Porsche 911 Turbo S: Super speed and stability
Lucky Matt Greenop gets the first NZ drive of the legendary carmaker's impressive new Porsche 911 Turbo S
They say the gods must be crazy. I say the gods must be bastards.
There are some cars that, as a motoring journalist, you rather look forward to getting a pedal in. These vehicles are usually extremely beautiful, frighteningly quick and incredibly expensive. They're also the sort of machine you don't want to be driving in torrential rain.
So when the heavens opened this week, some 20 minutes after picking up the 2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S, the aforementioned gods copped an earful.
Porsche 911s are, by nature, a handful on a wet road. There's traditionally been so much grip it's almost comical, but when you push past that grip point, things get hairier than a ZZ Top reunion.
And add the extra shove that the Turbo S has under its wing and it's a serious proposition. As the rain fell for the two days that we had with the S, it went from a resigned shrug of the shoulders to "bugger it, gotta make hay while the sun, er, shines".
Porsche's 911 has been around for 50 years, with the company this year celebrating the anniversary around the world. The car has, in some people's eyes, changed very little in that time. For those who pay attention, though, it's been a steady path of refinement culminating in cars like this - which will rocket to the legal limit in a shade over three seconds.
There was a time when this kind of lightning performance was reserved for two-wheel maniacs; and when it's applied to something which has had a good 50-year development cycle and is widely regarded as one of the world's superstars when it comes to handling, it's a very exciting package.
Porsche 911 Turbo S. Photo by Ted Baghurst.
Interestingly Porsche has canned the manual gearbox of old and now offers only its PDK dual clutch robotic manual seven-speed teamed with an extremely capable four-wheel-drive system and such witchery as torque vectoring with an electronically controlled rear diff lock and a dash of rear-steer. What this adds up to is a car that's permanently measuring the driver's attack level on the road, adjusting the rear-end behaviour to suit and, only when required, using the front end to pull you out of trouble.
Even on the soaked roads south of Auckland when we finally took a deep breath and braved this week's stunning weather, the Turbo S remained stable, sharp and confident. Those scary days of waiting for the rear end to break free and then using the accelerator to put it back to rights before the weight of the rear engine turned the car around seem to be over.
The sheer force of acceleration meeting some of the more agricultural back roads did provide some "moments", but it quickly comes back together with a combination of power, torque, indescribably accurate chassis and those little electo-wizards making sure that the car is safe to drive despite its alarming amount of poke and pace.
When things get serious, the landscape disappears in a blur - you're literally counting forward two corners in order to stay at the same pace as this Porsche. It's powered by a dry sumped 412kW flat six with Variocam Plus and two variable turbine geometry turbos - with the optional Sport Chrono Package meaning 750Nm of big-boost torque that appears between 2200 and 4000rpm. The seven-speed gearbox is pushed through at a terrifying rate, with that three-second slam to 100km/h just an introduction to what the S is capable of.
From 80km/h upwards - reportedly culminating in a top speed of 318km/h - the Porsche comes into its own. It favours wide open, long corners one after the other, but thanks to the massive ceramic composite brakes with 410mm and 390mm cross drilled and ventilated rotors at each end and six-piston monobloc callipers at the front and fours at the rear, can come to a near stop, switch and take off again before most cars would finish braking.
There's a reason that the 911 has survived for five decades, and this is it.
The Porsche stability systems are effective without being particularly interruptive and even a run up the Driven favourite Twilight Rd near Clevedon, with water running down the hill as we climbed up through the repetitive sets of tightening corners, double apexes and slippery exits, the PSM system didn't seem to be getting in the way at all.
In fact, it just helped keep the car balanced while the combination of torque vectoring and that rear axle steering helped make sure the massive 305/30/20 rear feet were working at their optimum while the quick and direct steering coped with the endless transitions.
Around town the S was well behaved, while we were using the Sport and Sport Plus modes out in the wops, although the suspension was left at its second-to-hardest setting to keep the kidneys from bouncing out of the body.
Calm everything down and sit it in auto mode and it literally becomes an acceptable everyday supercar. The Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 that we tested last week was a joy on the open road and in the country, but did have a few issues round town.
Porsche 911 Turbo S. Photo by Ted Baghurst.
Conversely, the 911 can live in traffic, put up with the idiocy of urban drivers and not feel like hard work.
But driving around town in a 911 Turbo S is somewhat akin to watching an icy cold beer poured on a hot summer's day (coming soon, apparently) and then watching it as it goes flat and reaches room temperature. A wasted opportunity.
As per the flagship, but race purposed, GT3, the rear-steer will angle the rear wheels at low-ish speeds in order to increase manoeuvrability - especially helpful for parking and getting around tight city streets, but over 85km/h the rears will ape the front wheels to increase stability.
The difference between the Turbo and the Turbo S is solid on paper - particularly with the S costing nearly $70,000 more, but the power output is 383kW on the Turbo and it's down by 40Nm in terms of torque. The top speed is still 315km/h, but if you're seeing numbers like that on the speedo, you'll be in jail by Christmas anyway. The gap between the two models isn't exactly a massive one, but given the choice - S, please.