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Is the forced-induction 911 still the supercar you can use every day, or have new arrivals raised the bar for the segment?

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The Porsche 911 Turbo, then. It’s not always our favourite flavour of Porsche 911, but it’s usually the most devastating.

If a 911 GT3 is about involvement, feel and motorsport-derived gratification, a 911 Turbo is about something very different. It’s for those who like to travel very quickly with minimal effort and ample safety and comfort, with a poised chassis beneath them.

The original 911 Turbo was defined by its 'whale tail' spoiler

The Turbo wasn’t always this way. Porsche set a theme with the first 911 Turbo, codenamed 930, of 1975. At first, the 3.0-litre car had 'only' 265bhp; these days a hot hatchback has more, and more gears. The Turbo had just four speeds, but the bodywork was widened, the tail spoiler was outrageous and the handling was pretty hairy.

By the time the 964-series 911 arrived in 1989, the 930 Turbo's power had swollen to 330bhp. The 964 Turbo eventually took this to 355bhp, while that car's replacement, the 993, was the first to have an even faster Turbo S variant and four-wheel drive.

Since the advent of a four-wheel-drive Porsche 911 Turbo, however, these Porsches have been getting faster, more stable and, you might argue, more sanitised, leaving other 911s to provide the kicks while these forced-induction models deliver the technical highlights in an easy-to-live-with yet apocalyptically fast package.

Think of every modern 911 Turbo as a Porsche 959 realised, if not quite for the masses then at least for a broader subset than were able to buy the limited-run supercar, with all the technology you could hope for and all the daily usability you could need.

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This time there are again two variants of 911 Turbo: the ‘regular’ one and this, the Turbo S. Let’s see if they continue the trend.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Porsche 911 Turbo LED lights

Visually, the most notable thing about this Porsche 911 variant is what we’ve come to know as ‘the Turbo body’: a widening of the tracks, especially at the rear, which inevitably later continues on rear-drive-only RS versions of the 911.

Here, the shoulders are 85mm wider at the back than the front, and that’s added to a front track that’s already 49mm wider than the old 911 Turbo’s. There are adjustable aerodynamics, too, with spoilers front and rear that adjust on the move.

The Porsche's all-wheel-drive set-up electronically utilises both a multi-plate clutch and a locking rear differential to distribute power

With the front spoiler in its retracted mode, ground clearance and approach angle are both increased over the previous 911 Turbo, making grounding much less likely.

The Turbo stays that way until 75mph, at which point two outer sections of the spoiler are lowered. At the same time, the rear wing is lifted by 25mm, both of which make the car more aerodynamically efficient. It's the mode in which the Turbo hits its 198mph top speed and the Turbo S sails past to its 205mph limit.

Pop the Turbo's active aerodynamics into Performance mode, however, and things change again. A middle section of the front spoiler lowers, as do its outer edges. This creates a low-pressure zone behind the spoiler. Meanwhile, the rear wing is extended to its maximum 75mm height and angled forwards by seven degrees. Thus at 186mph (a nice, round 300km/h), the 911 Turbo is generating a useful 132kg of downforce.

The engine is not without note, either. It displaces 3800cc across its six direct-injected, horizontally opposed cylinders and is artificially aspirated by two variable-turbine turbos. It revs to 7200rpm in Turbo S form, some 200rpm higher than on the regular Turbo, over which it also produces an additional 38bhp.

The 572bhp output arrives at 6500rpm and stays until 6750rpm, while the torque output – and this will give you an idea of the type of performance we’ll be expecting – is 553lb ft between 2200rpm and 4000rpm. The standard Turbo produces a lesser 532bhp and 487lb ft of peak twist.

We say 553lb ft for the Turbo S, but that is on overboost – allowed for no more than 20 seconds – before reverting to a ‘regular’ 516lb ft. However, it’s hard to imagine, outside of a runway (and even on most of those), a 911 Turbo driver staying on full power for more than 20 continuous seconds.

Drive is to all four wheels via a PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox which, in addition to its seven preset ratios, can create ‘virtual’ gears. At a constant speed, if one ratio is too high and another too low, the gearbox will slip a clutch to maintain a steady cruise.

As on the GT3, there are dynamic engine mounts, which lock under extreme manoeuvring to hold the engine in place, and there’s rear axle steering, in which actuators at the rear reduce or lengthen the wheelbase on one side of the car or the other (opposed to the fronts at low speed, in conjunction with at higher speeds). It’s claimed to add as much cornering assistance as a steering wheel turned 45deg.

A full gamut of chassis options also features. Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), which opposes body roll, is standard on the Turbo S, as is an electronically controlled locking rear diff with torque vectoring. Turbo S models also come with ceramic brakes. 

Like the previous generation 911 Turbos, the standard car and the S are available in two bodystyles - coupé and cabriolet.

INTERIOR

Porsche 911 Turbo dashboard

Since the 991 initial arrival, its handsomely realised cabin has become a familiar one.

Thus, the Turbo’s panoramic instrument cluster, elevated centre console and tightly corralled switchgear all chime perfectly with our expectations of a contemporary Porsche 911. The one major change which came with the facelift of the Porsche 911 is the more button heavy steering wheel, including being able to adjust the dynamics via a dial attached to the wheel.

The Porsche's big boot and occasional rear seats make a big difference to its all-round usability

As standard the Turbo comes with plenty of equipment, including Porsche's sports chrono pack, LED headlights, LED ambient interior lighting, automatic lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, electrically adjustable sports seats, parking sensors, a reversing camera, and Porsche's Communication Management infotainment system complete with sat nav, Bluetooth, smartphone integration and a 7.0in touchscreen display.

Upgrade to the Turbo S, and not only do you get 572bhp to play with, but also ceramic brake discs, dynamic chassis control, adaptive LED headlights and 18-way electrically adjustable sports seats.

Arguably this works better aboard the 991 than in previous generations, not because the trim is significantly more plush but because the underlying architecture is fundamentally more agreeable.

Because of this, the Turbo, in standard or S form, remains, ergonomically and spiritually, as devoted to the business of driving as the Carrera.

If you find the new model too unadorned to justify a near doubling of its price tag, we’d be more likely to recommend an alternative maker of sports cars than side with the criticism.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Porsche 911 Turbo rear quarter

Producing unfeasibly large numbers in unreasonably brief passages of time is largely the Porsche 911 Turbo’s reason for being.

Predictably, the range-topping 991 Turbo S does this better than any generation that preceded it. From a standing start, it will hustle to 170mph within a mile. If no deviation is required, the car will cover 1km in 20 seconds. It is, without question, extraordinarily fast.

I like the PDK. I like the gear selector, the aluminium paddles and the hefty yet seamless shift quality. In fact, I like it more than the manual

Such pace affords the Turbo S comparison with some of the quickest cars we’ve tested. Porsche will delight in the fact that, beneath 60mph, our timing gear shows the S variant to be marginally swifter than a Ferrari F12 (before the latter’s vast power overrides the former’s traction advantage).

At the core of those tiny fractions lies the flat six’s ability to churn through its PDK gearbox’s lower ratios with practically no let-up, combined with the cleverness and potency of its AWD-enabled launch control function.

To hold the Turbo S on its huge carbon-ceramic discs and then release it to catapult (there is no other word for it) forward in a venomous spin cycle of tyres, turbines, crank and incredulousness, is to experience the Turbo S at its most expressive.

Even here, though, the drama is doing rather than feeling. A split second in front of the F12 off the mark it may be, but where the Ferrari is a tumult of V12, the Porsche 911 lets fly with a flat, dissonant growl not much dramatised by either its extended 7200rpm red line or standard-fit sound symposer.

Thus the Turbo S, for all its big-winged swagger, is a buttoned-down projectile more adept at providing effortless access to high speeds than showily involving you in it. In any gear save its long seventh, it is dismissively ballistic.

Not only is it 3.9sec quicker from 30-70mph in fourth than the Carrera tested, but it’s also almost 1.5sec swifter than the previous GT3 RS – itself a monster.

The standard Turbo model, despite a deficit of around 39bhp and 29lb ft, delivers similarly impressive performance. It is slightly slower from 0-62mph, but it's still devastatingly quick and utterly effortless.

Out on the road, and if you managed to overlook the Turbo S's 200rpm-higher redline, many would struggle to differentiate between the two.

RIDE & HANDLING

Porsche 911 Turbo cornering

That the Turbo lacks some of the Porsche 911’s trademark dynamic sparkle is nothing if not predictable. With non-intrusive everyday usability and long-distance touring in mind, the Turbo has been getting more and more reserved in its communicative facets ever since the 996 generation.

Some say it’s also a slightly unengaging derivative of a whole Porsche 911 generation that’s short on talkative verve. But these are criticisms relative only to some of the most vivid and beguiling sports cars there have ever been – all of them 911s.

The Drive system adds an element of guesswork when off-throttle oversteer turns into on-throttle oversteer

More relevant is the fact that, while the Turbo isn’t the most entertaining Porsche you can buy, it is lithe, precise, intimate and interesting enough to compare favourably with rivals offering the same usability, such as the Nissan GT-R and the Bentley Continental GT Speed.

Long gone, though, are the days when any new 911 could weasel its way into your affections with sheer effervescence. This one certainly can’t. The Turbo has high grip levels and body control ranging from very good to iron-like (depending on PASM setting), plus it handles precisely and securely when the stability systems are all in bat.

Road roar aside, it also rides with some compliance and has good motorway stability. Such things matter in a sports car to be driven quickly, often through less than ideal conditions, 300-odd days a year – as Turbos commonly are. But it doesn’t have the most delicately balanced cornering manners or the most involving limit handling behaviour.

The Turbo has no shortage of sophisticated systems to sharpen up its act on track. It's impressive how well integrated they are, and how seamless the driving experience is even when really closely examined.

But the handling here seldom blows you away in the way that a GT3's will. The car's performance level is immense, and even challenged by that sheer speed, the brakes are more than up to the task of keeping the car on track. The Turbo S's upgraded carbon-ceramic brakes are so good, in fact, that they force you to recalibrate your braking markers.

While there is a lot of lateral grip on offer, and you can carry a lot of speed when cornering in the dry, the delicacy of chassis response and adjustability of attitude we found in an entry-level Carrera 3.4 – never mind in the GT3 – simply isn't here.

You know you've arrived at the limit because the Turbo begins to understeer, as almost all 911s do, but your options to deal with that understeer are greatly reduced. Handling is squarely biased towards stability and security.

The bottom line is that while it is undoubtedly multi-talented, the Turbo doesn’t feel as special as a 911 can. Whisper this, but one staffer even had to be reminded that he’d driven it at all, so light was the impression that the car left on his memory.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Porsche 911 Turbo

The Porsche 911 Turbo’s reputation is one of giant-killer. On performance alone, that reputation is still thoroughly deserved, as our figures show.

But on price, it’s more questionable. The full-house Turbo S costs more than a Bentley Continental GT W12, more than an Aston Martin V12 Vantage S and more than the most expensive Audi R8.

The 911's used values reflect the relatively hard use that Turbos tend to see. The residuals aren't great, but owners won't expect them to be

The mid-engined Ferraris and McLarens that it’s capable of out-accelerating are still priced five figures further into the stratosphere. But the idea of paying £145k for a series-production 911 is one you could struggle to get your head around – especially given that the car will inevitably depreciate faster than some other machinery at that price.

The spec is at least generous, especially in Turbo S formThen there is the much-admired usability to augment the ownership experience: almost 400 litres of cargo space, those occasional back seats, and – rather remarkably – better than 30mpg at a steady cruise, as our touring test result shows.

If you're seriously considering a 911 Turbo, opting for GT Silver paint is a wise choice; natural leather seats ditto.

You could rapidly save the best part of £20k by going for the standard Turbo instead of the Turbo S, too. But it’s a tad slower, and if this is the Porsche 911 that appeals, that’s likely to matter.

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VERDICT

4 star Porsche 911 Turbo

The Porsche 911 Turbo’s position, already undermined by the Nissan GT-R, is set to come under even greater threat. It has not gone unnoticed in industry circles how few ‘proper’ sports cars you’ll currently find for £100k-£150k.

Still, the new Turbo continues to be the defining everyday supercar for those who couldn’t live with a supercar if they wanted to.

As usable a rocketship as you'll ever encounter. Its launch control system is the biggest thrill

Its raw speed is incredible. It has the grip and stability to cope with almost any conditions. It’s easy to drive fast. It’s comfortable, practical and loaded with kit.

If those qualities don’t quite combine to make the car the king of Porsche 911s, it’s only because of the presence of the majestic GT3.

With the PSM-off limit handling made more predictable and a little more feedback through the controls, it would be hard to fault the 911 Turbo.

This isn’t the most involving 911 as it stands, though, but it’s a natural athlete and a good enough entertainer to offer something over most – but not all – of its rivals.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Porsche 911 Turbo 2013-2019 First drives