Wednesday 3rd May 2006


997 TURBO

Ian Kuah reckons that Porsche has raised the supercar game to a new level

997 Turbo
997 Turbo

In a dramatic demonstration on a soaking wet Weissach test track recently, Porsche proved two things to us. Firstly, the Tiptronic version of the new 997 Turbo is significantly faster than its 996 Turbo predecessor down the quarter mile sprint. Secondly, it is also fractions faster through the gears than its own six-speed manual twin, a first time ever event for a self-shifting Porsche.

3.7 sec to 100km/h (62mph) for the Tiptronic car is simply astonishing, and while it shades its manual brother by 0.2 sec, it also beats the company's flagship Carrera GT, which clocks an identical 3.9 sec to the manual 997 Turbo with Walter Rohrl behind the wheel. Top speed is 194mph.

PTM

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However, the 997 Turbo's technological density runs much deeper than just sheer power. In a fast lap of Weissach against the 996 Turbo, we found that the new car has discernibly better balance. In line with other 997 models, the suspension has been uprated with PASM, Porsche's electronically controlled active damping system. But the big difference in the handling balance comes from Porsche Traction Management (PTM).

PTM uses a Borg Warner-made viscous clutch, that can open or close in just 100 milliseconds, to shunt power between front and rear axles as required to maintain optimum traction. This clutch also opens instantly to free the axles under ABS activation.

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Installed in the Getrag transmission, this viscous clutch is designed to deliver as much as 100% drive to either axle, although on a dry road under constant throttle, it send 60 percent of the power to the rear axle. The new system is superior in slippery conditions where it helps to reduce understeer without affecting the stability of the car. This was very evident when we were driven around the wet test track on the limit by Porsche's test drivers.

In the Driving Seat

When we got behind the wheel of the new Turbo ourselves a few weeks later, we chose the manual six-speeder, which will still be the enthusiasts choice, especially as Porsche are now offering a special derivative of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyre as factory fitted alternative rubber. Either way, the tyres are 235/35ZR19 and 305/30ZR19 on lightweight 8.5J and 11J x 19-inch alloys.

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First impressions were of a car that has lost none of the low speed docility and polish of its predecessor. If anything, its secondary ride has been enhanced by the PASM active damping in Comfort mode. Porsche has learnt a lot about PASM settings since it first launched this system with the new 997 Carrera, and while the Sport setting is still not our choice for road use, the overall balance is much better and it is no longer over-stiff at the rear relative to the front.

480bhp
480bhp

While the performance numbers look good on paper, it is the potential pace of the new Turbo across real world roads that is most impressive. Massive power is not much fun on a public road if a car suffers from turbo lag. With the new VTG Variable Geometry Turbocharger technology, the 997 Turbo has no lag to speak of. Indeed it is so flexible that you can drive around at low speeds in a high gear when you are feeling lazy.

Overboost!

The counterpoint is that when you do push the accelerator pedal all the way to the carpet, ballistic acceleration is a given. The full extent of this experience is magnified if you specify the optional Sport Chrono pack. Apart from the dubious analogue stopwatch that blights the top of the dashboard, the SCP includes a fortified ECU map that allows 10 seconds of over-boost on full throttle.

While taking the normal 1.0 bar of peak boost to 1.2 bar does not affect the 480bhp that arrives at 6,000rpm, it does add another 60Nm (44 ft-lb) to the already beefy torque curve, resulting in a massive 680Nm (502 ft-lb) on tap between 2,100 and 4,000rpm.

And boy can you feel its effect. The surge forward as the car rockets away down the road is a serious g-force event. In the lower two gears you have to keep your wits about you if you are not to waste time through running into the rev limiter.

The other issue is that this bombastic acceleration is both intoxicating and very addictive, so if you are long on road and short on willpower, you will get through an awful lot of super unleaded!

Braking

Ceramics
Ceramics
The rapid rate at which you can pile on indecent velocity means that your approach speeds to corners will be significant. Here the latest ceramic brakes with their big yellow calipers and awesome stopping power provide a welcome safety net, but you need to remember that even they cannot change the laws of physics.

When you do arrive at a corner, you will find that turn-in is crisper than before, the PTM element of the revised 4WD system allowing the nose to be more pointy. And you can also play with the tail more to balance the car and encourage controlled power oversteer, with the PSM system allowing a reasonable angle of drift if you are smooth enough not to trigger its hand. As with other Porsche's, you can switch it off completely and then it will only come to your aid if you hit the brakes.

Steering

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We have said before that the variable ratio power steering Porsche introduced with the 997 Carrera is amazing because you don't realise it is there. It works just as well on the Turbo and makes fast driving effortless while delivering the kind of communication that Porsche drivers expect, and that means a lot more information about the road surface than is common with today's power-assisted steering systems.

For years, Porsche have proven that their rear-engined 911 platform is versatile enough to address several price and performance points in the market. And at each of these points, each individual model is capable of beating the competition in all-round ability.

£100,000
£100,000

At around £100,000 in the UK, the new Porsche Turbo is not cheap. But this most complete supercar of the lot leaves you with significant money in the bank compared to obvious rivals like the Ferrari F430 and Lamborghini Gallardo.

As has happened countless times before, just when the opposition were catching up, Porsche has put blue sky between its flagship supercar and rivals.