, manual gearbox, two-wheel drive and normally aspirated. It could be a base Carrera or a GT3 but those are my lines in the sand.

So what’s the beef with Turbos? Taste is the recurring theme here and, speaking personally, I’ve just never quite gelled with turbocharged 911s.

True, I’ve never driven a ‘proper’ one. And I’d very much like to, the shadow cast by its trademark whaletail over everything that followed impossible to avoid.

But since the Turbo grew up and got civilised it’s seemed to me to get just a little bit one-dimensional and too obsessed with the numbers and status game.

Can 500hp really be too civilised?
Can 500hp really be too civilised?
Fair enough, Porsche has hardly got lazy or complacent and from variable vane turbos to 500hp-plus as a viable proposition for daily transport the Turbo’s ability to make extraordinary performance feel ordinary is, for me, the heart of the issue.

First impressions
I should be more grateful. A 996 Turbo was the first Porsche I ever drove around the Nordschleife after the owner more or less forced me to do so. We’d bumped into him somewhere in Belgium at a petrol station, he correctly guessing the R26.R we were in was headed for the Eifel and asking if we knew the way because his sat-nav was saying ‘Nuremberg’ was a lot further away than he’d thought it was.

His car had been tweaked and was pushing out something north of 500hp by all accounts but what should have been a dream realised – my first 911 on the ’ring – turned out to be a little bit disappointing.

Anything more than an on-off switch?
Anything more than an on-off switch?
Sure, it went well. But the beige leather and polished wood inside was incongruous but a neat metaphor for the way it handled. What I’d hoped would be a glorious, seamless flow of Nurburgring joy was instead a join the dots exercise of violent bursts of acceleration punctuated by vague and woolly tip toeing around corners. It was a hugely generous gesture on his part and a box ticked on the old bucket list but not quite the experience I’d hoped for. Saying that 996 Turbos now represent a dangerously tempting proposition in the classifieds for the price of a GT86 or hot hatch of your choosing.

A few years later I got my first drive in a 911 HUL, and another box ticked on the lifelong ambitions list. ‘My’ 911 HUL was a yellow PDK’d 997 Turbo on centre locks and ceramic brakes – pretty much a disarmingly casual shrug from Porsche as a riposte to Mizuno-san and his team’s years of obsessive development withthe GT-R. A much, much more resolved and capable car than that 996, the 997 answered all the rational dynamic questions you could throw at turbocharged 911s. And yet…

Speed ain't the problem, it's how it gets there
Speed ain't the problem, it's how it gets there
Top Trumps
The issue? All it did was swap small numbers on the speedo for big ones. Reallybig ones. Great for ‘mine’s faster than yours’ bragging rights. But whereas each 5mph increment on a GT3, every number passed on the rev counter and every twitch and shimmy is a rich, sensory experience I found the Turbo’s lack of transition between slow and stupidly fast left me totally cold. I guess it’s about whether you’re out to enjoy the journey or the destination and the way a normally aspirated 911 accelerates is as much about the former as it is the latter. The Turbo is so quick you just miss out on it completely.

And though much, much more capable through the corners than ever before you just get the sense in a Turbo that turns are just mildly inconvenient interruptions before the next opportunity to deploy ludicrous acceleration. Not something to be savoured.

It’s hugely impressive. But when even a straightforward in-gear overtake could see you swap a clean licence for a jail term in the blink of an eye and without really thinking about it you do begin to wonder. Too clinical and too fast to be fun perhaps?

Standard Turbo too slick? Here's the answer
Standard Turbo too slick? Here's the answer
There is one major elephant in the room here and it’s got ‘GT2’stamped on its rump. I’ve never driven one and therein may lay the holy grail of lunatic Turbo performance and the sense of participation you get with the more raw 911s of old. We’ll see as and when it happens.

But as we sit in anticipation for the 991 to spawn its more extreme variants I know which one I’m more excited by. And it won’t be the Turbo.

3,800cc flat-6, twin-turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual/7-speed dual-clutch auto (PDK), 4-wheel drivePower (hp): 500@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft):479@1,950rpm (516@2,100rpm with optional Sport Chrono overboost)
0-62mph:  3.7 sec*
Top speed: 193mph*
Weight: 1,570kg*
MPG: 24.3mpg* (NEDC combined)
CO2: 272g/km*
Price: £101,823

*All stats for standard manual car; performance differs according to transmission and/or Sport Chrono options

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (228) Join the discussion on the forum

  • AMG Merc 23 Nov 2014

    Petrolicious said:
    All 911T's are exciting and massively capable.
    Agreed. I'd also suggest that there are very few, if any, other contendors for a totally 'all-round/every-day-of-the-year sport car' out there.

  • Petrolicious 23 Nov 2014

    Definitely wrong. All 911T's are exciting and massively capable. The fact their limits are beyond most drivers doesn't make them boring, if anything it pushes you to get the skills to exploit them!

  • Por911T 21 Nov 2014

    I've just moved from 2yr 997 turbo ownership into a GT3 RS..............all of a sudden IM ALIVE !!!!

    The editorial is 100% accurate the turbo left me cold - oh turbo I tried to love you !

  • duke911 15 Nov 2014

    Fu_k me I nearly fell asleep reading that,sounds as if you are not a 911 man,everyone to there own I say.I agree these days cars are much quicker but feel slower because of all the woolly bits added to make it a nicer place to be all day long.If you want to drive something then you need to be in a TVR or GT3 Lotus Elise etc. these cars have to be driven and not sat in.I believe that you can get as much fun in an old loud car these days than a modern quick car,but for everyday driving the newer car always wins so you need that sunday car tucked away in the back of the garage for that day when you just want to drive...

  • Gary C 09 Nov 2014

    BIRMA said:
    Carl_Docklands said:
    MarkPhillipson said:
    Dave Hedgehog said:
    thepony said:

    This is just pure publicity stunt to get more viewers and audience on to the website to comment on this article.

    Wonder what's next the BMW M3 ?
    very much so, its getting very silly now

    what next the Zonda R is ste cause it only does 5mpg whilst hot lapping the ring??

    The mclaren F1 is useless because you cant get 4 child seats in it?
    Mr Hedgehog misses the point entirely here. The whole premise of the article was NOT that the 911 Turbo may be fast but is impracticable but rather it is very fast but not that much fun. The writer brilliantly encapsulates my own experience of having had a 996 C4 and thinking the Turbo version would be very similar but even more so. It was not. I never got on with it for exactly the same reasons that he gives. Straightline speed can put a smile on your face for a brief drive or two but quickly palls - it is almost too fast to enjoy the acceleration. I realise that this sounds strange but it was true for me. With the money from selling the Turbo I now have another 996 C4 and a 964 C4 Cabrio, both of which I love and are fun even when not flat out. QED. (I also have a 156 GTa).
    The counter argument though, is what makes the 997 C4 better at 30-40mph driving than a 997 Turbo?

    Nobody has really nailed a good reason for it other than the exhaust note.

    My Turbo remains off boost for most of the time, it acts like a 3.8 NA car as I use the throttle lightly. It will only start to hit boost if the throttle travel hits a certain degree angle.

    In this context, I don't see how the car can be classed as overpowered.

    I am perfectly happy tootling around in this manner, the Turbo is a big pussycat and will not bite your head off. The car gives you options, you can choose to dip into it as the situation demands. Normal driving during the week, head down to Brands at the weekends.

    Flat-out in the dry, the straight-line pace is approximate to a 458 Italia. I don't really see why the Turbo is being singled out for it's speed when there are other cars out there just as quick.
    I think you've nailed it there Carl, and it's one of the reasons when I decide to move my Boxster on I will buy one. Having tried countless other cars over the past 5 years or so the 911 Turbo has always comes out as my preferred choice. Being a tight git I will buy one that is about 4-5 years old from new because at that point they are a secondhand bargain.
    The turbo 997 is an amazing car. Drove one on a track and it was fast (obviously) but the gt3 was more 'fun'. Not something I can put my finger on but the turbo was almost better than I was. The gt3 felt similar in some ways to my carrera in that you have to work the chassis. For example you have to shade the brake in the right circumstances to get the weight to transfer to sharpen the turn in, never felt that in the turbo, it just went fast, gripped and went faster again.

    If you put the keys to both a gt3 and a turbo in front of me, it would be the gt3 but then it would be just a fun car. if it had to be a daily driver, not sure much would improve on the turbo.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment