Born out of the high stakes innovation of CAN-AM racing, the original Porsche 911 Turbo became an automotive icon the moment it rolled off the production line in 1975 – though back then, it was officially known as the Porsche 930.
Armed with a 3.0-litre single turbocharged and air-cooled flat-six putting out 260hp (194kW), it was one of the world’s fastest production cars able to go from zero to 100km/h in 5.5 seconds. Top speed was 246km/h.
Fast forward 41 years and five generations of evolution, and the latest incarnation of Porsche’s flagship sports car is still called the 911 Turbo, only these days there’s an even faster version, which adds an ‘S’ to the storied Turbo nameplate.
Mind you, it’s another example of how the whole Porsche Turbo thing has become a tad scrambled of late, as almost all new 911s will be turbocharged.
Forced to downsize engine displacement by ever-tightening global emissions regulations, the 911 family (with the exception of the truly hardcore GT3 and GT3 RS), will use a new-generation 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat-six Boxer engine, which replaces the naturally aspirated 3.4- and 3.8-litre units on the outgoing models.
Thankfully, the full-strength 911 Turbo and Turbo S continue with the twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre horizontally opposed six-cylinder petrol engine, albeit a reworked Euro 6-compatible version of the previous unit. Together with changes such as a redesigned fuel-injection system, revised inlet ports and new 58mm variable geometry turbochargers (for the Turbo S) have produced a devastatingly effective powertrain with even more performance.
It’s not like anyone who drove the previous 991-series 911 Turbo ever stepped out of the car and complained to Porsche that it needed more. On the contrary, this was a car capable of scary performance – on and off the track.
But some say the 911 Turbo’s iconic status is under threat from the new kids on the block, like the ferociously quick Audi R8 and the formidable McLaren 570S, both of which have provided incentive enough for Porsche to update the model just three years after launching the 991 series 911.
At a glance it might not look any different from the outgoing model except for a nip and tuck here and there, including new front and rear bumpers, new LED lights, new door handles, new wheels and a different engine lid grille incorporating vertical veins rather than the classically-styled horizontal ones.
It’s the same light touch inside. There’s a new 918-inspired steering wheel, with what feels like a made-to-measure rim size, as well as Porsche’s all-new PCM entertainment system incorporating the easy-to-use Apple CarPlay.
But the 2016 911 Turbo S takes the performance stakes to a whole new level, if you believe the factory claims – and who wouldn’t?
Porsche isn’t known for overstating its performance claims – rather for understating them, to the tune of several tenths of a second. But bragging rights have never been so important in this rarefied segment and Porsche has plenty to crow about with the new Turbo models, especially the monster-powered ‘S’.
Consider the headline figures: 427kW and 750Nm at 2250-4000rpm (397kW/700Nm for the Turbo). It’s also the first 911 ever to crack three seconds for the benchmark zero to 100km/h sprint, though Porsche works driver Jorg Bergmeister reckons it’s good for 2.6 seconds. It will also launch from 0-160km/h in just 6.5secs and 0-200km/h in 9.9secs. Acceleration on the fly is even mightier; 80-120km/h in a blistering 1.8 seconds flat.
But the 911 Turbo family has always delivered so much more than straight-up big speeds, its reputation as a reliable, everyday supercar that feels every bit at home on the road as it does on a race circuit is well deserved, which is why we’ve arrived at the newly restored Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Johannesburg, South Africa, via a painfully slow peak hour commute on some pretty average roads in need of the same restoration as the track.
For a supercar capable of such ballistic all-round performance, you simply don’t expect the level of ride comfort this veritable supercar delivers over dreadfully uneven road surfaces.
It comes down to the 911’s sophisticated chassis technology, like the Porsche Adaptive Suspension Management (PASM) that adjusts the dampers between Normal and Sport. Normal is what you want for the slow-going daily commute, which irons out all but the largest of bumps. Wind it up in Sport though, and almost immediately you feel even the smallest impacts, but the tradeoff is that the car feels sharper and more tied down.
Then there’s the super-refined seven-speed PDK transmission driving all four wheels, which produces imperceptible gear changes even in bumper-to-bumper traffic where other systems get the jitters. It’s only when you’re at punishing pace on track in the most aggressive shift mode that you feel the gearbox punch into the next gear. Take it from me; this is the world’s best dual-clutch transmission, period.
Just when you think that the 911 Turbo is perhaps more GT than an outright sports car, like the still naturally aspirated GT3, it does things on a track that leave you gob-smacked – like keeping up with a GT3 RS being driven by a Porsche works driver (though he was driving with only one hand, while communicating with two-way radio with the other).
In this case it’s much less about the driver and much more about the engineering. Torque hasn’t actually increased by a single Newton-metre over the previous car despite adding new turbochargers and larger compressors, which have boosted power by 15kW.
But both Turbo models now have a dynamic boost function that sharpens engine response by keeping the throttle open and turbines spinning even when you come off the throttle. Get back on the throttle, and there’s next to no lag and a serious shot of acceleration to boot. Mind it’s still miraculously refined even when you’re able to unleash its full power, as we did at Kyalami.
To make matters more challenging for the Turbo, the track surrounds aren’t quite finished, resulting in several mini rivers running across key apexes of what is a naturally fast circuit. But again, the revised all-wheel-drive system and rear axle steering means the 911 Turbo is able to properly annihilate these sections, as if they were bone dry. This kind of mental pace on a partially wet track in a stock road car is enough to leave you speechless, as it did me.
It’s not just the hooligan speeds, either. Lap after lap, I kept thinking to myself, “I can go harder through that corner, turn in earlier, no need to lift off, just get on the power and drill it”, and the car would obey. This is one supercar that rewards the brave with considerable interest, though it’s not an exceptionally demanding car to drive, even at the limit.
It’s also where you start to feel the benefits from the incremental changes made to the chassis. Even when you think you’re approaching a corner too hot and there’s a nerve-rattling wiggle from the rear end (particularly on the wet sections), there’s just so much grip from the super-wide Pirelli P Zeros that you’re able to power out with all the confidence in the world.
But should you want more, the Turbo twins can deliver. Push the button in the centre of the 918-inspired steering wheel and you’ll activate Sport Response, which primes the engine for 20 seconds of max boost when you ever need to overtake a road train in the Pilbara.
The brakes, too, are stupendous in their ability to rein in the 911 Turbo’s colossal straight-line speeds, yet seemingly without fade, and regardless of the two brake set-ups used. The Turbo gets 380mm iron discs all-round with six/four pistons front/rear, while the Turbo S scores massive 410mm/390mm ceramic composite discs with the same six/four piston set up.
Beyond the heralded performance gains, the 911 has always held the upper hand against its numerous rivals when it comes to usability, and the new Turbo is no exception. There’s plenty of luggage space in the front storage alone, while the rear seats (as small as they are) ensure you can at least pick your kids up from school.
It might only be a refresh, but the increased power and tech updates for the flagship 911 means that the Turbo will continue as one of the most revered and desirable cars on the planet. No doubt about it.
Key specifications and pricing
Model: 911 Turbo
0-100km/h: 3.0 seconds
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo, flat six
Top speed: 320km/h
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch, four-wheel drive
Price: $384,900 (Coupe)
Model: 911 Turbo S
0-100km/h: 2.9 seconds
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo, flat-six
Top speed: 330km/h
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch, four-wheel drive
Price: $456,500 (Coupe)