Nobody can turn a deaf ear forever. Not even Porsche.
But first a little perspective. The Zuffenhausen boys determinedly do things their own way; a few critical remarks here or there don’t really faze them. After all we baulked and hollered at the Cayenne’s snout but that’s emerged as the best-selling and most profitable Porsche line. And so emboldened they set about spanking the Panamera with the same stick, never mind what journos thought about the styling direction. But more than anything else Porsche has persisted with the rear-engined layout for the 911, staying loyal to a weight distribution that has barely changed since Ferdinand Porsche scribbled out the Volkswagen Beetle.
It, plainly, shouldn’t work. It, plainly, works.
Thanks to the Einstein-like genius of Porsche’s engineers something so fundamentally wrong has been made to work incredibly well. But even Porsche can’t persist with something as breathtakingly counter-intuitive as the PDK twin-clutch automatic’s steering wheel rocker switches. Letting aside the fact that shifting gears using rocker switches is a silly break from traditional paddles, Porsche goes on to bludgeon convention on its head. We’re used to pulling back with the index finger for an upshift and pushing back with the thumb for downshifting. Same too with the gear lever in the manual mode of an auto ’box – pull back for the next higher gear, push forward for a downshift. In a Porsche you do the exact opposite; push to go up, pull to go down the ’box. It takes days to get properly wired into the set-up and this was rightly hollered at (there being precious little to holler at in a Porsche road test probably added fuel to fire).
But now, despite Porsche claiming it was only journos who couldn’t get used to it, better sense has prevailed. The new 911 Turbo can now be optioned with proper paddle-shifters for the gearbox (left for downshifts, right for upshifts – as per convention) though their legendary doggedness is very much in evidence – as standard you still get rocker switches (paddles are a Rs 25,000 option, plus taxes). But just to annoy us a wee bit the paddles are mounted on the steering column rather than on the steering wheel so when steering lock is applied you have to take your hands off the wheel to shift. A few years of us hollering and that too will be sorted.
That remains the only distraction in a hugely evocative package, a car that in its previous generation was hailed as the best all-weather supercar in the world. Out here in Dubai though there’s only one weather to sample – summer – so there’s not much we’re going to learn about all-weather ability. And neither will fighting Dubai’s legendary traffic while crawling past half finished sky-scrapers tell us much else.
Time to get out then, on to the flat empty and very fast roads that lead to nowhere; time to open the taps. And scream. Mother of god! The Turbo is so fast and there’s so much grip at take-off that it actually hurts you physically. The gs that pin you back in the seat are almost as violent as the gs that splatter your eyeballs on the windscreen when you slam the brakes on a sports car. It’s mind-blowing; 0-100kmph in 3.6 seconds, 200kmph in 11.6 seconds. That’s quicker that the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 and the Ferrari 599GTB. Faster than many supercars that come to mind.
That kind of violence is courtesy a rather special hunk of metal hung out at the back – an all-new, direct petrol injection flat-six, the first completely new engine in the Turbo’s 35-year history. Displacement has gone up by 0.2 litre to 3.8 litres, compression ratio is up to 9.8:1 and it is force-fed by two variable vane turbochargers. It all adds up to a full-house 500PS of power and 650Nm of torque that holds flat and strong from 1950 to 5000rpm.
However were it not for the turbo badging on the rump and on the clocks there’s little way of knowing the engine is turbo-charged. To aid driveability Porsche’s engineers have turned down the boost from 1.0 bar to 0.8 bar and there is next to no turbo lag while throttle responsiveness and flexibility are right on par with naturally aspirated motors. In fact the only way of knowing the engine is turbo’d is the exhaust note, the hair-standing-on-end flat-six soundtrack overpowered by a diabolically hungry rush of air through the turbos.
Our test car was the full-house spec Turbo, complete with the Sport Chrono pack that gets the delicious overboost mode which increases boost pressure to 1.0 bar thus increasing torque by 50Nm to 700Nm. This is available only for short 10-second bursts over a small rev range but the increased mid range is good enough to shave a tenth off the 0-100kmph time.
And then there’s my favourite – launch control. Engage Sport Plus, turn stability management off, hold the brake with the left foot, bury the throttle pedal into the carpets, revs rise and hold at 5000rpm, wait for LAUNCH CONTROL to flash up on the display and… mayhem! It’s like a football has been kicked into your guts, you feel winded, and that’s the driver. You’ll forgive the passenger if she’s let out a bit of pee. Acceleration is merciless as it is relentless. The PDK gearbox grabs on to second with no lag whatsoever. Bam; 100kmph comes up in 3.4 seconds (0.2 second quicker), third, fourth, all selected with no let-up in furious forward momentum. Thankfully there are no cop cars patrolling these roads (which I’ve smartly recceed) else I’d be writing this as a guest in a Dubai lock-up. She tops off at 312kmph though I have to admit I’m not mad enough to attempt a top speed run. After all a public road isn’t the place to test the dynamic limits of a 911 Porsche, not even in a straight line. What’s extraordinary about a Porsche is just how far away the limits are, not, as I found out years ago on a Soviet-era air-strip near Berlin, how easy it is to bring her back from the limit.
Launch control and overboost are standard fare on the Sport Chrono pack. What’s new are dynamic dampers which stiffen during hard cornering holding the powertrain tight. This cuts out the negative inertia effect and axle-load variation thus improving on-limit handling and steering precision. Though with seven corners in all of Dubai I’m hardly in a position to notice the improvements. What the voluminous literature also mentions is that the BorgWarner all-wheel-drive system has been re-calibrated to feed torque to the front wheels more gradually and thus slow the transition from understeer to oversteer. The revised suspension uses stiffer front anti-roll bars but a softer one at the rear, stiffer variable-rate rear springs and re-calibrated Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system which claims to reduce rear suspension movement during hard cornering without compromising ride quality.
Finally there’s torque vectoring, something we’ve seen before on the BMW X6. Unlike the X6 which uses active diffs, on the Turbo this is an electronic aid that works with the mechanical limited slip differential and uses the brakes to shuffle power between the rear wheels. Torque vectoring helps cut understeer by taking inputs from steering angle, lateral acceleration, vehicle speed, throttle position and yaw rate to predict the onset of understeer and then braking an inside rear wheel. The braking is very light, almost imperceptible, but creates a yaw moment on the car helping it to rotate and kill understeer. Unlike stability control which saves you after you make a mistake torque vectoring is a performance enhancing tool to increase your speed round corners by reducing understeer and turning the car, almost like yanking an invisible handbrake to get the rear turned. The system deactivates above 160kmph though its effects start to reduce from 120kmph.
Judging the efficacy of all these aids requires a race track, I’m in no mood to experience the gentler transition understeer to oversteer on a public road. What’s remarkable though is the ride quality that is supple (by sports car standards), straight-line stability is fabulous and unless you have an F1 Super License it’s inconceivable that you’ll need to switch off ESP to reduce intervention on the limit – the limits are that high. The steering precision, weighting and feel are absolutely delightful. There’s also refinement which is so good I could conceivably find myself commuting in one every day. In fact in Germany they do. They even call it subtle compared to the Audi R8 though to my eyes
(and even onlookers in Dubai where there’s flash metal aplenty) this is jaw-dropping stuff. With that massive wing stuck out back, lip spoiler literally millimetres above tarmac and gorgeous wheels, people eyeball you as if you were driving jay naked. And this is in the more understated silver; imagine the reaction when you’re driving down Marine Drive in a yellow Turbo.
Of course all Porsche’s styling changes are subtle, requiring a Porsche-phile to point out the minimal differences. There are new aerodynamically profiled wing mirrors, LED daytime running lamps, new tail lamp graphics, titanium-coloured intake louvres on the sides and larger exhausts poking out back. Then again the 911 shape is so iconic there’s no reason to mess with it. Inside there’s a typically high-quality cabin that’s at once luxurious and sporty. There’s leather, a gorgeously machined PDK gear lever, touch screen navigation, white-faced dials and the gimmicky stop watch sitting on top of the dash that says you’ve splurged on the Sport Chrono package. It seats two (hence the Panamera to comfortably transport company bosses) but in a pinch you can also fit in two kids in what passes off as rear seats though it’ll be prudent to keep vomit bags handy. And a pair of heavy-duty ear-defenders to drown out their screams when you activate launch control and give it the beans.
After all there are times when you do need to play it deaf.