First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

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Watkins Glen, New York – I’ve always maintained that great cars are great not just because great cars – truly great cars (the ones whose names we exhale rather than just say) are also about great stories. The longer a car’s history the better the stories it has to tell, the more its greatness is magnified.

Of the sports cars in the market today, only two cars that I can think of – the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Mustang – have been in continuous production longer than the Porsche 911. Like the 911, these are cars that even people who know nothing about cars understand and love. What makes the 911 stand out is its international flavour, unique shape and layout (both the Corvette and Mustang have gone through numerous body styles, while the Porsche has always been a rear-engine teardrop) and a great record of success in motor sports.

There is so much to say about this car.

First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. Click image to enlarge

Since 1974, it has always sat at or near the top of the 911 range. In its earlier forms, it was a beast to drive, but unbeatable on the track in a skilled set of hands. With time, the Turbo only got faster, more dominant and easier to drive. This was particularly true of the road versions, which made a huge leap forward in usability with all-wheel-drive and, later, Porsche’s stability-management system. As an all-weather sports car for people with the requisite cash, it became the easy answer to the question of what to drive.

Still, the Turbo’s last major revision came in 2001 – and since that time, its competitors have been upgraded. The Corvette is better than ever, especially in Z06 form, with vastly improved refinement and even more performance. Ferrari has upgraded its V8 models; the F430 is now a really solid piece of work. And Lamborghini has gotten into the all-weather act by offering custom-tailored winter tires for its all-wheel-drive Gallardo. All of these cars now offer around 500 horsepower.

First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. Click image to enlarge

Porsche enthusiasts who enjoy bandying numbers about may thus be disappointed that the 2007 911 Turbo produces “only” 480 horses from its twin-turbocharged flat-six. This is in fact enough. Thanks to the new Turbo weighing about 8 kg less than its predecessor, 480 horses hurls the new car from 0-100 km/h in 3.7 seconds – with the automatic transmission! On a track, keep the gas pedal planted and you’ll see 310 km/h.

More important than the outright speed is how flexible the engine is in all driving conditions. Variable vanes allow the turbos to spool up quickly at low speeds and produce more puff at high revs. They reduce turbo lag and sharpen the throttle response to the point where the top 911′s engine now feels just like a huge-displacement naturally-aspirated engine.

First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. Click image to enlarge

You can be in sixth gear on the highway at 1,500 rpm, roll into the gas, and be going warp speed in a matter of eye-blinks; drop down a couple of gears for some extra drama and the acceleration is shattering. (If you order the Sport Chrono package, with its dashboard stopwatch, you also get an overboost function that briefly bumps up torque output by 45 lb-ft.)

The Turbo’s Porsche Traction Management all-wheel-drive system is quite different from that of the previous Turbo – or the current Carrera 4 and 4S. While these cars use a rear-biased setup with a viscous coupling that responds to changes in grip levels, PTM uses a host of electronic sensors (that measure the rotating speed of all four wheels, the car’s lateral and longitudinal acceleration and steering angle) with an electronic multi-plate clutch to adjust torque distribution instantaneously. The result is what feels like slightly lighter, more accurate steering – almost like a rear-drive 911s – along with improved traction out of tight corners and during standing starts.

First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. Click image to enlarge

With more than 60 per cent of its weight hanging out behind the rear axle, 911s do not have what most would consider to be an ideal set-up for good handling – and indeed early Turbos were notorious for being difficult to drive quickly. But while the new Turbo is still intimidating – any car with 480 hp and 460 lb-ft would be – it’s actually very easy to drive fast. The steering sends the car exactly where you want and the brakes are just awesome. Modern tire technology and all of the car’s electronics also combine to generate huge levels of grip, so that you can go around pretty much any corner as fast as you want. The car sorts everything out for you.

If there is one major criticism that some people will level against the new Turbo, it’s that the whole experience can feel a little artificial. You know it’s mostly the car, not you, hustling it around that corner at that speed. On the track at Watkins Glen, it danced while we barely broke a sweat; on the road, it was comfortable as well as fast – the exhaust note is muted at speed and the ride is smooth with the active suspension in its less aggressive setting. Drivers looking for more excitement in the Porsche line-up should direct their attention at the forthcoming GT3 or the beautifully-balanced Cayman S. I drove one down to the launch event and the level of delicacy and feedback it offers makes it a purer – though less powerful – driver’s tool than the Turbo.

The 911 Turbo’s interior used to be an area where it caught flak, but Porsche’s made the latest version feel as special as its $170,000 price. While the design is shared with more basic Carrera models – a slab of a dashboard with five clear gauges, a narrow centre console and integrated navigation/cell phone/radio with tiny buttons – it’s been finished to a higher level. Almost all of the surfaces are now covered in leather and the level of standard equipment is higher.

First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. Click image to enlarge

As with all Porsches, you can customize to your heart’s content, spending thousands on carbon or wood inlays, embossed leather or other trinkets. Best – if you ask me – to direct those bucks towards a set of ceramic brakes instead.

That you can spend $11,000 on interior trim alone indicates how the Turbo’s role has changed. It now plays a dual role as sports car and luxury grand tourer. As such, there’s more exterior bling – LED front turn signals, extra driving lights, twin side intakes and polished triple-spoke alloy wheels: all to distinguish the Turbo from the ever-proliferating 911 range – one which is an increasingly familiar sight on our roads. It’s more difficult than ever to pick out the Turbo from the crowd, and even with all of its cosmetic upgrades, it’s more functional than beautiful.

Like its predecessors, the new Turbo sits in an interesting part of the market, where it has no direct competitors. The Corvette Z06 offers similar performance for $70,000 less, but rear-wheel-drive limits its all-season capability and it lacks the Turbo’s gadget factor, whether you’re talking about the all-wheel drive or all the buttons inside. And while it may be the most refined, best-built Corvette ever, it still lags behind the Porsche, which feels hewn from a solid block of steel.

A similar price gulf exists on the other side of the Turbo to where the big-name Italians play. There, your money buys you more style and character as well as mind-blowing levels of technology – all-wheel-drive and a V10 in the Gallardo and an F1 gearbox and mannetino-adjustable driving dynamics on the F430.

First Drive: 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo porsche luxury cars first drives
2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. Click image to enlarge

But for all of the extra money, you get roughly equivalent performance, no back seats and higher-strung personalities. They’ll work as commuter cars in a pinch, but you’ll be reminded during every slow kilometre that what they really want to do is hit the track.

Part of the attraction of the new Turbo is its dual personalities. If the original was King Kong – a mean, muscle-bound 911 with an attitude, the new one’s sort of like the Peter Jackson remake. It’s bigger, meaner and more powerful when roused – but ultimately more mainstream and accessible. All of which means that even the briefest of drives will be good for a story or two.

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