2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S: First Drive04/07/2020
In our most recent Performance Car of the Year test, the staff of this publication crowned the Hyundai Veloster N the winner. My personal ranking, however, put Korea’s best three (and a half) door hatchback in second place, behind the Porsche 992 Carrera S, a vehicle whose only real flaw is that it costs more money than I have: around $130,000 for that test, loaded up with stuff.
Travis Okulski, our editor-in-chief, was able to lap the 992 Carrera S around Thunderhill about a second quicker than I could. We can probably assume Ross Bentley–an R&T contributor, driver coach, and the author of Speed Secrets–could go even quicker, and today’s best racing talents could probably shave more time. The point? Porsche’s middle-of-the-road sports car is already demonstrably faster than me, someone who spends a lot of time on racetracks and in sports cars.
Had the launch of the all-new 992 Turbo S gone as scheduled, Porsche probably would have reminded me of this by having Hurley Haywood, someone equally decorated, or German, guide lead/follow sessions at Laguna Seca in, say, a Macan, while I sweated bullets trying to keep up in a car with a 300 horsepower advantage. Thanks to the coronavirus, I wasn’t awarded the privilege of being shamed on track. Instead, on a rainy morning in March, Porsche awarded yours truly six hours all to myself in a car that won’t be out for a long time. Six hours is a tough amount of time; enough to try to get everything in that you could do with the car, but not enough time that you can just let opportunities come to you.
As I merged onto the freeway, bound for a remote canyon road sixty or so miles outside of L.A., I pointed the nose straight and matted the throttle for maybe four seconds, before coasting out of it and merging. In Porsche’s most powerful 911 Turbo ever, those four seconds, as it turns out, are enough to get you chased down, lit up, pulled over, screamed at, and written up for an alleged enormous number, but not before being threatened with arrest, forcible removal, and impound of my bright-red $223,000 demonstrator. I had traveled 5.2 miles. Even the cop, still seething a shade of Carmine Red more vibrant than my paint, laughed at that statistic. “We had just called in air support. We were sure you stole that car,” he quipped. Yikes.
Porsche’s newest 911 Turbo S, like the last-generation model, is only actually differentiated from lesser models by displacement, not by the presence of turbochargers. If the 991.2’s nomenclature didn’t kill the meaning of the word “Turbo,” Porsche’s Taycan Turbo, a very fast electric vehicle, will certainly bury it now. In Porsche speak, “Turbo” now means very very fast.
The 3.8L flat-six is, according to Porsche, all new and based on the 3.0L units powering the Carrera range. It has a pair of variable geometry turbochargers (VTG), an all-new intake system that reverses the flow of air from the old car to optimize charge cooling, and new charge air coolers, 14 percent larger than before, for an output of 640 horsepower and 590 lb/ft or torque, gains of 60 and 37, respectively, over the outgoing Turbo S. The power is, as you can probably imagine, absolutely absurd, with a cavernous 4,250 RPM available between the torque and horsepower peaks. Having driven the 991 Turbo S, I can assure you that these power gains were totally unnecessary. That car was already obscenely quick. The new car will do 0-60 in 2.6 seconds, according to Porsche, 0-124 in 8.9, run the quarter mile in 10.5, and top out at 205 mph. And considering the source and history, we can safely assume the car will do a couple of tenths quicker than claimed in independent testing. And this is the luxury model; the heaviest fixed-roof 911 in history, 3,636 pounds with a fixed roof according to Porsche. The numbers are still staggering.
And because it’s not a race car, because it’s not a car from Porsche’s GT division with Andreas Preuninger dialing up the motorsport theater to eleven, you probably won’t even feel it. It’s tuned out; the Turbo S is designed for daily use. And if hiding all that extra performance is what they were going for, Porsche has succeeded. On the surface streets, in a morning commute with the cruise control on, in traffic, at idle, and in parking lots, there is zero discernible difference between a Carrera S and a Turbo S. Depending on your intended use case, this could be a good thing. Or a bad thing. Good if you want one car that does it all, bad if you want $100k more curb appeal at Mastro’s.
The breadth of ability Porsche’s PDK gearbox and engine management offer, combined with the extraordinary comfort of the 911’s seating position and layout, mean that more than ever, the only real drawback to using a ten-second Porsche as a daily driver in literally any climate you can think of, is the price tag. The 8-speed dual-clutch unit remains a wonder, as it is the most predictable, repetitive, responsive gearbox on the market. Both seventh and eighth gears are exclusively for fuel economy, as top speed is the redline of sixth. I’m a broken record here, but the “Eco” shift program, the default on startup, just keeps the engine too low. Below a certain threshold, about 1,500 RPM, flat six engines are rough and boggy. Above that, they are incredibly lively and smooth. Eco mode brings out the worst. Simple fix, turn the quick-set control knob on the wheel one click to Sport, and even in automatic mode, it gives the car just enough extra revs to smooth everything out. Porsche is legally obligated to care about that 1 MPG. You, person with $220,000 to spend on a car, are not. Thankfully, at highway speeds, 8th gear does keep the engine just above the bog.
While I would like to spin a tale of extraordinary, Colin McRae-like driving heroics, it wasn’t going to be my day for that. First, the police broke my spirit. Then, it rained in the canyons. Not to say I don’t enjoy the rain; as long as it’s not the first day of rain in a long time, I love a blast up the twisties in an appropriate wet-weather vehicle. Shod in Pirelli PZero Corsa tires, now wider than ever and staggered, with 255/35R20’s at the front and 315/30 R21’s at the rear, the Turbo S displayed exceptional levels of grip and poise, even at big speeds, in both the tight and open sections of the northwestern section of the Angeles National Forest. All 992 series models are wider than the outgoing 991.2, and the Turbo S is the widest of all. It’s 1.65 inches wider at the front and .39 inches wider at the rear than the last Turbo S. It doesn’t seem like much, but that was already pretty big for a sports car. The tradeoff is obvious: interior space, trunk space, visibility, and stability, but it requires a more precise hand on the wheel, as you can’t “run a line” within your lane like you can in an older, smaller car. There is only one line, and you’ve gotta stay on it, otherwise you’re over the double yellow, and YouTube commenters will say you can’t drive.
Right on trend, it’s got heaps of tech to mask its heft: all wheel drive, four wheel steering, which shrinks the turning radius seamlessly, a reprogrammed Porsche Active Stability Management System (PASM), Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), and active aerodynamics. The aerodynamics offer 15 percent more downforce than the outgoing car, 375 LBS of it at 160 MPH. By moving the rear wing (now also used as an air brake) and opening or closing flaps in the nose, the drag coefficient changes from 0.38 in high downforce modes, to 0.33 in normal modes. There is even a new Wet mode, optimizing every setting for grip in the rain. I used it and did not crash, therefore it works. It’s really more for the “get home safe crowd” than the “Senna at Donnington Park” crowd, though. I also drove in Sport mode in the rain, had more fun, and still did not crash, therefore driving school also works. It is neat that Wet mode retracts the front splitter, so you don’t tear it off in puddles, and though I kid, if the rain was bad enough, I would definitely use it.
Folks who remain huffy about heft can check the other new option box: a lightweighting package. By deleting rear seats, swapping for front buckets, and reducing the sound deadening, Porsche will remove 60 pounds from the Turbo S’s cabin. I’m sure the collectors will want that, but for daily use, take a pass and get the comfy seats, which still hold you in place beautifully.
Now, here’s the thing: the 992 Turbo S is ballistically quick. Even on a wet road, the launch control was staggeringly good; brutal acceleration, extraordinary stability, and the car felt unflappable. It even looks fast on video, which is rare. But like I said, even the Carrera S, at $100,000 cheaper, is still a bit faster than I can go. On narrow, winding roads, the limit here is my own bravery and the limits of human eyesight, not the car, which has far, far much more in it. And of course, there are race tracks, all over the world to take any 992, run it hard all day long, drive home, then to work the next morning. If you care about the stopwatch, a Turbo S will be far quicker than a Carrera on track. But it won’t feel different. The torque wave is just taller.
Which is where we reach a problem, a problem Porsche has created. There are too many 911s that, basically, feel the same. It used to be that you had the (naturally aspirated) Carrera, the big power, low redline, torquey, turbocharged dragster “Turbo,” and the motorsport-bred GT cars. Each of these cars offered unique characteristics within the 911 family. Now that the Carrera, Carrera S, GTS, and ‘Turbo’ are all turbocharged, all (for the time being) PDK-equipped, and all, frankly, very fast. The Carrera S runs an 11.3 quarter mile at 125 and tops out at 191. Unless you are literally a professional driver with access to a race track, the Carrera S and Turbo S are, functionally the same speed. And they feel the same. It’s the same song, just played at different volumes.
Back in 2000, this magazine tested the 996 Carrera and 996 Turbo. The Turbo took the Carrera by a full second in the quarter mile, which is still the status quo, but those two cars feel totally different going about that same task. Now, it’s the same thing: turbo shove, burble tunes on the sport exhaust, and the sound of air moving around, rather than the shrieking howl of a naturally aspirated six.
This was what I was thinking right about mile 4.7, as I matted the throttle on that onramp, just six minutes into my drive: “Huh. This feels exactly the same as the Carrera S, but the numbers are going up way faster.” Sitting on the side of the road, an angry cop on either side of me, trying to figure out how not to get the only 992 Turbo S in L.A. sent to the impound, I pondered if the extra $100,000 actually delivered a unique, desirable experience over the Carrera S or 4S, and I lament to say it, but most of the time, it no longer does. It just ratchets up the odds that a pace that feels like nothing at all in my daily driver sports car will be almost stereotypically offensive to those responsible for enforcing our speed laws.
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