A new lease of life

There was deep despondency in some quarters last year when it was learnt that the fabled Porsche 911 Turbo was being eased out of production. For over a dozen years this model had been the flagship of the Porsche range. Panic buying ensued and remaining models were eagerly snapped up and, in the dying embers of the pre-recession days, gazumping was even resorted to. If those anxious purchasers only knew what was in the pipeline, perhaps they would not have tried quite so hard.

The new 911 Turbo is quite a significant step up over its deceased predecessor. True, it utilises the same 3.3-litre flat-six engine, but little else is the same. And even the powerplant itself, despite being of the same cubic capacity, bears little in common with that used only last year.

With hindsight, it is quite easy to appreciate the direction Porsche was going. In the new 911 Carrera 2, it had a machine that was quite head and shoulders above its predecessors. It was a car that worked well, could be driven hard without fear of spinning off into some distant bush and was powerful. In fact, its 3.6-litre engine developed only 30 brake horsepower less than the 286 of the Turbo in catalytic convertor form. If a car is to be the flagship of the range, it has to be the best and the old Turbo was in danger of falling too far behind the Carrera 2 and 4 in the handling stakes, and with the advent of the forthcoming Carrera RS, in the performance stakes as well.

Even before the last of the old models had been sold, the engineers at Weissach had started on developing its replacement. Ideally they would have liked to have worked on the 3.6-litre engine, but finance dictated that the 3.3 be uprated.

There were a number of ways this could be tackled, but bearing in mind that it had to beat the strictest ecological legislation and yet offer a substantial improvement in power as well, the options were limited.

While the power output was sorted by using a larger KKK turbocharger and a significantly bigger intercooler, allied to the development of the intake manifold and exhaust system, it was the installation of a new uprated electronic ignition system, the use of the superior Bosch K-Jetronic injection system and the three-way metallic catalytic convertor which enabled the engine to develop this power while still remaining ecologically sound. The inclusion of the dual-mass flywheel from the Carrera 2 was both to reduce vibration and overall noise.

The result of all this work is 320 bhp at 5750 rpm and 325 lb ft at 4500 rpm, which represents a substantial improvement on the 300 bhp and 311 lb ft of the 1989 car without catalytic convertor. This translates into a breathtaking 0-60 mph acceleration figure of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 168 mph, if Porsche figures are to be believed. While the engine has been uprated, it is, in fact, not the greatest improvement on this new model.

A glance at the new Turbo informs you of two things. Firstly, it is still obviously a Turbo, but secondly, it has a predominance of Carrera genes. The large, non-retractable, rear wing and wide wheel arches shout out that this is a "muscle" car, while the subtly different body and nose panels and altered overall shape enhance the model with a breath of fresh air.

In fact, the Turbo's wider tyres, slightly wider front end and five inch wider rear end, actually make the Turbo look more attractive than the Carrera itself. Unfortunately this has been at the expense of efficient aerodynamics since the car has a less than noteworthy Cd factor of 0.37, but the use of a bonded on windscreen, redesigned drip rails, low drag wing mirrors and a flush floorpan along the length of the car to the engine has stopped it from getting any worse. The drag factor would have been improved if the rear wing could be folded away at lower speeds, but such is the extra space demanded by the larger intercooler, that there is no room at all to spare. For this reason, it is unlikely that four-wheel drive will be seen on the Turbo as the space required to fit the system is not available.

The suspension has been the subject of much improvement, and it has been lowered, strengthened and revised to endow the car with far greater roadholding capabilities. Its negative scrub radius have also enabled an anti-lock braking system to be fitted as well.

The five-spoke alloy wheels themselves, shod with 205/50 ZR 17s on the front and 255/45 ZR 17s on the rear, are very attractive and have only been seen before on the 959.

The interior has come in for cosmetic attention, leather upholstery, power-operated seats, mirrors, windows, a better sound system, amongst other things, but priced at around £74,000, you do expect a car to have these items. Sunroofs and limited slip diffs are optional extras, but perhaps the word "optional" is redundant in the latter's case as the cars destined for the British market will automatically be fitted.

The ergonomics are still poor. The five main dials are not that clear and the secondary switches are badly laid out and labelled. The seats are comfortable, but the optional airbags fitted on the launch cars were a little unsightly being stowed as they were behind the steering wheel boss and in the passenger's cubbyhole.

The new 911 Turbo really is a dual purpose machine. On the one hand, it is as docile as a VW Beetle when the revs are kept under 3000 rpm. In fact, embarrassingly so sometimes, for the power is just not apparent until the turbo begins to wind up at above these revs. Higher than this, though, and the Porsche attacks the tarmac ahead with vigour, and given an open road, it will simply eat up the mileage.

A good cruising speed can be hopeless unless affiliated to a good chassis, and this the 911 Turbo has. While the old model had an evil reputation, especially in the wet, the new car is predictable and stable, more stable in fact than even some four-wheel drive cars. The steering, which is power-assisted, is precise and the gear-change smooth, both items which have received attention from Porsche engineers. It is the surefooted handling, however, which remains most indelibly printed in the mind.

There will be some enthusiasts who will pooh-pooh the new model for not being machismo enough, who will berate the fact that it has power-steering, electric seats, unsure handling and ABS brakes, but they are the brainless ones. There can be no doubt that this model has given the 911 Turbo a new lease of life. But the question must be — for how long this time?