However many accolades you want to throw at the Porsche 911 Turbo, there is none more telling than to how it is referred.
It is the definite article. Not just ‘a’ turbo, but ‘the’ Turbo.
Since a KKK turbocharger was first strapped to the back of the 930, the forced-induction 911 has needed no other name to establish its dominance. When you drive a ‘Turbo’, no other details are necessary.
From 930 to 964 to 993 and beyond, the Turbo redefined performance benchmarks with each new generation. Turbo by name and turbo by nature, the car has become as much a statement of your success as its own.
The thing is, from the mid-cycle update to the 991 911, all 911 Carreras are now turbocharged. That hasn’t stopped Porsche from using the name, though, as even the electric Taycan is called a Turbo and, well, that’s just silly.
Nomenclature aside, a Turbo is still a Turbo, even if everything is a turbo, but can name alone still keep up now the game has moved on?
Case in point, these two cars, 15 years apart and at the opposite ends of their respective ranges, both use forced induction to achieve an identical 0–100km/h sprint time of 4.2 seconds. Both house turbos, but only one has the badge.
You see, our Carrara White 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera here is the $229,500 (before on-road costs) entry point to the 992 911 range. Ignoring options (we’ll get to those in a moment), this is as simple as a modern 911 gets, and offers 283kW from its 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat six.
Conversely, the Speed Yellow 2004 Porsche 996 911 Turbo represented the near top of the 911 tree back in its day. Here the 3.6-litre twin-turbo six runs a peak of 309kW, and at the time would have set you back $308,900 before options and on-roads. Success statements are rarely cheap.
So, with two generations and a decade-and-a-half separating them, does the twin-turbo Turbo still have the chops to out-Turbo the twin-turbo non-Turbo? Capital letters are important, kids.
Looking past the bright yellow paint, a no-cost option at the time, our 996 initially seems to cut a much more svelte profile than the 992. It looks much smaller, but it really isn’t.
Coming in at just under 4.5m long (4435mm), the 996 is only 84mm shorter than the 992. Width, too, is just 22mm different (1830mm against 1852mm), whereas the height is almost identical at 1295 to 1298mm.
Even its wet weight is close, with just 27kg separating the pair (1439kg in the 996 to 1466kg for the 992) – impressive particularly given the expanse of equipment and technology that fills the 992.
Perhaps it is the more tapered snout of the 996 that alludes to a smaller footprint, the widebody format of the Turbo providing a bullet-like shape from above. Those aggressive rear arch vents as much a feature as they are a necessity, forcing air into the rear-mounted engine.
Fun fact: the electro-hydraulic spoiler that sits behind the vented engine cover raises at 120km/h (or via a button on the dash), and is designed to reduce lift rather than to generate downforce. It ‘spoils’ the air over the back of the car to create a better aerodynamic balance. It’s also notoriously fickle, so don’t play with it.
Up front, the nose that launched a thousand Boxsters has the updated ‘fried egg’ lamps that would go on to adorn all Series-2 996 Carrera models.
Unpopular for many years, the 996 was the first water-cooled 911 and did have its fair share of teething problems, but by the time the Turbo launched (2000), these had been ironed out and it is starting to forge its own path as a legitimate modern classic Porsche.
The 992 in comparison feels much broader all round, thanks to the wide-hipped body that is now standard, even on the ‘base’ Carrera. The nose is less ‘pointy’ than the older car, the front track a whole 126mm wider than the 996, giving it more even proportions all round.
A handsome car from any angle, the 992 is a particular standout from the rear with the traditional Porsche ‘heckblende’ rear reflector now an integrated LED ‘monobrow’ tail lamp providing a mean and futuristic look on the road at night.
Our test car wears optional staggered (20-inch front, 21-inch rear) Carrera Exclusive Design wheels ($7230) that are further finished with high-gloss black trim ($2500). The glass sunroof ($4720) and Porsche side stickers ($870) complete the contrasting look.
Neither car tries to be anything other than a 911, though, the Turbo once again proving that the perennial Porsche looks good in any colour you can imagine.
On the inside, the multigenerational gap becomes more apparent. There is no touchscreen or even Bluetooth in the 996. It serves as a reminder of how quickly things have progressed over the past 15 years, and yet it still feels uniformly modern.
Automatic climate control, a rotary dial for projector headlamp activation, memory seats, one-touch power sunroof, CD-holders… Well, it’s mostly modern. There are even side-impact airbags on the doors.
The 996 interior has aged well, the lack of a distracting screen keeps your gaze on the iconic five-dial instrument cluster, which while quite compact is clear and easy to read. Even the seating position feels just right. Of course, if you felt you couldn't live without more modern entertainment, Porsche Classic can always upgrade your 996 with an Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible head unit.
The seats in the 992 carry on this tradition. You are low, comfortable and well supported, and while the cabin of the Carrera feels enveloping, the modernisation is almost absolute.
There are gloss-black buttons for the headlamp controls, and a bank of neatly textured switches under the 10.9-inch touchscreen. That iconic gauge cluster still present, but wider set (if not too widely set) and now mostly digital.
It’s still a driver’s cabin, but the impact of technology is hard to ignore.
The only real loss is the leather-booted manual gear shift, replaced by a near robotically accurate eight-speed PDK paddle-shift. Just like Steve Austin, it's stronger, faster, better, yet it can’t help but feel a little colder.
Turning the key in the 996, the high-compression engine hesitates then fires. It’s not artificially or theatrically loud, just ‘Porschey’. There’s a nice buzz when revving, still smooth some 44,000km down the line.
Fire up the Carrera, too, and that traditional flat-six rattle and thrum is replaced by the menacing idle of whistling turbos. Exhaust flaps open (because, of course, they are) and there’s a sharp bark as the 3.0-litre spins up freely. Ironic in a way that even here the twin-turbo is trying to out-Turbo the twin-turbo Turbo.
Easing out the clutch in the 996, the take-up point is quickly upon you. It’s a light change and a reasonable light pedal movement, but the gate is tight and the shifts smooth.
Once featured at the pointy end of ‘fastest car in the world’ lists, the 309kW ‘Mezger’ six sees peak power at a wailing 6000rpm with the torque peak of 560Nm at 2700rpm. This engine was based on the Le Mans-winning 911 GT1; those big numbers sound great, but the experience is a little different.
While there’s an initial thrust of acceleration from a standstill, the torque delivery flattens out at 2500rpm, at which point the engine is only delivering about 140kW.
You need those revs to climb to build boost pressure to where things start moving properly quickly, meaning that getting the best out of the Turbo is to drive it fast.
And fast it is.
It’s still good for a 4.2-second sprint to 100km/h, which is rapid enough to pin you back into the soft leather and test your motor skills as you shift quickly to avoid a tragic drop in revs. It might be 15 years old, but the smile it creates is as fresh as you’d like. Incidentally, I couldn’t better a low-5sec run to the tonne, the Turbo obviously more turbo than I am.
The all-wheel-drive system uses a viscous coupling that only engages the front-drive when the rears start slipping, so post-apex power delivery can be administered reasonably brutally, the Turbo in full point-and-shoot mode.
This was the last ‘pure’ hydraulic steering car (997 had a variable-ratio rack, whereas the 991 moved to electrically assisted), which provides a very direct and communicative feel at all speeds. Sure, it’s not as light to tootle around town with, but it's never a strain and, more importantly, you are always the one in control.
There’s wind noise, a bit of rack-rattle and kick on larger bumps, and ride that would never be described as cosseting, but none of that matters, this is the Turbo.
A quick change of machines, though, and the top-end performance of the Y2K Autobahn bullet all of a sudden becomes secondary to a single word. Response.
Any forward movement in the Carrera, at any time in any gear, is simply a teaser for what happens when you stab the throttle. There’s no delay, no scientific loading up on magical boost, the meticulously engineered turbochargers supply all the power you need faster than you knew you needed it.
On-paper numbers are lower than the 996, the smaller 3.0-litre Boxer peaking at 283kW at 6500rpm and 450Nm in a thick band from 1950 to 5000rpm, but you’d never know it.
Give both cars an unlimited stretch of flowing hot mix, and the 996’s top-end muscle would win the day, but the 992’s ‘fast right now’ response makes it infinitely more pliable in lower revs, and more realistic scenarios. It’s just superbly accessible. Case in point, the 4.2-second 0–100km/h sprint on the brochure was able to be achieved, even by me.
There’s no all-wheel grip to sublimate that performance here, though, the rear of the Carrera perhaps more eager than the nose to exit a corner quickly, which simply adds to the excitement of the drive. I could cynically suggest that the car is engineered to offer a heart-fluttering kick of oversteer when being driven in earnest, but even if it is, I don’t actually care.
Modern electrically assisted steering still provides a good feel, more so than the 991 did. The continual development in making the artificial rack movements seem like they did with a more direct mechanical connection is the automotive industry’s Westworld moment.
There’s no organic loss in the 992 either. With so much of the Turbo’s performance relying on the human element behind the wheel, anyone can be fast in the Carrera. So much so, it almost raises the question, do you need any more Porsche than this?
Note, of course you do. There’s no such thing as too much Porsche, but you get the point.
My only real comment would be to avoid those massive wheels. You can feel every imperfection in the road, and the car would be even better on a 19/20-inch staggered option, big rubber sidewalls filling the arches more than the reimagined Fuchs.
The lashings of technology inside the 992 Carrera are just the icing on the technology below. It’s an impressively fast car, perhaps especially so as it is ‘just’ the entry point to the 911 range.
But while it is impressive as a turbo, it isn’t and will never be a Turbo.
The newer car may be faster, more easily, but there’s a rush of adrenalin that matches the onslaught of boost in the 996. And, well, it’s a Turbo.
It’s also relatively affordable. The stunning yellow example we tested, graciously supplied by Melbourne Porsche specialist, ThePorschaDen Classic, was for sale when we drove it, and has since found a new owner. The original ask of over $300K now at a third, or lower if the car has the five-speed automatic transmission.
Not bad – sub-$100K for a sub-5sec car with plenty of credibility and the only badge that really matters.
Thanks to Matt and the team at ThePorschaDen Classic in Armadale for the loan of the 996 Turbo for this review.