Modern car makers are seemingly obsessed with brand cohesion. Design teams expend tremendous efforts ensuring that every model in every range shares a distinct family resemblance – a flared radiator grille here, a signature side-vent detail there.
The uncrowned world champion of this particular strain of conformity fetishism is, of course, Porsche. From the swollen mass of its Cayenne SUV to the anorexic weave of its Cayman two-seater, every Porsche looks like a less porky version of its core product – the abiding 911 sports coupé.
Of course, the 911 isn’t really just one car. It is, in fact, many – from the mid-life crisis, must-have entry level Carrera edition to the wallet-emptying extreme Turbo S. Being quite so adept at making both a muscular 4×4 and miniscule sportster, the Stuttgart marque is a past master when it comes to making every version of the 911 look exactly the same as every other.
It is in service of this strict design photocopy doctrine that the fastest, feistiest road-going 911 has received something of a revision. The newly updated 911 Turbo S has been made over like the already refreshed looks of lesser 911s.
To the uninitiated, there’s little discernible difference between a £60,000 bargain basement Carrera and a £145,000 chic boutique Turbo S. To Porsche buffs (and they are many), the clues are legion.
The go-faster 911 sits on larger, re-thought 20-inch wheels, a wheeze designed, no doubt, to better show off its muscular brake calipers and carbon ceramic discs. The rear wheel arches are topped with air inlets on the faster car, while the rear engine cover includes an aerofoil (albeit a much shrunken take on the picnic table so beloved of the 1980s Turbos in their yuppie heyday).
Neither does clambering into the low-slung cabin give much away. The interior is much the same as has previously been seen in both the base model Carrera and the outgoing version of the Turbo S.
Overall, the 911 sitting room is the perfect balance between driving-focussed minimalism and just enough restrained design flourish to reassure occupants that their position is, indeed, privileged. Closer inspection, however, reveals a number of subtle refinements. The steering wheel is, perhaps, a couple of inches smaller, accelerating steering inputs, while offering improved knee clearance for the lankier driver. It also now includes a scroll wheel, allowing for easier navigation through the various on-board computer menus.
The real difference between the lux and the stingier 911s, though, lies deep beneath their skins. In fact, one problem with this latest generation is that the differences between a (relatively) slow 911 and a truly fast 911 are becoming increasingly hard to explain.
Before dissimilarity was dual-syllable simple – turbo. Everyone knew that turbo meant faster, with the word passing into the general parlance as synonymous with high-tech superiority. You can now buy everything from razor blades to computer equipment under the turbo banner, despite a lack of exhaust gasses and air compressors.
Somewhat muddying the waters, slower versions of the 911 now also feature turbo chargers. It turns out you don’t have to buy a 911 Turbo to get a turbo 911.
The car industry, ever anxious to appear responsible in this environmentally-conscious age, has shifted the emphasis as to just what a turbo can offer from delivering more speed to consuming less petrol. The modern Carrera, then, has a smaller, more economical engine than its forebears. Despite this, it still produces more power, largely thanks to the wasted exhaust energy recycling prowess of the turbo.
The Turbo S has a better turbo than the Carrera – a turbo turbo, if you will. In fact, Porsche has proudly announced that the 911 Turbo S is the only petrol car in the world to feature variable geometry turbo chargers.
As with so many Porsche features, these variable geometry turbos actually serve two purposes. Firstly, they make the car go faster, more efficiently recovering exhaust energy at a wider range of engine speeds, while also cutting turbo lag. What’s more, it’s a practical, sensible, real-world type of performance gain, enabling the engine to produce more power at lower revs. The second benefit is in providing Porsche-spotters with that extra morsel of techno babble to trot out when attempting to justify the 140 percent price hike over the base model.
Thanks to those big clever turbos – as well as a redesigned air intake and increased fuel injection pressure – the updated Turbo S produces an extra 20 horsepower. Peak power from the 3.8-litre flat-six is now 572 bhp at 6,750 rpm. The more relevant torque output is now a generous 553 lb-ft, at a relaxed 2,250 to 4,000 rpm.
The other key advantage the Turbo S has over the cheaper 911s is its four-wheel drive. This combination of more torque and increased traction enables the Turbo S to hit 62 mph in just 2.9 seconds, beating the pants off the Carrera’s time of 4.9 seconds. The top speed is also up on this generation of Turbo S, reaching an impressive 205 mph.
Shatteringly fast though the acceleration is, it’s not that scary. Even at full throttle, the Turbo S never feels skittish. This is down to the security offered by the four-wheel drive and the automatic torque vectoring system, the combination of which sends the engine’s force to whichever wheels are best able to make use of it.
Take note though, freedom from full throttle terror is not guaranteed in wet conditions, bumpy surfaces or when the steering is pointed anywhere but dead ahead. Despite its computerised safety prefects, this is still a 1,600 kg car packing nearly 600 horses.
One thing definitely missing from the full-throttle thrill, though, is the requisite blood and thunder soundtrack. The increased efficiency of the car’s turbo means more energy is taken out of the exhaust as it leaves the engine, resulting in less energy reaching the tailpipe producing more muffled growls than raucous howls.
Although the pedal to the proverbial metal experience while driving a Turbo S is impressive, it’s at partial throttle settings that the improved car really comes into its own. Now, when you lift off the throttle in Dynamic Boost mode it no longer actually closes the throttle valve. Instead, the fuel supply is interrupted, cutting engine power output and simulating the conventional throttle action of controlling the fuel and air mixture flow.
Overly complex though this may be, it does provide the car with a small but valuable advantage. By keeping air flowing into and out of the engine, the turbos keep spinning. This means, when the right foot goes down again, the boost pressure is ready and waiting.
A car that goes this fast must also stop fast. Those enormous carbon brakes – so brazenly flashed through the over-sized alloy wheels – create near asphyxiating deceleration. The force builds smoothly and progressively with increasing pedal pressure, providing the confidence to attack braking zones and trails well past the turn.
The steering, itself, is predictably direct and responsive. Despite having electric power assistance there’s good feedback through the smaller steering wheel, helping the driver to sense front-end grip. Flick the car into a bend aggressively and the Turbo S responds immediately. Even under reckless changes of direction, there’s very little body roll, thanks t0 adaptive anti-roll bars.
Despite its four-wheel drive and torque vectoring, pushed hard in the safe, padded surroundings of a race circuit, the Turbo S will understeer ever so slightly near the limit of grip. Carrying more speed and heavier braking into a turn will cure it – or produce a touch of tail-slide in the medium-fast Sport driving mode.
Think twice before completely disengaging all of the driver aids, though. If ambition exceeds ability, the car will be covering an awful lot of distance per second when control is lost. Even in the artificially safe surroundings of a race circuit, a sudden, crunchy conclusion seems very likely.
Cracking both the three second standing start and topping 200mph puts the Turbo S well and truly into the sports car Big League. This sees it as a legitimate rival to a number of more expensive machines – notably the £165,000 Ferrari 488 and the £242,000 McLaren 650S when it comes to both straight-line speed and cornering .
The 911’s trump card in comparison to alternative super-sports marques has long been its liveability. The Porker is a performance car that you can use every day. It won’t deafen you, clatter into parked cars due to poor visibility or oblige you to ferry the kids to school one-by-one thanks to the lack of rear pews.
Granted, its back bucket seats really are only for kids – or small grown-ups on shorter journeys – but at least the 911 has them. Sure the front cargo space is compact when compared to a grand tourer, but it’s still big enough to fit a couple of roll-aboard bags.
Just as the Turbo S lost something of its unique selling point when the Carrera discovered the joys of turbo, the 911s have seen the user-friendliness USP shrink with everyone else making their own cars less awkward. Almost all the big name sports cars are now easy to drive, easy to park, and easy to see out of. The Turbo S, then, is no longer the only choice for someone who wants a high performance car for everyday use. It is, however, perhaps still the most sensible choice. It’s not the fastest car or the most spacious, but it does offer the best balance of performance and usability at a price that undercuts its rivals.
The Turbo S could be seen as a victim of its own success. Since it’s so useable and because it looks just so much like the Carreras, which costs less than half the price, it lacks the rarity. While passers-by will stop and stare at passing Lamborghini or Aston Martin, 911s are just too ubiquitous. With little to draw attention, only your bank manager will know just how much more cash you parted with to get quite the very best 911.
Porsche 911 Turbo S Engine: 3.8-litre flat six Power: 572bhp @ 6750rpm Torque: 553lb-ft @ 2250 to 4000rpm Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch semi-automatic through four-wheel drive 0-62mph: 2.9 seconds Top speed: 205mph Price: from £146,000 Above: The cockpit is well appointed, uncluttered and roomy, just what you need in a supercar