Porsche’s new 911 Turbo introduces Transformer trickery to the performance sports car category. The 2014 Turbo mutates in shape, character and purpose like the toys familiar to both kids and parents of the 1980s.
A frontal spoiler lip appears from the sub-bumper valance as speed builds beyond 120 km/h, in step with a similarly variable rear spoiler. Or an attention-seeking owner can activate the spoilers with a push of either the aerodynamic or Sport Plus button.
It’s worth noting Porsche is not first with an active front spoiler – Mitsubishi, Nissan and Alfa-Romeo sports models deployed them decades ago – but it’s likely the first such device that varies in pitch. Automotive fashion turns on such innovation: All kinds of cars sprouted rear spoilers after the first Turbo’s massive wing was a sensation at the 1973 Frankfurt Auto Show, so disappearing front spoilers could be the next big thing.
In everyday driving, the greatest practical advantage of the retracting chin is likely to be clearing curbs that often scrape normal low-rider spoilers. On those special days involving high-speed cruising, or track lapping, front downforce is significantly increased with the rubber lip deployed, slotting the car into the tarmac.
Every Turbo since the origin of the species 40 years ago has come with a dual personality as standard equipment. Typically docile in ordinary use, they’ve become challenging when driven hard, especially prior to the introduction of all-wheel-drive in 1995. It may be this behavioural spectrum that has made them so fascinating.
The new Turbo alters the extremes. It’s quieter in city traffic than any Porsche before it, faster on a race track and more stable on a highway than any previous Turbo.
In villages in Rhine-Westphalia, what you noticed first was the engine turning off automatically when you braked for an intersection, before even coming to a standstill, an extreme measure introduced to reduce fuel consumption. Foot off the brake, the car restarted instantly. While maintaining 60 km/h or so, engine speed was reduced and noise consequently reduced by the automatic transmission’s new “virtual” gears as its double clutches slipped between second and third, another innovation in the Turbo.
Rear-wheel steering, introduced earlier this year on the GT3, greatly improves agility in tight traffic, parking and U-turns. The Turbo navigates the urban landscape as easily as a hatchback – although admittedly the breadth at the back wheels eliminates some economy-car-sized parking slots.
And yet, a firm step on the accelerator accelerates you to 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds or less, as little as 3.1 seconds in an S.
Higher speed acceleration on the autobahn was a swift kick in the pants, particularly between 100 and 200 km/h. This car can go from a standstill to 200 in 11.1 or 10.3 seconds, the time ordinary cars take to achieve 100. Top speed is 315 km/h, 318 in the S.
On track at Bilster Berg Drive Resort, the performance was core-compressing. Abrupt changes in elevation and blind corners tested your will as well as the all-wheel-dive. In one section designed by world rally/endurance racing champion and Porsche consultant Walter Rohrl, you emerged from a blind 80 km/h downhill turn to accelerate steeply uphill, to 140 km/h at a blind brow. A twist or two later, you were touching 200 if you’re this reporter, 230 with Rohrl at the wheel. Yes, it engaged the core.
“It’s so much safer because of the aerodynamic downforce,” Rohrl said, referring to the transformational adaptive spoilers.
You also feel all four wheels’ involvement in the acceleration as they continuously balance power and grip. Porsche claims the latest distribution of torque between front and rear axles is faster and more precise than before. As well, more torque can be routed to the front when traction at the rear is at its limit because the front transfer case is now liquid-cooled, plumbed into the engine’s cooling system.
The fastest production Porsche will sell for $169,200, or $206,600 as the Turbo S with more performance equipment including ceramic brakes, when it arrives in Canada in December, following its unveiling this month at the Frankfurt auto show.
The first Turbo may have had more impact than this one at its introduction 40 years ago at the same Frankfurt auto show. Its massive rear spoiler was unprecedented at the time. No Porsche before it had challenged the likes of Ferrari BB and Lamborghini Countach.
The latest Turbo, though more discreet, is a far greater achievement. As was said, in the heyday of the toys this car brings to mind: Transformers, more than meets the eye.
2014 Porsche 911 Turbo
Type: Two-door coupe
Base price: $169,200 for Turbo; $206,600 for Turbo S
Engine: 3.8-litre, twin-turbocharged, direct-injection, flat-six-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 520 hp/487lb-ft for Turbo; 560 hp/ 516 lb-ft for Turbo S
Transmission: Seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic with manual function
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.7 European cycle, Turbo or Turbo S
Alternatives: Ferrari 458 Italia, Audi R8 V-10, Aston-Martin Vanquish, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG