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Saturday, 4 May 2013

Porsche 991 Turbo: Ich Bin Ein GT-R

LED-only lights from the GT3 are a clue that this car is part of the new age
The Porsche 959 supercar of the late 1980s showed what was possible for sports cars with technology of the time. Sequential twin-turbocharging, active all-wheel-drive, adjustable suspension settings, the lot. Plus it could do 198mph, although that was famously beaten by the bare-bones 201mph Ferrari F40. In the years that followed, the 911 Turbo, previously the reserve of suicidal yuppies, has come to be the spiritual successor of that landmark supercar, with the three features I mentioned appearing in the forced-induction variant at a less stratospheric price since the 993 Turbo of the mid-90s. With the Nissan GT-R returning in 2007 to ruffle Weissach's feathers and show the critically acclaimed 997 Turbo the way home, Porsche's subsequent constant battle has just stepped up a gear with the new 991 generation. What's clear is that this is not necessarily a car for purists, but that by no means is to say it's not for fans of driving. In its 40th year, the 911 Turbo just went to the next level.

Seeing as this has become their techno-performance car, we should cover the improved or newly-added technology involved here. Oddly, the GT3 - previously the antithesis to the Turbo with its natural aspiration and rear-wheel-drive - has also been lavished with the kind of German techno-wizardry that Kraftwerk could merely dream of, so the Turbo had to go even further. Let's break this down into individual mouthfuls.

First off, it's only available with the 7-speed Porsche Doppelkupplingsgetriebe (PDK), which is German for Porsche double-clutch gearbox. Like I said, not necessarily a car to show the kind of 911 fan who still rues the change to water cooling. The justification for this is that no more than 10% of 997 Turbo buyers asked for a manual transmission, so why go to the lengths to offer and supply a trans' that at least 90% of your target market aren't interested in? Besides, it's widely accepted that PDK is the best dual-clutch 'box of the bunch.
I can't seem to find out whether it's the new bespoke sports-tuned PDK made for the GT3, so it probably isn't. In the GT3 they've made a bespoke version with gear changes made to feel like a racing sequential 'box, and the ability to engage neutral by holding down both paddles at once. Do this for a short time to essentially do a "clutch kick" and whip the tail out into a corner... if you're brave.

Secondly, for the first time it now has active rear-steer. Connected to the rear wheels are a pair of electro-mechanical actuators, which can steer the rear wheels by up to 2.8° depending on how fast the car is going. Under 50km/h (31mph), they steer in the opposite direction to the front wheels, effectively shortening the wheelbase by 250mm, or in other words drastically improving the turning circle at low speeds. Above 80km/h (49mph), the rears steer in the same direction as the fronts. This might sound like the car would crab diagonally, but remember of course that the rear wheels only rotate a very small amount, so actually it's more like the rear end tucking in when it would normally be in danger of starting to swing out in a fast bend. Porsche say it effectively lengthens the wheelbase by 500mm. So with this system you get the wheelbases of a Porsche 991 in a straight line, an original 901 at low speeds and a Panamera (slightly longer in fact) at high speeds. It's the best of all three worlds!
We'll just quietly ignore that such a system has previously been available on a Honda Prelude and a version of the Nissan Serena. Or even the '90s GT-Rs...

Next up is the appearance of Active Aerodynamics. Now, previous 911 Turbos have had pop-up spoilers to increase downforce and stability at high speeds, but when it was up it was up, and when it was down it was down. The new spoiler can be half way up so it's neither up nor down. In fact, much like the McLaren 12C, it has three positions. In the Turbo they're called Start, Speed and Performance. In Start, which it may surprise you to know is the default position, it's retracted and out of the way. In Speed position, it rises halfway up once you get past the traditional Porsche pop-up speed of 120km/h (~74mph). In the Performance position - activated by the sport button - it's fully raised and angles at "up to" 15°, suggesting it can fine-tune itself based on many sensory inputs.

But it gets much, much cooler than that...

The camera is most likely some kind of radar cruise control
Working in conjunction with the pop-up wing is a front spoiler. But not just any front spoiler, an inflatable front spoiler! Just like the wing, this elastic material designed to resist road rash starts fully retracted, but can inflate halfway after 74mph or all the way out in Performance mode, at which point every keen-eyed person will see whether you've got a Turbo or a Turbo S (more on that in a mo). Together the elastic splitter and rear wing generate 140kg of downforce at speed - which is a lot - while increasing stability all the more as a byproduct. This is an inspired idea. We've had cars with retractable front spoilers before, such as the Toyota Supra Mk.IV, but they used a solid piece that would break and be notably more expensive to fix or replace than a fixed lip spoiler. If you're wondering how it inflates, Porsche calls the front spoiler "a flexible, pneumatically extendable elastomer". So it's not like a balloon.

Pushing you up to and beyond those speeds is, as usual, a rear-mounted flat-six engine, with twin turbochargers. However, unlike the 959 (but much like the outgoing 997 Turbo), instead of sequential twin-turbocharging, where one is at a lower pressure than the other, thus coming on boost earlier to reduce lag, the new car uses "Variable-Geometry Turbines." Small computer-controlled vanes adjust based on engine speed, so they effectively become small turbos at low RPM, and big turbos at high RPM, at which point they're helping the 3.8-litre Direct-Injection engine produce 520PS (513bhp) at 6000-6500rpm, or 560PS (552bhp) between 6500 and 6750rpm in the Turbo S. The torque figures are more impressive; the regular Turbo delivers 487lb/ft from as early as 1950rpm, with an optional Overboost feature temporarily boosting that to 524lb/ft by increasing boost pressure by 0.15bar (2.17psi). Amazingly, at full throttle the Turbo S produces 516lb/ft of torque all the time. I'm not aware of another car that does that. Overboost - only available with the Sport Chrono package, which is standard in the S - punches that up to 553lb/ft of twist. That should be enough!

What do these figures mean? More figures, of course! The standard Turbo can do 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds and top out at 195mph, while the Turbo S cuts the acceleration time down to 3.1 seconds and matches the 959 at 198mph. All very impressive, but not quite as impressive as the 2013 Nissan GT-R's mind-bending 0-62 time of just 2.7 seconds...

Oh, and they've said it'll lap the Nordschleife in "under 7:30", but lots of cars with this kind of performance claim to do that now. The GT-R will do it in around 7:18 if you're a good enough driver, so that's their target.

Anything else? Well there are the headlights. Included in the "Sport Chrono Package Turbo" options pack - along with a timer on the dashboard, a "Sport PLUS" button, carbon ceramic brakes (PCCB), dynamic engine mounts to reduce vibrations and Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, i.e. active dampers to help keep the car level but smooth - is Porsche's Dynamic Lighting System Plus. This works in two parts. First of all, each headlight unit comprises of 60 LEDs, separated into a pair of light housings. Light bulbs are so last decade, people. Secondly, the lower light housing swivels, so you can see the inside of the corner you're on at night, while still having a straight beam of light to see everything else.

The swivelling-headlight thing is all well and good though - we've seen that on many cars, with the first of them being the Citro├źn DS - but the use of multiple LEDs adds a third dimension, as "dynamic high beam control" detects the lights of cars approaching or in front of you, and then adjusts the brightness of each diode to make sure you don't dazzle other drivers. This had better work, as LED headlights are bordering on being arguably too bright these days. I wouldn't trust this to work perfectly all the time, but it's still a very clever new feature that will most likely become widespread over the next 5-10 years, perhaps evolving to the point where we no longer need a switch for high and dipped beam. This element of the lighting system activates above 37mph, making yet another way in which this car evolves as it changes speed. Talking of seeing, the new deeper bumpers on the Turbo version incorporate nicer LEDs on the front than the standard car, whose minor lights hang over the edge of the outer air vents.

Other miscellaneous features include a "Sound Symposer", which channels the engine noise through tuned pipes and into the interior, as well as Auto Stop/Start to reduce emissions, which combine with computer-based engine system optimisations and improved "thermal management" to reduce CO2 emissions by 16% over the 997 Turbo. It also has a combined fuel economy figure of 25.3mpg. Not that you're really bothered about that...

Like all new Porsches since the dawn of the 991 a year ago, the Turbo uses electro-mechanical steering. This annoyed purists because the word "electric" is involved, and road testers complained of a loss of feel over bumps over the old, less efficient steering system. Thankfully, they seem to be improving it all the time, with the Cayman S getting almost nothing but praise using essentially the same system. Pinpoint accuracy is still something Porsche does very well, so with further evolutions in the steering system here, it's probably better still, although there is the all-wheel-drive (which is updated and now water cooled) to consider.

So as you've read, there's a hell of a lot going on under the skin of this car, and even on it. And yet, thanks to more aluminium in its construction, it's actually lighter than the previous car. Modern technology, eh? So what does this neo-959 cost? In the UK, the standard Turbo starts at £118,349 and the Turbo S at £140,852. The Turbo S's only mechanical difference is the added oomph in the engine. The rest of the price gap is the standard inclusion of the Sport Chrono Turbo pack and probably just a dash of extra cash so you can boast about it to the Joneses. If liberal usage of technology's not your thing, then, er... there's not a lot you can do about it actually. The £100k 991 GT3 also uses the rear-steer system and standard PDK, much to the bane of internet purists who can't afford one. There's the counterargument that the racer-like gearbox and the 493bhp engine's searing 9000rpm redline are both nods to driving enthusiasts and Porsche fans, but at the end of the day, if you want simplicity and a manual gearbox, you'll have to sink all the way down to a basic 345bhp Carrera 2, and even that uses seven gears.

It's the 50th year of the Porsche 911, not to mention the 40th year of the 911 Turbo, and it's easy to see that, for a number of reasons, it's not going to be a quiet one.

Pictures below:

Two tiny grooves in the bumper are new, and probably cut drag by a teensy amount.
Thanks to superfly, super-flared rear arches (and 20" wheels to fill them), the Turbo is 28mm wider than the Carrera 4.
New 20" Turbo S wheels are awesome, and a nice play on the traditional BBS Le Mans-style wheel, with a GT3-esque centre nut.
Hmm, not sure I'd spec coffee-on-fake-tan myself, but then Porsche's configurator shows that they're good at gaudy interiors...
Rear wheelarches are so flared on the Turbo that they're almost flat. I'm not sure I like the rear view yet. It just looks too... fat.
These things tend to work better in person though, so I'll reserve judgement until the Goodwood FOS, when it'll likely appear.
Thankfully, Walter specified the Turbo S, meaning his carbon ceramic brakes stopped him in time without fading. Close one...
Last shot of "dat ass", as the internet puts it. It actually doesn't look bad from this angle. It just needs less grumpy tail lights.
UPDATE (8/5): Oh hey look, a video! See the spoiler in action for a split second!


More Porsche 911-based content to follow. At some point. I'll be freer to write in June, so expect a wave of posts then.

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