No supercar has been quite as enduring in purpose or as universally sought as the Porsche 911 Turbo.
The headlining 911 rewrote the performance car rule book when it first appeared in 1974 running a rear-mounted turbocharged six-cylinder boxer engine and wearing a signature whale-tail rear spoiler. Ever since, the German car maker has worked hard to refine the fundamental engineering formula of the original model, if with the odd change in philosophy along the way.
It replaces the facelifted version of the 991 series 911 Turbo launched here in 2016, and it comes at a time when Porsche, with a record number of new combustion engine and pure electric models in the pipeline, appears to be very much at the top of its game.
Even before we had the chance to pore over the latest 911 Turbo up close in the car park of Porsche’s traditional Zuffenhausen headquarters in Germany, the new 2020 model had already courted controversy. But that’s hardly a surprise: a cornerstone of its visual appeal has long been its added width over standard 911 models.
But, in early photos this new one seemed to be pushing the boundaries of what was possible without completely upsetting its classic design and the visual traits that have characterised it through the years.
In headlining S guise, it looks familiarly purposeful and muscular in the metal with lines that draw from the model it replaces but with new detailing, most notably to the round LED headlamps and new full-width tail lamp.
And, yes, it is wider than ever – some 48mm wider than the new 911 Carrera, no less. Although the 2020 model is based on the same platform as its predecessor with a 2450mm wheelbase, its aluminium body has been increased in width by 45mm across the front axle and by 20mm at the rear axle to further accentuate the Coke bottle form.
The increases are necessitated by the adoption of a 42mm wider front track and 10mm wider rear track together with, for the first time, a combination of standard 20 x 9.0-inch front and 21 x 11.5-inch rear wheels.
The reasoning behind the change to different sized wheels front and rear has to do with the new model’s increased power and the subsequent engineering measures to ensure it retains its ability to place it all to the road more than anything to do with packaging concerns; the wider tracks and larger wheels permit larger tyres and, with them, increased contact patches.
No 911 Turbo has ever boasted such a large footprint as this...
All up, it is 28mm longer and 20mm wider than the model it replaces at a respective 4535mm at 1900mm.
Despite a number of weight-saving initiatives, including new optional composite glass claimed to weigh some 4kg less than the glass used by the old model as well as larger but lighter 440g rear spoiler, it has also gained 40kg in kerb weight at 1640kg, due mainly the adoption of a more advanced gearbox as well as other key developments such as a new brakes and larger wheels to accommodate them.
Porsche claims the lighter glass helps to lower the 911 Turbo’s centre of gravity by reducing the mass concentrated above its shoulder line. Also helping in this respect is the adoption of a lithium-ion battery, which weighs less than half that of the 27kg lead-acid battery used previously at a claimed 12.75kg.
The aerodynamics have also been reworked. Together with the active front spoiler ducts brought over from its predecessor in a revised form, the new model also gets a reworked rear spoiler featuring both 'speed' and 'performance' settings – the latter of which is claimed to contribute to a 15 per cent improvement in downforce. There’s also a new air brake function to increase drag at high braking speeds.
As before, buyers can choose between $473,900 coupe and $494,900 cabriolet body styles, the former of which we concentrate on here.
The 2020 model abandons the 3800cc flat-six engine that has been a mainstay of the 911 Turbo since the facelifted version of the 996 series model was launched in 2009 for an all-new powerplant, which despite giving away 1.44 per cent in overall capacity offers greater power and torque than before.
The new twin-turbocharged horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine of the 2020-model-year 911 Turbo is based on the 2981cc unit used by the latest 911 Carrera with an 11mm increase in the bore measurement at 102mm, giving it a swept volume of 3745cc or some 55cc less than the engine it replaces. Developments include larger variable turbine geometry turbochargers operating at up to 1.4bar; the diameter of the turbine wheels is increased by 5mm to 55mm, while the 61mm compressor wheel is now 3mm larger than before.
Also new are electronically controlled waste-gate flaps, a charge-air cooling system with new routing from the side air intakes and rear spoiler, revised piezo injectors, and a particulate filter. With increases in power and torque, the new engine is mated to a new eight-speed gearbox featuring a shorter first gear and longer top gear, together with a longer final drive than the seven-speed transmission it replaces. In keeping with other recent new 911 models, there’s also new 'Wet' driving mode for the top-of-the-line 911.
There are no official engine output figures for the standard 911 Turbo just yet. But in the 911 Turbo S driven here, power has increased by 51kW to 478kW at 6750rpm, endowing it with a 15.3kW lift in specific power at 127.6kW per litre and a weight-to-power ratio of 3.4kg/kW for the coupe.
Torque, very much at the forefront of its driving characteristics, also climbs by 50Nm to 800Nm between 2250 and 4000rpm.
It’s the biggest gain in performance ever made by the 911 Turbo, giving it 37kW less but 50Nm more than arguably the most extreme series production road-going 911 model of all time, the GT2 RS.
It’s also 281kW and a whopping 457Nm more than the original 911 Turbo.
The added reserves, not least of all the increase in torque, have brought an upgraded eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox as well as a new front axle transmission to the multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system.
Inside, the cabin is a clear improvement over the old model both in terms of appearance and ergonomics, with a new multi-function steering wheel housing shift paddles and a drive mode controller among other functions. There are high definition digital instruments, a 10.9-inch central touch screen infotainment display and a neatly organised centre console.
It’s all of a suitable high quality. Yet, despite the increase in exterior dimensions, it’s still a strict two-plus-two with 128-litres of luggage capacity in the nose. With the backrests of the rear seats folded down, Porsche claims a further 264-litres of stowage behind the front seats.
There’s a lovely familiar meshing of mechanical clatter as the ignition fires. It might be new, but the engine continues to make all the right noises. At idle, the pulsating action of the horizontally-opposed six-cylinder hung out back drowns out the sound of the exhaust. However, that changes the moment you draw the stubby gear lever backwards and set off down the road.
The 911 Turbo S is typically well mannered in Comfort mode around town. It’s not exactly quiet, but it’s never particularly raucous, either. There’s greater intent to the gravel toned exhaust note than before due to the availability of an optional sports exhaust, as fitted to our test car, for the first time. However, its low rev soundtrack is relatively subdued next to supercars of similar performance standards.
Until you call up Sport mode and plant it, that is, at which point it unleashes gloriously deep blare that is less guttural but every bit as captivating as those of Porsche’s naturally-aspirated powerplants.
The remarkable thing, and it’s been a key strength of the top-of-the-line 911 for years now, is just how amenable the new Porsche is. Threading though traffic and heading beyond the suburbs onto the smooth-surfaced country roads, it really is as easy to drive as your average hot hatchback.
Only, it is in a completely different dimension as far as performance is concerned. The acceleration in lower gears is mind-numbing in its intensity. Porsche claims 0-100km/h in 2.7sec, a 0.2sec improvement over the old 911 Turbo S to make this new model the fastest accelerating series production 911 model yet. For the record, it’s faster here than either the 911 GT1, 911 GT2 RS and 911 GT3 RS.
The monumental low-to-mid-range thrust and ability of the four-wheel drive to place it to the road with the sort of efficiency matched by few, if any, supercar rival makes for explosive forward momentum, as exemplified in the 0-200km/h time, which is improved by a full second over the old 911 Turbo at 8.9sec.
There’s so much torque you can call up higher gears and surf the resulting potency well into significant three-figure speeds in one wonderful unbroken line of surging acceleration, aided all the while by the stunning straight-line stability brought on by 170kg of downforce that’s developed by the rear wing at the claimed 330km/h top speed.
There’s no noticeable lag anywhere, just one exceptional stream of urge from not much more than 1000rpm all the way to the 7200rpm ignition cut out on a loaded throttle.
The smoothness of the delivery and rapid action of the kick-down from the gearbox masks the improved response of the new engine, but it is there. The latest version of Porsche’s traditional six-cylinder is not rabid in say, the character of a flat-plane crank engine. Still, there is added resolve to the way it goes about its business, especially at the upper end of the range where it feels stronger and more determined than before.
There’s more to the 911 Turbo S’s dynamic appeal than its pure straight-line speed, though, and it all starts with the steering. There’s lovely slickness and immediacy to the speed-sensitive four-wheel electro-mechanical system. The weighting remains consistent over a wide speed range, creating the sort of engagement no recent 911 Turbo S has managed to offer.
In a bid to improve agility, Porsche has revised the steering action on the rear wheels, increasing the ratio by six per cent for even sharper and more decisive turn-in traits than before.
For the first time, 911 Turbo S buyers can specify an optional sports suspension with a 10mm lower ride height and retuned active roll compensation system among other detailed changes over the standard underpinnings.
It’s allied as standard to Porsche’s active suspension management system, which brings adaptive damping to the mix. There’s also a lift function providing an additional 40mm increase in ground clearance on the front axle as optional equipment.
The new sports suspension breathes nicely over longer wave undulations and remains superbly controlled over higher frequency bumps without the characteristic nose bob that affected previous generations, keeping the new 911 Turbo S well planted on all but the most badly pitted surfaces, thanks in part to the adoption of new helper springs which provide a pre-loading effect to the main springs for more controlled rebound characteristics.
If there is a weakness, it’s the incessant tyre roar on anything but super smooth road surfaces, especially from the rear end. Still, the tuning really is sweetly struck, bestowing the new model with adequately absorbent long-distance properties in Comfort mode and a firm but controlled ride in both Sport and Sport + modes.
This all makes the new 911 Turbo S, a car with well over twice the power of the original, imminently approachable – yes, it’s absurdly fast, but the calmness of the ride and the otherwise superb resistance to pitch and dive under acceleration and braking, is all the elixir you need to take full advantage of the exceptional grip, which now comes via a combination of standard 255/35 profile tyres at the front and 315/30 profile tyres at the rear.
The combination of the new rubber and the latest incarnation of Porsche’s four-wheel drive system, which uses a lighter and more rigid driveshaft and a single universal joint to the front wheels, delivers huge traction and purchase.
Tip it in to a fast corner and it displays exceptional body control – and it remains unflinching in its determination to hold your chosen line. The changes to the four-wheel drive system now allow up to 500Nm of torque to be apportioned to the front wheels.
The torque vectoring effect at the rear is also improved, says Porsche. Given the distinctive rear-biased weight distribution, it feels deliciously well planted and neutral, from entry to apex and beyond.
There’s a small trace of steady understeer when you’re really on it in tight corners as you’d hope for and expect with something capable of generating such high cornering speeds.
However, unshackling the stability control system brings a degree of adjustability enthusiast drivers may seek. The limits of adhesion are so high, though, you’d need a circuit to really explore its true ability.
This also applies to the brakes, which now use 420x40mm front and 390x32mm rear carbon ceramic discs in combination with huge 10-pot front and four-pot rear calipers. They’re incredibly effective, providing reassuring bite in the initial degrees of travel and strong but progressive qualities as you add further pressure to the pedal thereafter.
The strength of the new 911 Turbo S lies in the breadth of its repertoire: it eases and thrills in equal measure.
It doesn’t quite deliver the same whip crack reactions and at-the-wheel sensitivity of some of Porsche’s competition-bred 911 models, but what it lacks in sheer tactility it more than makes up for in outright speed and ability to swallow big distances in relative comfort without ever needing to work hard at all. It’s the world’s most complete and versatile all-season supercar.