We drove the new 2017 Porsche 911 Carreras late last year, taking them swiftly through the mountainous Spanish roads of Tenerife. They’re all turbocharged for this latest generation, good for an extra 20 horsepower across the board, and with better fuel consumption, too.
But then Porsche offered us some seat- and track time in the new all-wheel-drive 911 Turbos and Targas in South Africa. How could we say no?
If you need a primer, there are basically three different members of the latest 911 family, available in a mind-boggling 24 different trims. If you’ve decided to buy a 911 because it’s always been your dream car but you’re unsure which to go for, then good luck choosing which edition you want and how best to option it. Start by reading this preview, and then make sure you have a budget and stick to it. You can spend a quarter-million dollars if you’re crazy enough.
The Carreras are the least expensive, starting at $102,200 for the basic, unadorned 370-hp edition. There’s also a Carrera S that makes 420 hp, and both are available in all-wheel-drive and as soft-top convertibles. (You can read more about them here.)
The Targa is the hardtop convertible, which comes with only two seats – all other 911s except the track-ready GT3 RS are 2+2s – so there’s a place in the back to stow the automatic roof. It’s only available in all-wheel-drive, though it comes with both Carrera engines.
The GT3 RS is the track car with the roll cage and tall spoiler on the back, unchanged from last year. It makes 500 horsepower from its 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine, and is now the only 911 to be normally aspirated. Porsche engineers are still quiet about their plans to turbocharge it.
And then there’s the Turbo and Turbo S, each of which make 20 more horsepower than they did last year—that means they’re now at 540 hp and 580 hp, respectively. Oh. My. God.
This year’s Turbos look similar to last year’s Turbos, which is no surprise because all the new 911s are still built on the 991 platform introduced in 2012. Got that? The real challenge is telling the trim levels apart. The Turbo and Turbo S are pretty much identical, except for a small difference in the front spoiler, the number of wheel spokes, the chrome finish of the exhausts, and the nameplate on the back that says “Turbo” or “Turbo S.” Duh. Otherwise, all the differences are under the skin.
It’s a very nice skin, too. It doesn’t have to come in ubiquitous silver or black—there’s standard red, blue, white and yellow, and for just an extra $3,590 in pocket change, there’s Miami Blue, Carmine Red and Lava Orange, to really stand out at the health club parking lot.
The Turbos are easily recognizable by their permanently-raised rear spoilers, which extend farther at speed, and their flared rear-wheel arches. All AWD 911s are 44 mm wider than the 2WD versions, and the Turbos are an extra 28 mm wider yet. The additional width allows for air intakes on the rear fenders to the intercoolers.
This year, the door handles do not have finger plates, the headlights are redesigned and, unique to the Turbos, there are four exhaust tips, two on each side. The rear air intake grille is also split into two panels with longitudinal vanes. You really have to be a Porsche nut to care about such things.
Let’s just say it’s lovely—at least, it is if you’re sitting in the front. The back is only good for small children or luggage or a desperate friend. Don’t even think about putting the dog back there.
Gone are the days when Porsche valued the driving experience so highly that all else was considered an evil distraction. Now it’s thick leather this and carbon-fibre that, and full connectivity including Apple Car Play—but not Android Auto. The automaker says 80 percent of Porsche owners use Apple products, so there are no plans to help out Android users. At least, not yet. Otherwise, everything falls to hand as you’d expect. It’s a snug fit, of course, but even that is adjustable to satisfy the average American.
A car like the Porsche 911 Turbo should really be all about the driving, and it is, if you want it to be. It’s also remarkably easy to drive slowly and carefully – an hour in heavy Johannesburg traffic was no ordeal at all. On the track though, it’s mind-numbingly fast: zero-to-100 km/h in 3.0 seconds for the Turbo, and a quarter-mile in 11 seconds, while the Turbo S comes in at 2.9 seconds and 10.8. Those are both 0.2 seconds quicker to 100 km/h than last year’s editions.
Most importantly, it’ll do that all day long with some cool-down time, and around corners, too. The AWD system is improved this year with a new organic material that provides better grip on the clutch plates, shifting traction between the wheels even more quickly than before. At least, that’s what Porsche says. The old 911 Turbo was no slouch either, with its differences measured in blinks and seat-of-the-pants feel, but after a few laps of the refurbished Kyalami Racetrack in Johannesburg, there seems no reason to doubt the claims.
The Carrera engines have dropped in size from 3.4 litres to 3.0 litres with their new turbochargers, but the Turbos have stayed at 3.8 litres. They also have new turbochargers—hence the increase in power and the improvement of about 0.6L/100 km in combined fuel efficiency. There are no official Canadian consumption figures yet, but in Europe, both Turbos return a claimed 9.1 L/100 km combined (11.8/7.5 city/hwy). Owners won’t really care, but Porsche does, because it has government-mandated consumption targets to hit over the next few years.
For the first time, the Turbo S has a different turbocharger than the Turbo – it’s larger and helps create higher injection pressure. This all looks good in theory, but it’s barely discernible even on the track.
Porsche’s engineers are proud of the new Turbo’s “dynamic boost” feature, which reduces turbo lag—as if you ever noticed any before. Take your foot off the throttle and dab the ceramic brakes and any other car will close the throttle valve while cutting off the fuel supply, but the new Turbo keeps the valve open for a while. This keeps the turbocharger spinning under pressure, which means when you press the throttle again, its reaction is almost instant. Again, I don’t remember a problem last year, but this sounds impressive and it works very well.
Throttle response is one of the many parameters that can be adjusted with the Drive Mode selector on the 360-mm, three-spoke steering wheel. This is an option on the less powerful 911s but comes standard on the Turbos. You can choose between Regular, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual (which allows favourite settings such as turning off the automatic stop-start and extending the spoilers).
Best of all, the rotary switch has a small Sport Response button in the middle that’s included on all PDK-equipped 911s. When pressed, it turns everything to Maximum Sport for 20 seconds. This is intended for overtaking, but its real purpose is just to let you feel like a Driving God. The car drops down a couple of gears, opens the exhaust flaps for more noise, firms the active suspension and steering and throttle and turns it all up to 11. It’s like a video game – with consequences – and it’s addictive.
In the foreground, a Porsche 911 Targa in the paddock at Kyalami Racetrack in Johannesburg, with a Porsche 911 Turbo just behind it
All the Turbos now come with PDK automatic transmissions, and there’s no option for a stick shift. This is because the system is just so damn good now that demand isn’t there for a manual, and also because the PDK is quicker. End of story. If you want a manual, buy a Carrera or Targa and get blown off the track by anything with a PDK. Sorry—that’s just the way it is. It might feel nice, but you’re not that good a driver to keep up with today’s hi-tech young ’uns.
If you do grudgingly accept the PDK but still refuse to use the paddle shifters, at least you’ll appreciate that Porsche has finally changed its stick shifter to match real race cars: push forward to downshift, pull back to move up a gear, all the way to seventh. And hold on tight.
It’s difficult to argue that a 911 is value for money. Even the cheapest version is now a six-figure car in Canada, and the Turbo S [$214,800 before destination fees] is more than double that. The cabriolet adds another $14,000 to the price.
At least the Turbo S comes with more standard features than the Turbo, meaning its $33,000 price difference is not just for the 40 more horsepower that you probably won’t notice anyway. It’s easy to option a Turbo to more than the price of the Turbo S, but you really should play around with the online Porsche configurator before you go into the showroom.
Do you want the front-axle lift system that raises everything 40 mm to help with speed bumps? It’s an extra $2,960 (plus tax). Do you want adaptive cruise control ($2,850) or ventilated seats ($960) or a key painted the same colour as the car, in its own leather pouch ($560)? Decide now, and not with a salesperson staring you down.
The new Turbo is a remarkable car that’s a fitting evolution for an iconic nameplate. That’s not easy to pull off. It’s not hugely different, but its performance is slightly improved – apparently – and its drive can be either furious or forgiving, your choice.
There’s a reason why Porsche 911s outsell Ferraris and Lamborghinis and Aston Martins. It’s because they’re supercars deserving of more than 50 years of staying out front. If you want exclusivity, go for one of those Italians or Brits, and if you want to be different, go for a Mercedes-Benz GT AMG or an Audi R8. But if you only want to get the job done and then drive home afterwards in comfort, the 911 is a sound choice. Just decide on your budget and set aside a weekend to go through the configurator, and be careful ticking off those boxes.